Title: Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Fantasy/Pseudo Young Adult
Page count: 436 pages
Chapter 1: Wish upon a Star
The night was more than a little chilly as Sylvia made her way home after a long day at work. Her day had been particularly unremarkable and, seeing how all of her days were, almost by definition, quite unremarkable, that was saying something. She got up every morning at exactly the same time, got dressed, had a cup of coffee and two slices of toast for breakfast as she listened to the day’s forecast, went to work and then, after eight very long and boring hours, she went home, always walking the same streets and seeing the same people at exactly the same time.
She knew hers wasn’t the most exciting of lives, and every night she wished something would happen to her, something different, surprising and unexpected, but it never did… not until that night, and the truth was that even then it didn’t really seem all that spectacular.
Maybe that was why it took her so long to figure out just what had happened. After all, even though what she saw on that particular evening qualified as ‘slightly unusual’, it wasn’t anything anyone would have described as extraordinary… not even Sylvia, with her less than demanding standards. On that night, as she was walking past a deserted alley, she looked up and saw a shooting star.
Sylvia was not a superstitious woman but, remembering the stories her grandmother had told her when she was little, she found herself making a wish. She wished to have someone to go home to, someone who would make her laugh. Maybe it was precisely because she was thinking about those days she had spent with her grandmother as a small child that she imagined that someone as a little girl. It wasn’t much of a wish, and she knew it, but, seeing how she wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, she figured it didn’t really matter.
Two days later Sylvia had forgotten all about that shooting star, and she had also forgotten all about her wish, when, as she was walking down the same street –at exactly the same time as she always did– she heard a soft sound coming from that same deserted alley. The alley was usually very dark, and kind of scary, but on that particular evening a strange, soft glow seemed to be emanating from it, a glow that felt almost like a beacon that was calling out to her. Even though she was more than a little wary, she decided to go in and take a closer look.
To her surprise, hidden behind some discarded boxes, she found a tiny baby who seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
Knowing that babies are not in the habit of turning up alone at night in deserted alleys that are to be found in the middle of nowhere –in fact they usually come with one, if not two, parents firmly attached– Sylvia looked around, trying to figure out just to whom did that baby belong, but it soon became apparent that there was no one there.
She was alone with it, and there was nothing to suggest that anyone had been around in quite a while either (except maybe a couple of cats, judging by some overturned garbage cans). Rather gingerly, Sylvia picked the baby up. It was wrapped in a thick deep blue blanket, decorated with beautifully embroidered stars that seemed to twinkle under the moonlight, and around the baby’s neck, hanging from the most delicate chain, was a tiny star-shaped pendant made of gold.
After a couple of futile attempts to call for help, and knowing that she couldn’t exactly leave the child there because it was likely to freeze to death, Sylvia decided to take it with her to her apartment. It was not an ideal solution, and she was well aware that she could end up getting in a lot of trouble, but as far as she could tell she didn’t really have much of a choice.
Once she got home, Sylvia was finally able to take a closer look at the baby, and she soon realized that ‘it’ was in fact a little girl, no more than a couple of weeks old, with a patch of black hair on top of her head and very pale skin. She didn’t seem to be a particularly fussy baby, not seeing how she had been sound asleep when she had been found and she was still sleeping peacefully.
As if hearing her thoughts, the baby chose that moment to stretch, yawn and open her eyes. It was only then, when she saw the unnaturally deep shade of blue that was to be found in the little one’s eyes –a shade of blue that could almost be described as ‘midnight blue’– that Sylvia remembered the shooting star she had seen a couple of nights before, and when she did she also remembered exactly what it was that she had wished for. She had wished to have someone to come home to after a long day at work… and she had wished for that someone to be a little girl.
It was impossible, or at least it should have been, and yet there she was, suddenly holding a nameless baby in her arms.
It took her almost five minutes to get over the worst of the shock (in fact it took a good wail from the baby to catch her attention). Unfortunately realizing that the little girl was meant to be hers was just the first step. The next one entailed choosing a name for her, and Sylvia knew that that was not a decision to be taken lightly. Most parents have several months to come up with a good name, and in spite of that sometimes they still manage to make a mess out of things and wind up with a daughter named Henrietta Wilhelmina Anastasia or something like that, but Sylvia knew she couldn’t afford to take too long to think about it. She knew that a nameless baby was almost certainly going to be more difficult to explain than one with a name firmly attached, and she knew that trying to explain a magically appearing baby was going to be difficult enough already. In fact she figured that she had to come up with a more believable explanation because this was one of those instances in which ‘the truth’ most definitely wouldn’t do.
Simply put, she knew that this time around ‘the truth’ was something no one was likely to believe… in fact she was having a hard time believing it herself.
Looking down at her daughter –because, even though she had just found her, Sylvia was already thinking of that little girl as ‘her daughter’– she wondered who the baby was supposed to be.
She didn’t look like an Elizabeth, or an Ashley, or a Laura, that was for sure, none of those names seemed to fit the little girl she held in her arms. For a moment Sylvia considered the possibility of naming her Stella, that sounded a little better, but it still felt off somehow, and then the baby’s name came to her, almost as if she had known what it was supposed to be all along. It was an unusual name, that was true, but maybe that was fitting for an unusual baby. Somehow she just knew that the girl’s name was meant to be Citlalli.
The following morning Sylvia found herself in a difficult position because, with the sun shining, her certainty that Citlalli was meant to be hers had basically flown out the window. For some reason magic always seems more believable at night, and Sylvia was horrified at the thought that there could be someone out there desperately looking for a missing little girl. In addition to that it was also apparent that she had a problem because, regardless of whether or not in the end Citlalli turned out to be hers, she had no one to leave her with. After all, it wasn’t like she had had a chance to look for a day care center that was willing to look after a magically appearing child the day before or anything like that.
Realizing that she had to tackle her problems one at a time, Sylvia called in sick, and with such a trivial phone call began what was to be a most remarkable day.
When Sylvia called, the first thing her boss did was ask her what was wrong, and then he went on to ask her if everything was okay with Citlalli, a question that gave her the perfect opening to get out of work for the day. She was so relieved by that particular development that it wasn’t until long after she had hung up the phone that she realized just how surreal the whole conversation had actually been. First of all, her boss had never asked her if she was okay before, in fact most of the time the man barely seemed to be able to remember her name. In the two years she had been working for him he had never shown the slightest interest in her as a person, and she couldn’t see a reason for that to change, however that was not the strangest thing that had happened during that call. No, the strangest thing had been the fact that he had asked specifically about Citlalli when there was no way for him to know what had happened the night before, when there was no way that he could, or at least should, have known of the little girl’s existence… and much less should he have been in a position to ask about her by name.
Still shaking her head in disbelief after that most bizarre conversation, Sylvia figured that she might as well get some shopping done, especially because babies need a lot of stuff –from diapers, to bibs, to bottles, to strollers and cribs– and Sylvia was woefully unprepared.
As soon as she set foot out the door the surprises continued. The first one came when her neighbors from across the hall–a young couple that had never bothered talking to her before because they were always in too much of a hurry, just as happens to be the case with most people– approached her and started cooing to Citlalli as if they had known her all their lives… or at least all her life.
It took Sylvia a couple more such encounters to realize that everyone seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the little girl hadn’t been there all along. That was definitely a relief, but it was also the first hint she had of what kind of a challenge bringing up that particular baby was likely to be.