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Spring in New York: breezes play along the streets and in the green of Central Park. There we see a girl, sitting alone beneath a tree, wondering where her dearly departed mother went. Baby-sitter eluded, she plays with tendrils of fresh grass, steeped in her loneliness. It's only been weeks, but it feels like forever. Maggie wishes with every cell in her body to feel her mother's arms around her again.

Her last words were a promise that Maggie clings to with a broken half-hope: If there is a heaven, I will find a way to tell you.

As if conjured by her very thoughts, a strange thing begins to happen. Clouds gather, threatening a sudden shower, but what falls from the sky is not rain, but feathers. Feathers of every kind, as if all the birds in the world have flown overhead, molting striped feathers, spotted feathers, white feathers, blue feathers, green feathers, and more. They fall whisper-quiet, brushing buildings, cars and people as they float to a stop.

Maggie watches the feathers come down, feels them caress her cheeks the way her mother's hands used to when Maggie cried. Maggie looks at the feathers collecting at her feet and knows this is a sign.

Rushing from the park, the young girl sees her beloved city has come to a halt. People stand on the sidewalk, staring at the falling feathers. People who'd never look twice at each other are suddenly conferring together about the odd event. Regardless of race, class or creed, strangers suddenly turn to each other, free of expectation or rivalry, the impossible suddenly the instant norm.

Maggie takes a subway to her father's office, and finds him at his desk. But he is not alone. His boss towers over him as he sits, head in hands. Maggie hears the boss say: "I sympathize with your loss, of course, but we can't keep you on if you don't do the job you're paid for."

Neither man has noticed the feathers falling on the other side of the office windows.

"Look!" Maggie interrupts, pointing to the nearest window. "Look at the feathers!"

The boss looks outside, stunned. "What is this? Some sort of prank?"

He storms out to investigate, but Maggie's father keeps his head planted in his hands. Maggie reaches out to him, spins his chair around, and points once more to the feather shower outside. He looks out the window, then at Maggie, his face a mask of confusion.

Maggie smiles and dances as she declares, "Mommy kept her promise! Heaven is real! We're going to see her again!" She whoops and spins, nearly falling, but catches herself just in time. Smiling and panting with excitement, she looks at her father, who returns her hopeful gaze with a morose one.

"Sweetie, whatever's going on here, your mother's death has nothing to do with it."

"No!" Maggie stamps her foot and crosses her arms over her small chest. "You're wrong! I know it! She promised!"

Running from the room, Maggie begins to cry. Her father, nothing left to lose, leaves the office behind, chasing Maggie down several flights of steps to the ground floor, then out onto the sidewalk, where feathers lie several inches thick.

Around pedestrians, weaving through the motionless traffic, Maggie, and her father following, run, neither knowing where they're going. The chase begins to attract peoples' attention and soon first one, then another person has fallen in with Maggie's father. Soon a crowd of adults, shirking regular responsibilities, joins the chase.  Maggie pumps her little legs faster, turning left and right at random as she runs through streets she has never seen before.

Suddenly, all the feathers are caught up into the air by a gust of wind. The clouds overhead explode with sound and light, and Maggie and her pursuers stop dead in their tracks.

Maggie lifts her small, red, panting face to the sky and is nearly blinded by an overwhelming, if gentle, light. A host of angels in golden robes, faces blazing with fierce compassion, sing a melody like no Earthly choir  – as if an alien orchestra were playing underwater.

There is one very familiar face in the very center of the heavenly chorus: Maggie's mother, more glorious than Maggie remembered her. She sings loudly with the angels, her face a sun of joy, peace and love.

In an instant, the angels disappear, leaving the city engulfed in strange silence. The memory of the song plays over and over in the hearts and heads of everyone who heard it. Tears were in every eye in the New York City that day, tears of hope and joy.

Later, "The Incident" as the news called it, was declared an effect of mass hysteria. But Maggie and her father knew better. And Maggie, as she grew to womanhood, remembered all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
commissioned by David Thomas.

inspired by and intended to be read along
with Debussy’s Premier Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra
[link]
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May 13, 2011
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