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Adi was so engrossed in her “Manual of Germanic Mythology”, she was surprised when it became harder and harder to distinguish the letters in front of her eyes. The golden light streaming through her window was weakening and the university’s faux Victorian street lights were coming on, one by one, outside her hall.
She jumped up, remembering that the library was only open until 9 pm. She banged the door behind her, then stopped. Seriously, every time! With an impatient grumble, she rushed back in to get her jacket from the back of her chair.
When Adi finally left the dorms building, she shivered and pulled her jacket tightly around her chest. The breeze had freshened further and she felt, rather than saw, little drops of icy water settle on her face. She stuck out her tongue and enjoyed the feel of snowflakes melting. Smacking her lips, the metallic taste pulled her back to winters walking to and from the International School back in Germany.
For some reason, whenever she remembered Frankfurt, she thought of winter. Mostly overcast and dull, but equally often with the sun so low on the horizon that the city streets around her were silhouetted in stark black shadows.
As a child, she loved wearing her little pink sunglasses, holding on tight to the straps of her backpack. This was before all the visions started that made her doubt her own sanity and caused untold anxiety for her parents. She remembered overhearing her mother crying and her father assuring her that there was nothing wrong with their little daughter. And if there was, they’d fix it before his mother found out.
Even at such a young age, Adi understood that her father’s mother hated his wife and by extension, their daughter. The next day her father went out and set up a trust fund that would guarantee her education. Once again Adi silently thanked her parents for thinking ahead and not leaving her to the questionable mercies of Mrs. Worthington. That trust fund was her ticket to independence, to the life she wanted to live.
Of course the money was only available as long as Adi stayed sane. During the reading of the will, Adi was shocked to find that as soon as she showed sign of mental breakdown, the trust fund was no longer available for her education but only for her treatment. Mrs. Worthington tried for several years to contest the will and even have her declared mentally incompetent, but in the end, her father’s will prevailed.
Dammit, daddy. What the hell were you thinking? All Adi could guess at this stage was that Henry Worthington III. had tried to protect his daughter while not break all ties to his mother’s family.
With a bitter laugh, Adi shrugged off the unpleasant memories of years spent alone in boarding school, and walked faster. It was really getting ridiculously cold, given the time of year. Out of the corner of her eye, a shadow made her turn her head.
There was another student, trying to reach the library as well. His head was down, hands in pocket and she didn’t recognize him. What made her inhale sharply, was the fox perching on his head. It was a rather small fox and Adi looked again to make sure that it was in fact a little animal and not a hat. No, no doubt at all.
The young man walked on a converging path to hers and she met up with him right in front of the library door so she was able to look straight at him. The little fox was gorgeous, with a cute black button nose, twitching as its jaw rested on the boy’s head. When Adi came closer, it turned its head towards her. Adi looked into the greenest, most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. The animal looked so pretty and like the epitome of what a fox would look like in a child’s book. Adi had seen foxes in zoos before and they were bigger and rougher than this little creature. Their eyes met and Adi could have sworn that it smiled at her.
She slowed her pace a little and allowed the student to enter the library before her. Then she quickly caught up because she wanted to see the librarian’s reaction to the animal invading the sanctuary that was the Library. Entering the warm building after breathing in the icy air made her throat tickle and she had to suppress a cough. After she cleared her throat, she looked up and saw the boy with the fox walking past the front desk towards the back.
He politely greeted the elderly lady who ruled the library with frowns and stern glances. The corners of her mouth twitched and she nodded slightly to him as if she wasn’t surprised to see him here at this hour. A regular, it seemed. There was no way she could have overlooked the animal. Adi’s eyebrow rose as she watched him disappear into the back of the building without being challenged or even questioned. What just happened? There was no way Mrs. Wosniak wouldn’t have stopped a student bringing an animal into the building.
