Manna—born of dew and chocolate overdose like most of us, only more so—opened her eyes for the first time on a dusty bookshelf. Church mice snuffled around her, curiously; she wasn’t more than a flesh-wrapped spark in electrical wire.
“She can’t live like that!”
So they found her limbs in the glossy pages of a science textbook; a voice in a hymnal; one clear blue eye in a newspaper and another, purple, in a poet’s sketchpad. They papier-mâché’d cookbooks, a magazine, and romance novels into digestive tracts, gustatory mores, and intimate parts. Letters between friends became her ears, and a picture book settled into her lungs.
For her heart, they called their cousins and heaved a big black leather book from the pastor’s knapsack. Unfortunately, even if a heart’s good, it won’t match the body without breath and blood, and try as they might, the little mice couldn’t make Manna really live. No smiles or footsteps from her—only shuffling, longing sniffles. Her skin froze, and one by one the mice left so she wouldn’t singe off their fur in her embrace.
She didn’t call after them.
She didn’t care, really, she told herself.
Her fingers tingled for a moment—ached like holding your breath too long—then stiffened and felt nothing. Her eyes crinkled; she couldn’t cry as they dried. The spark was receding into her core.
But as Manna sat frigid, shutting down, her heart drew back towards the pages that comprised it, and just before her other body parts flexed back into paper, she read.
She—she had letters etched on her heart! Figures scrawled across her arms—lyrics dripping from her voice box into her lungs—!
And each one told a story.
She choked—her head pounded for the first time as blood, breath welled within her, searing her chest. She croaked. “More! More!” She clawed across the shelf to her heart’s tome, clouds of dust exploding around her. Her limbs dragged—still the spark receded—ice crackled on her temples—
“No, no!” she cried, throwing her weight against the book.
It thudded open besides her.
She tore into it, sucking the words in, rolling in them, filtering them through her bare skin. The stories burst inside her, climaxing into one Word, and when she reached the end, she lay panting, staring at the shelf above her, and whispered it.
Lightning and laughter glittered around her ankles.
“More one-words!” Dust trailed Manna like airplane exhaust as she pounced across other pages, building her blood with one-words. A Tale of Two Cities gave her “sacrifice”; Mara, Daughter of the Nile, “courage”; a Batman comic, “persistence”; Peter Pan, “playfulness”! As she ran, she caught her reflection in the back face of a discarded pocket-watch, and with a gasp she found more letters she couldn’t quite see, on her back, under her arms, shining stories back at her. She stared at herself, head tilted, spinning and peering and sniffing as her reflection brought her new one-words, one-words that colored her skin with brilliant, shifting iridescence.
A rainbow of light pierced the hole where the church mice lived. Some withdrew into the furthest corners of the cathedral, shrieking; a few crept to the door, black nub-noses twitching. “Manna, is that you?”
Manna raised her hands and shouted her first one-word. Fragrance like fresh jasmine burst from her mouth to encourage the brave mice, and they cheered. From then on, through every Winter she kept them warm; from every cat she rescued them; and her dances calmed their babies during thunderstorms.
The mice in the dark corners never trusted her and never came out again, and sometimes, Manna even felt strange with the friendly ones, knowing they hadn’t stayed by her side at her worst. But she was never lonely. The stories inside found her companions in the stars, and on clear Summer nights the mice would gather on the tallest spire to watch her fly.
It’s one of those nights tonight. A little piebald sits on his hind legs and wonders as Manna takes off. “Why didn’t it work when we built her of words?”
“I suppose the most important words don’t make any senses without stories,” says an old rouge rat. “Especially if no one lives them out for you–
–you can’t just say Love, you know. Love has to say you.”