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The last gift my mother ever gave me was a life-sized figurine of a dragonfly cast in pewter.  I gave it a place of honor amidst the twenty-seven other pewter figurines that jostled for position on the glass shelves of my bedroom.  Their eyes were many shades of red, some rubies but mostly rhinestones, and they looked at me while I slept, and I never minded at all.

The dragonfly was the first one to learn to move, and it quickly taught the rest, hovering in front of each pair of red eyes on blurred metal wings, until first the head, then the arms, then the whole body could move and bend and grasp.  The horse learned to swish its tail and stamp its hoof hard enough to crack the shelf.  The dragon puffed adorable pewter-colored smoke from its nostrils.  The princess, my favorite, the idol of my burgeoning womanhood, tossed her hair and stiffened her neck, and smiled her sweet metal smile.

Each one practiced and perfected its idiosyncratic movements, as if trying them on after a long sleep, while I gazed horrified from a moonlight shadow on my bed.  The light bounced from their eyes as they moved and gesticulated, noticing each other and interacting like children in a daycare.  Their red pinpricks winked and sparkled at me from the far wall until it became clear that they were being repeatedly pointed in my direction.

They had some kind of conference on the middle shelf, with much buzzing from the dragonfly and some very forceful movements of the grizzly bear.  The giraffe on the top shelf gazed over the edge and the pegasus flew on a looping arc up from the bottom shelf, while the rest peered frustratedly through the glass which I never kept very clean.

After several minutes of this, they all seemed to relax and returned to their original places, while the dragonfly took to the air, flying a calm zigzag across the room toward me.  I am sure that it intentionally took an indirect path in an effort to belay any fear on my part, but it could not wholly prevent the sweet-sick terror of the terminally unexpected from welling up in my heart.

The tiny statue alighted on my chest, like a mother's hand touching there to calm and reassure.  The eyes still seemed to glow red despite the wide shadow thrown by the bed's canopy, but in them I saw no menace, just intelligence, one that was firmly fixed on me.  I made no move, and so there was no rustle of bedsheets to obscure the deep but tiny voice echoing from its pewter throat.

"This is my real gift to you, my daughter," it said.  "I shall not be there to grant any more of the wishes that good mothers should grant their daughters.  But I had hoped that one great and final fantasy come true might help you to forgive this.

"Ask them to dance and they will spin a delight for you out of movement and moonlight."

And they did.



Douglas Van Hollen is a software engineer in New York City. His work has previously appeared on He does most of his writing onthe R train. You can follow him around the Internet at


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