There, at the end, when Peter sits on the rock, the memory of Wendy Darling sliding from his mind, and it is sad, of course, to forget.
But it is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.
To remember when no one else does.
I remember, whispers the darkness, almost kindly, as if he’s not the one who cursed her.
Perhaps it is the bad weather, or perhaps it is this maudlin mood that leads Addie up along the eastern edge of Central Park, to Eighty-second and into the granite halls of the Met.
Addie has always had a fondness for museums.
Spaces where history gathers out of place, where art is ordered, and artifacts sit on pedestals, or hang on walls above little white didactics. Addie feels like a museum sometimes, one only she can visit.
She crosses the great hall, with its stone arches and colonnades, weaves her way through Greco-Roman and past Oceania, exhibits she has lingered in a hundred times, continues until she reaches the European sculpture court, with its grand marble figures.
One room over, she finds it, where it always is.
It sits in a glass case along one wall, framed on either side by pieces made of iron, or silver. It is not large, as far as sculptures go, the length of her arm, from elbow to fingertips. A wooden plinth with five marble birds perched atop it, each about to fly away. It is the fifth that holds her gaze: the lift of its beak, the angle of its wings, the soft down of its feathers captured once in wood, and now in stone.
Revenir, it’s called. To come back.
Addie remembers the first time she found the work, the small miracle of it, sitting there on its clean white block. The artist, Arlo Miret, a man she never knew, never met, and yet here he is, with a piece of her story, her past. Found, and made into something memorable, something worthwhile, something beautiful.
She wishes she could touch the little bird, run her finger along its wing, the way she always did, even though she knows it’s not the one she lost, knows this one wasn’t carved by her father’s strong hands, but by a stranger. Still, it is there, it is real, it is, in some way, hers.
A secret kept. A record made. The first mark she left upon the world, long before she knew the truth, that ideas are so much wilder than memories, that they long and look for ways of taking root.
Le Mans, France
July 31, 1714
Le Mans lies likes a sleeping giant in the fields along the Sarthe.
It has been more than ten years since Addie was allowed to make the trek to the walled city, perched beside her father in the family cart.
Now her heart quickens as she steps through the city gates. There is no horse this time, no father, no cart, but in the late-afternoon light, the city is just as busy, just as bustling, as she remembered. Addie doesn’t bother trying to blend in—if, now and then, someone glances her way, notices the young woman in the stained white dress, they keep their opinions to themselves. It is easier to be alone among so many people.
Only—she doesn’t know where to go. She pauses a moment to think, only to hear hooves clattering, too sudden and too close, and narrowly escapes being trampled by a cart.
“Out of the way!” shouts the driver, as she lunges back, only to collide with a woman carrying a basket of pears. It tips, spilling three or four onto the cobbled path.
“Watch where you’re going,” snarls the woman, but when Addie bends to help her fetch the fallen fruit, the woman screeches and stomps at her fingers.
Addie backs away and thrusts her hands into her pockets, clings to the little wooden bird as she continues through the winding streets toward the center of the city. There are so many roads, but they all look the same.
She thought this place would feel more familiar, but it only feels strange. A figment from a long-ago dream. When Addie was last here, the city seemed a wonder, a grand and vital place: the bustling markets, bathed in sun; the voices ringing off of stone; her father’s broad shoulders, blocking out the city’s darker sides.
But now, alone, a menace has crept in, like fog, erasing the buoyant charm, leaving only the sharp edges jutting through the mist. One version of the city replaced by another.
She doesn’t know the word just yet, but fifty years from now, in a Paris salon, she will hear it for the first time, the idea of the past blotted out, written over by the present, and think of this moment in Le Mans.
A place she knows, and yet doesn’t.
How foolish to think it would stay the same, when everything else has changed. When she has changed, grown from a girl into a woman, and then into this—a phantom, a ghost.
She swallows hard, and stands up straight, determined not to fray or fall apart.
But Addie cannot find the inn where she and her father stayed, and even if she could, what did she plan to do there? She has no way to pay, and even if she had the coin, who would rent to a woman on her own? Le Mans is a city, but it is not so big that such a thing would pass beneath a landlord’s notice.
Addie’s grip tightens on the carving in her skirts as she continues through the streets. There is a market just past the town hall, but it is closing up, tables empty, the carts pulling away, the ground littered only with the dregs of lettuce and a few moldy potatoes, and before she can think of scrounging for them, they are gone, swept away by smaller, quicker hands.
There is a tavern inn at the edge of the square.
She watches a man dismount his horse, a dappled mare, and pass the reins to a stable hand, already turning toward the noise and hustle of the open doors. She watches the stable hand lead the mare across the way to a broad wooden barn, and vanish into the relative dark. But it’s not the barn that’s caught her eye, or the horse—it’s the pack still thrown across its back. Two heavy satchels, bulging like sacks of grain.
Addie crosses the square and slips into the stable behind the man and the mare, her steps as light and quick as possible. Sunlight streams weakly through the beams in the stable roof, casting the place in soft relief, a few highlights amid the layered shadow, the kind of place she would have loved to draw.
A dozen horses shuffle in their stalls, and across the barn, the stable hand hums to the mare as he strips away its tack, tosses the saddle over the wooden divide, and brushes down the beast, his own hair a nest of knots and snarls.
Addie ducks low, creeping toward the stalls at the back of the barn, the sacks and satchels strewn on the wooden barriers between the horses. Her hands dart hungrily across the trappings, searching beneath buckles and under flaps. There are no purses, but she finds a heavy riding coat, a skin of wine, a boning knife the length of her hand. The coat she drapes around her shoulders, the blade goes into one deep pocket and the wine in the other as she creeps on, quiet as a ghost.
She doesn’t see the empty bucket until her shoe cracks against it with a sharp clatter. It falls with a muffled thud onto the hay, and Addie holds her breath and hopes the sound is lost among the shuffling hooves. But the stable hand stops humming. She sinks lower, folds herself into the shadows of the nearest stall. Five seconds pass, then ten, and then at last the humming starts again, and Addie straightens and makes her way to the final stall, where a stout draft horse lounges, munching grain, beside a belted bag. Her fingers drift toward the buckle.
“What are you doing?”
The voice, too close, behind her. The stable hand, no longer humming, no longer brushing the dappled mare, but standing in the alley between berths, a crop in his hand.