The Stork’s Feather

The fortune teller studied the side of my palm. Her slender fingers traced the lines of my calloused hand, turning it this way and that to catch the light. I kept my eyes off of her, concentrating on the colorful tapestries on the wall. I knew what she was looking for. And I already knew what she would find.

“You’ll never have any children,” she said.

“I know,” I replied.

Those lines had been scraped off of the side of my hand years ago. She must have seen the half line. The faint, broken line that signified my unborn child. She was tactful not to mention it. Most practitioners loved to bring it up. They liked to play it up to prove that they knew their business. But she sounded like she was giving me the specials. ‘You’ll never have kids, oh and the soup of the day is broccoli cheese.’ She didn’t even sound sad about it.

“It doesn’t have to be this way if you don’t want it,” the woman said.

“What do you mean,” I asked. The doctor’s had seemed pretty sure about it.

She went to a chest of drawers against one wall and produced a dark gray feather, handing it to me.

“What is that for?” I asked. I’d had my fortune read dozens of time, but I’d never seen a feather used for it.

“Take it. It’s a stork feather. Most people don’t believe in the stork, anymore. But if you ask nicely, he can still be convinced to take pity on a barren woman. The stork wants his feather back and he’ll trade you a favor for it. Leave it in your window when you’re ready to change your future,” she said.


I left her parlor, which was just a living room full of incense and crystals and colorful things on the wall, more confused than I’d started. My boyfriend was idling outside in his truck.

“You ready to go, babe?” he asked as I pulled myself up into the cab. It was a rusty old F100 that he’d bought because it was cheap and it went with his cowboy boots and vintage Stetson. The bench seat had seat belts for three and we’d often fit four or five across it when we were younger. There was no place for a car seat.

We’d talked about it, of course, not having kids. He always said that he was okay with it. “We’ll have more money for vacations, babe.” Or maybe, “It’ll bring us closer together.” But I couldn’t shake the feeling that deep down he was disappointed in our relationship. Disappointed in me.

I twirled the feather between my fingers as he drove. It was a gray day, with low clouds rolling in above us. The pending storm brought a mugginess that the ancient truck’s a/c didn’t have the strength to fight. I cranked the window down to let the air in and watched the feather rustle in the breeze. I pulled it out of the wind and held it tight. It could change everything for the two of us.

“You’re quiet, Anna,” he said after a while.

“Hmm. She gave me a lot to think about,” I said.

He kept looking over at me. They were just quick, furtive glances as he tried to keep an eye on the road, but I knew something was coming.

“Look, I know you believe in this fortune telling mumbo jumbo,” he said.

“Don’t call it that,” I said automatically.

“But don’t let it get into your head like this,” he finished. “Whatever’s meant to happen will happen.”

That’s easy to say when it’s not happening to you, I wanted to say. The fortune teller hadn’t gotten into my head. I’d been doing plenty of damage in there on my own for years now. She just gave it a focus. And she gave me the feather.

“Do you ever think about what our life would be like if things were different?” I asked him. “If we were different?”

He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him. We sat for a while in silence. I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to have a child there with us. That’s what I’m supposed to want, right? Everyone woman is supposed to want a child.

“What’s the point?” he said. “I like my life the way it is. I like my truck. I like our tiny house. I like you, babe. I don’t want us to change.”

I pulled away from him, scooting back across the seat. It was a nice thing to say, but I was mad at him for not taking this seriously. I watched the shadow of some huge bird as it flew overhead.


As we pulled up to the house and parked on the street outside, I noticed again how very tiny the place was. It had been built over a century ago. The rooms were small. The kitchen had last been modernized in the early 90s. We had to throw out half of our things when we moved in together. the space was only livable with some clever storage ideas from the Internet. It wasn’t the kind of space that I envisioned raising a child in.

I went straight for the hall closet and the little box on the top shelf, the one with Nana’s baby clothes. The little white christening gown that I couldn’t bear to give away. A couple of pairs of knitted booties and matching hats that some overzealous aunt had knitted for me before we hit the official safe zone of ten weeks. I looked at the feather again, and then wrapped it in Nana’s christening dress and put the box back in the closet. I wasn’t ready, yet.


I woke up in the middle of the night to a knocking at the bedroom window. I thought it must be another round of summer storms rumbling through. It wasn’t uncommon on the plains. I rolled over and tried to let the storm lull me back to sleep. But there was no sound of rain on the roof. No wind rattling the downstairs door. Just a persistent tap, tap, tap on the window.

Now that I was aware of it, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Visions of ax murderers danced through my head. I looked over at Hank, but the man could sleep through anything. I considered waking him in case there was someone in the house, but I suspected ax murderers made more noise than just a scratching at the window.

I eased myself out of bed and padded across the wooden floor in my boxers and tank top. It was just a swarm of June bugs or something, I told myself, but I grabbed the old baseball bat propped against the night stand anyway.

The stairs groaned as I crept downstairs. Each step told the potential intruder that I was coming. One step at a time. He would be waiting for me once I reached the bottom for sure.

I leaned out with the bat in my hands, inch by inch, until I could just see around the corner. My palms had made the decision that excessive sweating was my best defense against predators and I tightened my grip on the bat.

“Everything okay, babe?” Hank called down from the stairs.

I jumped. That’s an understatement. What happened was that I was momentarily startled. And then as I tried to take my ax-murderer-fighting stance, my feet slid out from underneath me. Socks are not the best footwear for fighting off monsters on hardwood floors.