On impulse Adi approached the front desk. Mrs Wosniak glared at her. Okay, so she was in her normal mood. Then Adi startled. How had she never noticed this before? On the librarian’s desk sat a parrot. A rather large, magnificent bird. Its chest covered in bright mustard-colored feathers, its beak black and its face white with thin black stripes around its eyes. While Adi watched in fascination, it beat its large blue wings and screeched a challenge at her.
She involuntarily took a step back and stopped when Mrs. Wosniak snapped,“Can I help you?” Her voice had an uncanny resemblance to the bird’s. The parrot inclined its head and its beady eyes were fixed on her.
Adi swallowed drily. “Yes,” she said slowly. She tried to quickly think of something else to say. “I wonder… could I bring my dog with me? He get’s kinda lonely…,” her voice trailed off.
Mrs. Wosniak’s eyebrows had been steadily climbing towards her hairline as Adi talked.
“A dog? Are you blind?” Adi tried to follow the non-sequitur.
“Only guide dogs are allowed in here. Honestly, have you ever seen pets in a library?” Mrs. Wosniak’s expression hovered between enraged and genuinely puzzled.
Adi smiled engagingly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think…”.
The librarian interrupted her, “Clearly not,” and threw another stern glance at her.
Adi nodded her head and moved towards the book shelves. Okay, that was just weird. Not only had a student just walked past the librarian with a frigging fox on his shoulder, Mrs. Wosniack herself had a parrot, large as life, sitting on her desk.
Adi felt the first tendrils of fear rising within her chest and took a deep breath. The same questions that had haunted her throughout her childhood and teenage years started to come back to her, ‘am I insane? Is this reality or a figment of my imagination? How can I tell the difference?’
Adi swallowed down her panic and decided to bury herself in the paper that was due in a few days. If she worked hard, this would pass as it had before. But then she heard another squawk, and she glanced back involuntarily. The bird was still there, regarding her haughtily. Its eyes fixed on her, it seemed to grin as it followed her progress.
Adi turned her head forward just in time to smash her nose into a pillar. Behind her, she heard a dual snicker, bird and human. Her cheeks burning, she turned the corner to get out of their eye-line.
Dammit, that hurt! She rubbed her nose furiously and was relieved to find no blood on her fingers. Shielding her face with both hands, she bent over and leaned against a wall behind her. What a crappy day. Raising her head with a deep inhale, she wiped away the involuntary tears from the corners of her eyes and forced herself to smile. Come on, focus! Another deep breath and she was ready to come out of her hiding place. With her head held high, Adi resisted the temptation to glance at the odd couple and walked the few steps to the library’s mythology section.
She had always enjoyed fairytales. Her German grandmother, Oma-Adi, told her all of Grimm’s Tales when she was little. Not the sanitized Disney-versions either. How many American children knew that Cinderella’s sisters chopped their toes and heels off to fit the glass slipper? And that when the Prince kept his word and tried to wed them, one after the other, the innocent turtle doves who helped Cinderella throughout the story, whispered about “blood in the shoe” and then hacked their eyes out? Or that in one of the stories, the evil Queen was forced to dance in red-hot shoes until she died?
Adi shuddered in horrified delight. There was something cathartic about Evil being made to suffer and be vanquished from the world, even though it clashed with her modern sensitivities. It never bothered her as a child and she was determined that her children read the real stories that were still told in Germany today as well as the pretty modern versions.
Adi was so absorbed in her work, taking down notes, re-reading passages of mythology that she didn’t realize how late it was. When a shadow fell over her desk, she looked up and it took her a moment to orientate herself.
Mrs Wosniak stood over her and said rather gruffly, “We’re closing up. Please put the books back where they belong,” and shuffled off back towards her desk. Adi felt like a kid being told to clean up her room. She quickly gathered her materials and tidied her work area before leaving the library. On her way out, she glanced sideways at the front desk and noticed no sign of the parrot. Mrs Wosniak must have already taken the bird outside and with another shake of her head, Adi began her journey back towards her room.