He'd carved Maya the autumn after Shyla
came to him. He'd never understood what motivated him to do it: besides not
being very fanciful, Conall had never been particularly artistic, either. The
inspiration must have come thanks to the baby.
He'd discovered the poor infant alone in
his graveyard, tucked a sheltering crevice of an old boulder. He remembered
thinking she'd been arranged as though in a cradle. Whoever left her did it
with care, placing her in a spot where she'd be protected from rain, above any
wildlife...and sure to be seen by the first human who passed by. Con later used
the same boulder as the base for Maya's statue. Perhaps because those small,
thoughtful, careful details might be all he would ever know about Shyla's real
Shyla was a golden child: fair where
Conall proved tawny and dark; silky blonde with a cherub nose and soft eyes of
differing blue and green, where he had sharp features and irises of amber. Con
told everyone she'd been his sister's child because it avoided a lot of extra
complications, but he could barely understand how his neighbors believed it. It
couldn't be more obvious he and Shyla didn't belong to one another. Whoever
delivered her into his graveyard probably hadn't realized who they left her
The mystery of it bothered him. Who
could possibly abandon their little one there in a cemetery at all? Then, the
answer came: someone to whom the shelter of a sturdy rock, and the hope of a
stranger's kindness, were preferable to whatever circumstances led her to them.
affected him. It affected him so profoundly, he'd made a decision no one would
He chose to raise the baby himself.
Over lunch, he told Shyla about the trip
into town. As always, she listened obediently, nodded when he finished, and
stood to begin her afternoon chores without being asked. She'd clear the table,
tidy the house, and then go outside to tend their small vegetable garden. With
those tasks finished, she'd bathe and dress for a visit with the Trasks.
Conall knew Shyla always made an effort to be a
little extra presentable when going to town. It was as if she suspected the
ladies there were continually looking for a sign she needed their help and
Conall couldn't possibly understand how to raise a growing girl. She hated to
let anyone think he hadn't provided for her.
Today, she glanced out toward the
graveyard before clearing the table from their lunch, her gaze falling on the
path leading down to Maya's circle.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing, Dad," she replied
softly. Her eyes shifted subtly away as she collected his plate and deposited
it in the washbasin.
Conall furrowed his brow, but he said
On his way back out to the twins' grave,
he made a quick detour to pay a visit to Maya.
Visitors often said the statue clearly
exhibited a master's touch. They ran their hands over the smooth lines of her
slender arms: one held tight over her chest in prayer, the other extended out
to the open sky. They marveled at the painstaking detail in the feathers of her
angelic wings, and the folds of cloth swathing her sculpted figure, flowing as though
caught in the wind. They lauded the emotiveness of her expression, which Conall
had always considered rather sad. Of all the detail he'd envisioned of the
statue, her face came to mind first, yet he'd carved it last.
He'd dreamed about her for weeks before
he finally channeled the vision into his sculpture. She'd come to him in sleep
in the nights following his discovery of the baby, when he'd fretted over the
crying, hungry infant, scrambled to create a place for her in his cold old
house. Soon thereafter, when tucking her in became a welcome nightly routine,
he'd begun dreaming of Maya.
She never formed in his mind as a person. He didn't imagine a
flesh-and-blood woman: always cold, white stone, always frozen, and always a
sentinel amid the tombstones. He had no idea what possessed him to begin
carving away at the boulder where he'd discovered Shyla either, or why he'd
been so driven to bring shape to the angel in his dreams.
He'd also never understood why the
statue came out so well. When others
lauded her as the work of a skilled sculptor, he didn't understand. How could
his hands have crafted something aesthetic? They were the hands of a laborer, a
groundskeeper, callused from hard work in rough dirt and shapeless rock. He
barely managed to chisel fresh inscriptions on the tombstones when they grew
too eroded to read. How his angel had taken form and been so much like the
alabaster creature in his imagination—exactly
like her, exactly as he'd envisioned, down to the elfin ears and delicate,
tender fingers—Conall couldn't fathom.
He'd never had the compulsion to sculpt
anything else, either. Even if his first attempt had revealed some sort of
hidden genius, he didn't believe he'd ever repeat it.
Even though most folks found Maya
impressive at first, perhaps cheered by her appearance in the somber old
graveyard, they grew unsettled with her in time. The change became a palpable
thing to him, an inevitable, creeping distrust from anyone spending a prolonged
amount of time in the cemetery with her. Where, if one did ascribe to fanciful
imaginings, she might see them.