Grandfather made a cup of tea and settled down to read. The days were quieter now. His granddaughter no longer arrived on her weekly trips, eyes wide, begging for another story. He had spun gossamer threads of words, ethereal as the worlds he long left behind, and found himself lost in Zoe’s happiness. But Zoe was gone. Visiting friends, her mother had said, but Grandfather knew otherwise.
He could not bring himself to be jealous of his own grandchild. Still, to be left behind was a difficult burden, and there were no stories to soften that blow.
“You came for her. For that, I am grateful,” he whispered to the empty room. “I only wish you could also have returned for me as well, Trickster.”
As he slept, he imagined that he could hear the tinkling of jester’s bells. He dreamt in red and gold, of painted swirls of light that danced across a shadowed stage. He awoke alone.
With little to occupy his time, Grandfather created a new kite, this one shimmering red and gold. The work was slow; his crooked hands no longer have the finesse of his youth.
“It is not time yet,” came a voice from everywhere and nowhere.
“I have little time left to wait,” Grandfather gently responded, refusing to turn. Trickster would reveal himself when he was ready.
“Stories exist outside of time, old friend,” chuckled the voice, smooth as silk. “Finish your kite. We shall fly it together.”
“Zee, I have known your Grandfather far longer than you have been alive,” came the Trickster’s familiar voice through the bedroom door.
Grandfather half-listened as the argument continued, seemingly oblivious of his presence only a few steps away.
“He will understand and he will love you regardless.”
“I can’t risk that,” snapped a second voice. Grandfather thought, for a moment, the voice resembled his granddaughter. “Bring him back yourself.”
“I brought him once. I cannot bring him again. It must be you. He will not reject you.”
“How do you know?” the younger voice demanded, on the verge of tears.
“He did not reject me. Why would he reject his grandchild for the same difference?”
Grandfather returned to his dreams. He awoke, the conversation forgotten, to a red bird singing merrily outside his window. A red carnation lay beside his half-finished kite. He placed the flower in his lapel and continued with his project.
He imagined he heard a jester’s bells gently tinkling as the work continued. His hands shook, gold paint speckled on his fingertips, but the wood held firm and the kite slowly came to life. Tying the last knot, Grandfather sat back. It was a fine kite. Zoe would have enjoyed coaxing the toy to life.
Outside the craft room’s window, despite the lateness of the evening, a bird called out from the trees. Grandfather opened the window and invited the creature inside. The small red bird flitted onto his windowsill. Grandfather smiled at his new audience.
“As one expert to another, friend, what would you say of this kite? Shall it fly?”
The bird chirped once. Grandfather tipped his hat in gratitude.
“Why, thank you, I am much obliged,” he laughed. “It reminds me of a story. Would you like to hear it?”
Grandfather continued spinning the web of a new story, the strange bird chirping along. In the shadow of the doorway, Zee watched their Grandfather lose himself in his past once again.
“He’s ready, isn’t he?” they whispered to everything and nothing. Another tinkle of bells was the only response. Suppressing a soft laugh, Zee turned and disappeared back into the shadows.
It was time.
Grandfather knew he could not fly the kite. His hands were not strong enough for the game. Instead, he carefully placed the kite on the sofa where Zoe had once claimed as her spot. His knees creaked as he sat beside the kite. Outside, a bird sang, and he dozed, losing himself to memories once more.
It was dark when he awoke again. He reached for the kite beside him and found it missing. In a panic, he turned to locate the toy, and found it.
Zee stood beside the sofa. They clutched the kite firmly in their hands. Beside them, the Trickster leaned casually against the doorway, idly twirling his baton.
Grandfather hobbled out of the sofa and called Zoe’s name. They flinched and the Trickster quickly stepped between them.
“Zee, my old friend. Not Zoe,” he sternly corrected.
Grandfather took a moment to look at his grandchild more carefully. Dressed in red and white, their clothing lay somewhere between masculinity and femininity. He almost did not recognize the person before him. But Zee’s smile reached their eyes and he knew, without a doubt, this was his grandchild. That was enough.
“Zee then,” Grandfather chuckled, and it seemed the room itself breathed a sigh of relief.
“Do you want to hear a story, Grandfather?” Zee took the purple bowler hat from their head and pressed it into his hands. “Or do you wish to be part of one?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of red and white as a moving Target came into few. Xe took Zee’s hand and led them into the mists quickly engulfing the room. Zee turned, beckoned to their Grandfather, and vanished again.
“You saved them, Trickster,” he croaked in wonder.
“They saved themselves, my Innocent,” the Trickster smiled. He placed the hat on Grandfather’s head. “And we returned for you.”
The Trickster playfully flicked his baton against the Innocent’s shoulder and led him into the shadows. The world disappeared around them. In the mists, the Innocent watched the Target lead Zee into a dance. The Trickster bemusedly encouraged them to them carry on.
Turning back to the Innocent with a practiced flourish, the Trickster bowed.