By Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
The Sunrise and Stabatha
Two dragons lived in a nest at the top of the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Building, curled fire around a burrow of treasure in the dome of an abandoned neoclassical palace. Licks of living flames collecting scoops from every corner, dipping down onto West Philadelphia streets for their thieving. Building a pile from the pilfered glow to use as a pillow on 46th and Market.
They only had one child after generations of trying, a spigot of fire who smoldered like hiccups off a hearth. Their daughter was born during a spring storm, hail in every strand of her black and white fur, eyes yellow just like her parents. A preening princess, the kind of little kitten who only ever wanted to wear her Sunday best; she napped on the stone scales of the dragons. She chased the fireflies who lived in the treasure piles.
Stabatha was a Viking in feline form: a magical dagger of a cat.
Drawing by Rebekka_Guðleifsdóttir, you can click to make it larger.
The ghost pepper night of June 2020, the heat was a clumsy tiger pawing the dragons’ daughter into waking. In the stifling warmth of the evening, her stomach rattled like stone soup. And the want for wandering comes from being a beast born from slumbering stone-backed dragons.
Mischief is a lure that calls little cats out of their beds during very hot nights. Stabatha left the dragons, and their treasure, and the dome’s disrepair. Past the graffitied walls with the tags from people she knew as friends, past the corpse of a gazebo with a gutted turret, past the Aldi where she always forgot to bring her quarter for the shopping cart. She walked down the block from a haunted house obscured by a copse of black cherries, trees-of-heaven, oaks, and juneberries. She stopped to smell something interesting at 43rd and Baltimore, which turned out to be a discarded muffin that helped a bit with her hunger.
After touseling crumbs out of whiskers shaped like fishing line, she saw a quail loose in Clark Park looking for its covey. A loom of a voice rustled out of the pastel throat, and Stabatha darted into the grasses chasing the chip chip chip of the bird’s greeting.
She pursued the bird past the Gettysburg Stone, past the chessplayers, and through a meadow-y field where cloaked LARPers fought with foam swords--stopping briefly to hiss a ribbon of smoke at the pretend knights. The quail landed on the statue of Charles Dickens with his niece Nell, a collection in a curiosity shop.
So much stillness at the statue.
The covey: each bird a petal falling from a bouquet among the bronze, feathered flowers of the sky, and Stabatha: the daughter of fire monsters. Forever dressed for a feast with a belly made for volume, Stabatha swallowed each member of the flock whole, holding them in the home of her body.
She smoothed the down of her fancy white bib while the brood roosted in the wetness, a mottling collection of Jonahs calling to each other in the body of a whale-cat: chi-ca-go.
Stabatha sat on Charles Dicken and wet her lips.
In the damp of the humidity with a body full of poultry, she fell asleep on the weathered patina that reminded Stabatha so much of the armored flakes of parents’ backs. Eyes hot behind the closed lids, twitching.
The sweat of an almost morning woke Stabatha up in the den of Dicken’s lap, and she circled her ears and brightened her eyes to adjust to wakefulness. In the terracotta of a soon-to-be-dawn, Stabatha watched with backyard telescope eyes a moving silhouette, the atmosphere in motion.
A boy in jeans stood atop the back of chestnut gelding with a Sixers flag in one hand, the palm of his other extended to the sky; inhaling and exhaling with the shadowy lights of a day turning into itself. His feet in a climber’s pose, sure and adjusting to the mountain of the horse’s back, the calm that comes with welcoming. Strands of braided gold reached through the air, the universe’s necklaces.
In her looking, Stabatha could swear she saw the Milky Way’s eternity in the height of the moment while the darkness of night fell away like a heavy mantle--the same as the ones actors wore during twilighted evenings in that very same park who spoke words that sounded like words but not quite.
The flag rippled: small waves adjoining the distance between landlock and the sea. Peeking bright light crawled gently out of a dark socket, the exact kind of riches her parents’ loved to steal.
The earth moves the most in the morning, and the boy and the horse stood surefooted against the spinning, bringing the sun to rise. And only Stabatha with her throat full of game was there to see how the sun comes to her seat in the sky above Philadelphia, brought to her place in the heavens by a boy in jersey standing on a horse, Sixers flag in hand.
Horsemanship against the cement and cinder of buildings and sprigs of spicebushes; the day was carried to the city by the magic of a child atop a horse. After his task was completed, the boy on the gelding left the park for the sleep that comes with the silence of stables. Flag sailing out behind them.
So much flying in and all around her, Stabatha trotted back to 46th street. Past the apartments piped like cakes with pink and green, past the ghosts going back to sleep in the cemetery, past the trucks coming in overflowing with produce to park on 43rd street.
In the canopy of the dome, her parents greeted her back, anxious to hear where she’d been. Their lizard heads crossed like a heart, twined like pretzels. Yellow eyes met yellow eyes. And Stabatha, the story of how the sun rises above their burnished home--another golden glow for her parents to desire--was alive in her body.
Jittery with myth, Stabatha had a plan to steal the sun from the morning conjurer to keep their vault golden and warm like an electric blanket. How she would scare the boy’s horse to distract him from his magic, and then her parents could capture the golden disk of day.
Another treasure for them to take for pillow and pile.
Instead, when Stabatha opened her mouth to trill her tale, devious schemes for the fire family, squills and squawks escaped. Every time she parted her lips: a screech. The dragon parents shook their head at the pips while Stabatha put her paw to her neck and felt the interrupting companions; no throat clearing could push them out. A meal awry, alive within her.
The covey of quails in Stabatha’s roosted throat spoke from the hollow: chip chip chip.
Chip chip chip. Chip chip chip
Loud and pure-tuned the noise continued while the sun shone on each of the dragons’ scales.