Paper Starlings is the first of six books in the not*the*same*river series. They follow the life of Violet who, after a childhood in care, figures out her birth family’s heritage is more complicated than she believed possible.
The series features vampires, angels, demons, werewolves, vaewolves and other vae breeds. It’s set mainly in Oxfordshire, England.
Her name is Violet. It was all I could give her.
That’s what it said in the note that severed me from my roots. The note that was carefully tucked beside me in the equally abandoned car seat when I was freshly born.
I had a paper-thin life. It began on a day that was heavier than all others: the day I was born. It began at zero. There were no parents to know. No heritage to learn. No clue who the I in the note was. My narrative existed nowhere but in my own head. Shameful and unsharable. Untruths and un-lies. There was nothing to know, and it weighed a lot.
At first, there was nothing to see or hear either. I had no experience of sound to help me decipher the noiseless chaos of other people’s feelings, but I felt the frequency of them; I felt their pulse. The darkness that was my normal was made entirely of light and movement. Before I’d ever seen a human face, I was visited by eyes and noses and lips, all of them inside my head, detached and devouring.
Before I’d ever seen a bird, I heard a bird: the first starling. It was the first real, outside-of-myself noise I ever heard, and its soundwave bent like it had passed through a thousand raindrops. Even starlings didn’t sound like that anymore. It flew away from me like everything else had, in the space of four wing-beats, like the wind had carried it away with my shadow. The shadow girl had been my substantial truth, but even she was stolen by the light. When the colours came, I still had a paper-thin life.
I wasn’t like the starlings I committed to paper. They had nests to build. They had purpose. They could fly. With golden wings, star-speckled bellies and worm-pink legs, they were an unlikely conduit for my envy. I was nestless and restless.
The unbearable truth of my beginning was an unheard whisper along a wire. Or a tide hitting a distant shore. It was the beat of a bird’s wing diverting a tornado. A presence here, an absence there. The absence left a me-shaped hole I’d never see because it was filled with other people’s grief. That was the truth that would outplay the lies I told myself.
Because truth, as my great-grandfather would one day tell me, has feet. It doesn’t care whether we believe it or not. It can sing at the surface, begging to be heard. It can be patient as death. Sometimes, it can be a language we don’t speak. It can give us wings or lock us tight as bones. It can weave itself into layers of possibility, waiting to be unpicked. It can be written into life, scratched into being or dreamed beneath the stars. Sometimes, the truth can fall into the palm of our hand. Only lies care whether we believe them or not.
I waited for my truth. I waited for paper-thin to expand into belonging. I waited for the padding of my familial narrative. When it came, I learned all the ways I could know the truth. I could bury it. I could dream or paint or fight it. I could twist it. Carve it into my skin. Scream or subvert it. Deny it. Own it. Live it.
The truth of it was this: lies could be easier than truth, paper-thin could be easier than truth, empty narratives could be easier than truth.
If nobody had believed a lie, they might’ve looked for the truth sooner. They might’ve seen it when a woman killed two nurses and was caught standing over my cot with a dripping knife in her hand.
But nobody looked. It was sixteen years before I began to know the truth, and even that was before all the other things wanted me dead.
Pinterest board for Paper Starlings.
The source image is from JCLeroi on Pixabay