I fell over. The baseball bat got trapped underneath my thigh and the two of us rolled around for a minute. Whatever I shouted must have caught Hank’s attention because he came thundering down the stairs.

Only to stop at the bottom and laugh at me.

I wrangled myself to my feet, rubbing my thigh. There was going to be a huge bruise on it in the morning. “Hey,” I said.

“I’m sorry. Are you wrestling with the bat?” he asked.

“I fell down with the bat, if you must know. I thought you were a murderer.”

He couldn’t stop laughing long enough to give me a smart answer. He stood on the bottom step in his own boxers, holding onto the wall as he laughed. I rubbed my thigh some more as I propped the bat on the couch. Surely no one would attack now that there were two of us.

I ignored him and headed for the kitchen. “I need to put some ice on this.”

My leg was really sore. It was going to be a hell of a bruise. I couldn’t stop poking at it to see how bad it was. I turned the corner into the hallway and stopped with a finger pressed up against it.

The door to the hall closet was standing open. That wasn’t unusual. Old house, remember. But the contents of the closet didn’t usually spill out onto the floor. We didn’t stuff the hall closet like we did some of the others. Everything in there should have stayed where it was, unless someone was looking for something. Hangars, boxes, everything had fallen out.

“Whoa,” Hank said from behind me.

I sighed and knelt to pick things up even though the bruise on my thigh was throbbing. There was no way I was falling back to sleep now. Not until I knew if anything was missing.

“Grab the hangars, would you?” I said as I scooped Nana’s baby clothes back into their box from the top shelf. The little knitted booties had scattered across the floor, little blobs of gender-neutral greens and yellows against the wood floor. I picked each one up carefully, blowing some dirt off of one as I put it away.

The christening gown was next. I opened it up to check that the stork feather was still tucked safely away. The gown was empty. No feather. Nothing.

I ran my hands across the floor, pushing things aside to find it. I tried to stay calm. It had to be here somewhere. There was a lot of junk on the floor, but the feather had to be here. Hank was manhandling a load of hanging clothes into the closet and I pushed him aside to rifle through them and check that the feather wasn’t stuck between the old sweaters.

“Hey,” he grumbled.

A couple of the old jackets fell to the floor as I jostled them. No feather came with them. I moved Hank out of the way to check beneath his feet.

“What are you looking for, babe?” he asked.

I didn’t know how to answer him. Just some dumb feather that was supposed to change our lives, that’s all. Just a way to fix my broken uterus and have a child of our very own. Nothing much. Certainly nothing important.

It wasn’t there. I picked up the last remaining boxes and found nothing but blank floor beneath them. Hank had vacated the area to avoid my shoving so I wrangled them back into the closet on my own. At least it gave me something to do with my panic.

“What’s this?” Hank asked from the living room.

I turned to see what he was talking about. He was twirling the stork feather around in his fingers.

“It’s just something the fortune teller gave me,” I said, grabbing it from him. “Where did you find it?”

“It was here on the windowsill,” he said. “Is this what you’ve been freaking out about?”

Oh God, how did it get there? That’s where I was supposed to put it, but not until I was ready. I wasn’t ready.

I shoved it back into the box with the baby clothes, taking some care to make sure it wasn’t bent or broken. I didn’t need this shit tonight. And my leg ached.

“I wasn’t freaking out,” I said.

“Yes you were. You totally were,” Hank said. “You take this fortune teller mumbo jumbo way too seriously.”

“What do you know about it?” I asked, giving the box of baby clothes one last push to get it back on the top shelf.

“It’s two o’clock in the morning and you’re freaking out about losing a feather. That’s what I know about it,” he said.

“Then you don’t know shit, Hank,” I said, pushing past him. Screw the ice for my leg, I was going back upstairs to bed. It wasn’t like his uterus was permanently broken, or anything. He could finish clearing up the junk in the hall.


I woke up late the next morning. Hank was up before me and the bedroom smelled like coffee. I limped down to the kitchen and found him in jeans and my mother’s apron, flipping pancakes. Without a word he poured me a mug of coffee and set the sugar bowl beside it. I accepted the peace offering gratefully and went to the table.

There it was again. A plain gray feather, laid out like it was a freaking centerpiece. I stopped short when I saw it and caught myself looking around for windows. Had the stork seen it already? Was it coming?

“Why’d you dig this feather out again?” I asked, trying hard to keep my tone neutral.

“I thought you left it there,” Hank said, distracted by the pancake he was mangling.

I sat down at the table and picked it up between two fingers. It didn’t seem like an out-of-the-ordinary feather. It wasn’t any heavier or sparklier than other feathers I’d seen in my lifetime. The drafts in the old house were probably just blowing it around when she wasn’t looking. That must be it.

Something about the feather creeped me out, though. It seemed determined to get me into trouble.

A plate of pancakes and some syrup brought me out of my thoughts. Hank added a pat of butter to the stack and sat down with his own.

“Is that the same one the fortune teller gave you?” he asked as he loaded his fork up with pancakes and syrup.

I nodded. I hadn’t touched my own pancakes yet and the butter was starting to melt and run off the sides.

“What’s it supposed to do?” he asked between mouthfuls.

What was it supposed to do? Change our lives forever. Fix something that I had considered broken for a very long time. Fix me.

It took three steps to get to the garbage disposal, which made a satisfying crunching noise as it chopped the feather into bits.

“Fuck the stork,” I muttered as I rinsed the last pieces of feather down the drain.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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