The blue tinged finch she once held in her palm. Quietly lifeless. And Ann-Marie no more than a babe herself. Seeing death in the raw. Stroking the fine feathers that once soared above the belvedere. With tiny fingers, gently opening, parting, the beak of a mother who’d carried the grubs and titbits to fledglings waiting in the uppermost branches of an ancient oak. The bird now quite still, its duty done. Cupped and nestled in the hands of a young girl who’ll one day head to Paris and to a life beyond her wildest dreams, among the wildest of animals, stilled and glassy eyed. A menagerie for her to map and sketch and marvel at. Predators and prey scattered hither and thither in rooms and corridors unfamiliar. Continents colliding in passageways and cellars. Animals and birds, reptiles and insects out of place, yet happy and contented in each other's company. Even a winged unicorn to conjure God’s imagination. Yet on that blue-finch day Ann-Marie’s innocent eyes beheld in wonder her first encounter with mystery. With such compassion she’d taken the little bird into the forest and laid it to rest beneath the fallen leaves of autumn. Reverently. A pine cone for a headstone. And she said a prayer to the sky. From the Bible. The Talmud. From the Koran where animals and birds pray by their very being.
Then in years to come, now a woman of note, of substance, stroking the fur of the tiger still and proud, she chronicles the size and weight, the look in the eye, the keenness of sound. What ways this creature must have gone? What sights he must have seen? Like once, lifetimes ago, before he had a name, when he saw a princess standing by the river. The princess in a long flowing dress looking up and down for a place to cross. But it was deep and the current raging. The tiger told her to climb upon his back. She knew to trust him. The tiger swam like a crocodile. When the princess got to the other bank, to her land, she lay down and gave birth to a baby. When she arrived at her palace she named the river Tigris in honour of her saviour.
There’s magic if you look for it. In words. In stories. In unicorns and small blue birds. Even in silence. Now the tiger’s gaze is fixed and steadied, focused on the Rue du Bac and the elegant mammals looking in from the street beyond. Storing away her notes, the bird in its hollow grave, Ann-Marie's work is over. She touches with her fingertip the claw of the Lord of the Forest. A connection. Igniting, reviving, the power and majesty, the might and the fury. Turning off the lights she leaves the Deyrolle to rejoice in the full moonlight that floods the passageway. Then she walks, one step at a time, mindful and respectful of what is left behind and of what is yet to come.