|Photo Credit: Morguefile by ren|
In winter, Elsa wore a cloak of scarlet velvet. The cloak shone like the moon on water. It moved with a sound like the rustling of grass. Gathered at her throat and tied with a satin ribbon, it was punctuated in a hood, which framed her face. The cloak swept downward until it reached her calves and fell elegantly about her legs as she walked. It was Victorian tea rooms, teddy bears and Red Riding Hood. It was timeless and perfect. In the cloak, Elsa was unassailable.
Elsa was ten. The cloak had been a gift from Grandma, the kind of thing one only gets once in a very few years. When she opened the box, a stillness fell over the family room.
"Elsa," said her mother in a voice like the whooshing of the air from a balloon, "that is very special. I hope you will take very good care of it."
Of course Elsa would take good care of the cloak her Grandma Nini had given her. She was so much older than they thought she was. There was some talk of rules immediately, which attempted to despoil the magic of the the gift.
It must be kept on a hanger.
And in the house.
And never outside.
It would have to be dry cleaned.
Elsa, you cannot eat any food in that!
And on and on.
Elsa was already in the woods and couldn't hear them. She walked through snowy acres with a basket on her arm. She led an army of wolves through thorny glens to castles black against the aching icy sky. Her arms pulsed with magic. Her legs itched with dances yet undanced.
"Elsa," came a strident voice. "Are you listening to me?"
"Of course," she said.
And then, the cloak became a part of Elsa's flesh. It appeared at the breakfast table, attached to the girl. At first, she was directed to take it off and hang it up, and had to. Then, the day that school resumed, Liam poured half a cup of sugar on his Corn Flakes and David drank all the milk, and that was the day that Elsa wore the cloak unnoticed. She ate a piece of toast and directed all the force of her magic into the direction of the crumbs onto the table and the floor. It took her twenty minutes to eat the toast and she got no jam, but the cloak was clean.
"Elsa," piped a train whistle, "you're going to be late!"
Elsa got up and took her backpack. She left, and the cloak was still on. It was January. There was snow on the ground, but the sky was almost clear. Cirrus clouds left unstirred in one corner of a vast expanse of blue. Made of ice, she remembered. She led the wolves all the way to school, silently. They were so silent they could not even be seen. A pack of six, the leader of them white. That one was Alba, who loped next to her, piercing pale eyes scanning the sidewalks of white. The streets from Elsa's house to Sutton Elementary School were deserted. No children lived on her block but her. She could walk in silence with her wolves and pass into the noisome world of children only just as it reached the school.
Today, though, there was a boy. He stood in the path across her way, legs apart as if to establish ownership of the sidewalk with his stance. He was taller than she, be-freckled. He had a hood on, but she guessed that his hair would have to have been red. She didn't recognize him. He was from nowhere, a spirit, an ifrit.
"Wolf," she thought.
He didn't hear.
"Well hello, Little Red Riding Hood," he jeered at her.
"Hello, Wolf," she said. There are wolves and there are wolves, thought Elsa. The ones with fur made no matter. It was the ones with winter boots and freckles that you had to find a way around.
"That's a pretty cloak," he jabbed. I am supposed to be embarrassed now, sighed Elsa.
"Yes," she agreed. "It would look lovely on you as well."
The boy's eyes narrowed into fissures in his ruddy face. Elsa was supposed to be afraid. He was unsure what to do, and he was becoming angry. A sudden hand grabbed at her cloak.
Elsa danced backward and escaped him. His hand lost its grip on the smooth softness of her cloak.
"Alba!" she cried.
The boy looked around. Seeing nothing, he launched forward at her again. This time, though, before he reached her, he was startled by a growl.
_ _ _
"Well, as best as I can tell, it's a freak incident. But, honestly, Elsa, what were you thinking wearing that thing to school? We expressly told you not to! If you don't want to be picked on, you have to make some sort of effort to appear to be a normal child. You have to think about what the other children wear." Whistles, squeaks, and shrills.
"I can't see how they can say it's her fault, no matter what the child says." Bass rumbles and strong periods.
"Well, of course not! I mean, it's not as if she has the power to call every damn dog in the neighborhood and beckon it to threaten a child. I mean, honestly, what was that, though? Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
"I say it has to be something about the child. They say he just moved here from New Jersey."
"Roger, do you hear yourself? Is everyone from New Jersey to be menaced by dogs? I mean, really!"
Alba sat next to Elsa in the back of the car. Her enormous head was warm in Elsa's lap. And the cloak, unblemished, sat neatly about her lap. She smiled.
Note: This post is my Christmas gift to Mimi, my dear sister-in-law, who loves eccentric, precocious children, hates bullies and would probably love a velvet cloak. Merry Christmas, Mimi!