e watchful of voices that shout shouldn’t, mustn’t, don’t.
They said she shouldn’t climb up the fire escape and whisper conversations with the night sky. It was one thing to perch on the roof’s edge, feet dangling, and look down on the city below, taking in the glow of neon lights. But who was she to speak so intimately to the stars?
They told her she mustn’t touch the sidewalk trees growing in their iron cages. Couldn’t she see how she made their roots quest upwards and fracture the concrete? Leave the trees—and the sidewalks—to the professionals, with their chemicals and their saws.
They insisted she oughtn’t sing and dance with pixies. Not even when a summer rain left rainbowed puddles on the oil-slicked asphalt just perfect for rhythmic splashing. No matter how much it filled the hollowness inside. Didn’t she know the fae were pesky critters with their toothpick swords and feral grins? She might as well cavort with rats.
Also, don’t cavort with rats. Even if their stories of subway adventures were bold and thrilling. Nothing good could come of it. People would talk.
Be wary of couldn’t and be suspicious of won’t.
They swore They couldn’t tell her where the wild night-mares ran, with their otherworldly eyes and twilight manes. She only wanted to watch the fae horses deliver their dreams, hooves thundering across the velvet gloaming.
They wouldn’t share where the wind spirits came from, nor where they blew off to when the storm clouds disappeared. They cried crocodile tears and told her it was for her own good, to keep her safe in the Here and Now. Elsewhere and Tomorrow were dangerous places where proper young ladies would never yearn to go.
In reality, They dismissed her as just a girl. A nobody girl with crooked teeth and frizzy hair who wanted more than was her right.
Don’t overstep. Go watch makeup tutorials, or shop with a friend. That’s what normal girls do. Didn’t she want to fit in?
Look for labels and learn how to decipher their disdain.
They called her feisty when They meant difficult. Honey-coated tongues said persistent and inquisitive, with an aftertaste of stubborn and meddlesome. They would make her doubt her value, delivering veiled insults with used car salesmen smiles.
Be demure; be reserved; be conventional.
They told her who to be without seeing her as she was.
Walk away instead of breaking.
They wailed and wrung Their hands when she gathered up the pixies and the rats and took the last bus to where the asphalt ended and the switchgrass began. How dare she turn her back on Their shelter built of couldn’ts and won’ts? They’d only wanted the best for her. To make her like Them.
She dropped her phone, abandoning it in the hazy liminal space between Here and There. They filled the tiny screen with don’ts and can’ts she would never read.
Trailing her fingers over leaf and stem, she waded through the tall grass toward a future of maybes, what-ifs, and possibilities. Where only green had been before, a sea of white and silver sprang up in her wake. The air filled with the heady perfume of night-blooming jasmine and hope.
Look forward, never back.
Overhead, the stars sang their approval.