LSQ: This story has a lot of weight (pun intended) for something so short. I love how Josie looks at Emma, and the glimpse we get of her past. What was your inspiration for this story?
Andrea: This began its life from a writing prompt where I needed to include some kind of hidden
treasure. I wrote it during the first six months of the pandemic. So much of that time remains a blur to me, but I remember deciding I didn’t want the item to be an obvious treasure. Instead, I
wanted it to be something relatively common whose secret wouldn’t be visible and could easily be overlooked. I landed on a magic feather. In part because in those dark days of 2020, I wanted to find something beautiful and hopeful.
LSQ: As someone who worked for a long time with medically complex seniors, I really felt
Josie’s dilemma when it came to how much to believe. I love the way you insert doubt into
the narration. We get a feeling for the stories Emma carries inside of her, and yet there’s
more magic there—magic that let her know Josie was coming. How did you decide on the
magic you wanted to use in this story?
Andrea: I’m happy to hear you were left wondering a bit about the truth of everything. It’s kind of a recurring theme in several pieces I’ve written over the years, wrestling with the truth and
perception. Anytime I’m ready to dismiss someone’s tall tale as false, I stop and wonder, “What if…?”
The magic in this tale evolved as I wrote it. The story was very different in early drafts. But I
always knew Emma would die, so I needed another character to narrate the story. My first draft
began from that narrator’s POV, and it was something I heard her say about Emma. Something
which helped me define Emma’s character.
Most people don’t know when they’re going to die. Emma Cooke wasn’t most people. Nearing her eighty-fifth birthday, she’d been around long enough to recognize the signs.
“Oh, they’re different for each person,” she told me. “The only thing keeping me on this side of the grave is a bit of unfinished business.”
That opening changed by the final draft, but not Emma’s determination and power to stave off
death until she could find the right person to take up her mantle. Her belief a worthy person
would appear to follow in her footsteps gave us a glimpse about how the feather’s magic
Deciding what magic the feather contained became clear as I learned more about Emma’s
character and past. I often mourn the stories we lose when someone dies. Sit and chat with just
about anyone, but especially our elders, and you’ll be amazed by the things they’ve done and
seen in their lives. Even the most stayed individual has surprises to share. I think all the death
swirling around the pandemic brought that home even more and wanted the feather’s magic to
revolve around saving stories.
Ultimately, the piece became about kindness, knowledge, storytelling, and their powers to affect
positive change in the world. Which, for me, is magic.
LSQ: The scene with the magpies coming to greet their lost brother is so lovely, and then what happens next is haunting! If you were to pick another story of Emma’s to briefly share, what might it be?
Emma stood at the fence, watching Delphine forage with another elephant in the sanctuary’s
field. For all Delphine’s days in the circus, she’d always been the only elephant.
“Oh, Delly,” Emma said, grateful to see her friend wasn’t alone anymore.
Delphine’s ears flapped. She turned toward Emma and ran, stopping short as she reached the
barrier between them. Emma caressed the trunk that first touched Emma’s face with its moist,
sensitive tip before Delphine plunged it into Emma’s pocket, where Emma had stowed a banana. As the elephant peeled and ate the treat, Emma told her about the magpie.
Emma didn’t know whether the magic would work with an animal, but she removed the feather
from her purse to show Delphine anyway. The elephant sniffed at the white pinion resting in
Emma’s palm; her breath made the down near the feather’s shaft quiver. Then, she looked at
Emma with her soulful eyes and placed her trunk against Emma’s bare wrist.
The day the reserve’s manager of elephant care called to notify Emma of Delphine’s death,
Emma removed the silk bag from her dresser and opened it.
“Delphine?” she said.
The snow-white feather twinkled its reply, telling Emma that new memories awaited her. Emma
smiled, and as she laid a finger on the downy plumage, she laughed, then said, “Ah, there you
are, old friend.”