Little Bird

I was on my way back from doing the groceries, when I first realized it was his voice. It was funny, really, that I should only recognize his voice now when I’d been hearing the dove’s feeble chirping for just over a week. It would accompany me in the kitchen as I made a breakfast no one would eat and even follow me to school where it would lull me to sleep in chemistry. I never thought much of it. I was used to the little things singing to me and chattering away like beautiful, gossiping hags. The birds liked me. But I never recognized them, not once. Not until that day.

I remember it was cold. The kind that makes your insides shiver before you actually start shivering. I used to hate the cold, because it didn’t have the sweet scent of rain or the hushed surprise of snow. Cold was always just harsh, bitter, and empty. But mother would wrap a scarf around my neck and feed me chocolate so I’d forget the goosebumps. Now I don’t mind it. I’d stopped minding things a while ago. Even when my hands turned raw and red, because I never wear gloves.

That day I was just happy to be out of the house. It was a sunday and mother wasn’t crying, but she wasn’t talking either and papa had his eyes glued to the football game, but he never cheered. His hand rested uncomfortably on her shoulder. They were like that for so long that I thought they might be dead. I couldn’t stand it. That’s why I’d offered to do the groceries.

By the time I was walking back, carrying a stuffed paper bag under each arm, I’d forgotten to dread home. I was content listening to the babyish babble of the dove. I tilted my face up to the pale blue sky, letting the ice cut my cheeks and slip it’s unforgiving fingers down my neck. It was then that I realized it was Gabriel. It was the same honey bubble voice, the same reaching notes, the same soft, open gaze.

I felt almost stupid for not realizing it earlier, but I suppose these things take time. Maybe. Either way it was strange, because even when I realized it was my brother, I kept walking. It was a funny change. Drastic, but not at all noticeable. I felt like maybe I’d been thirsty for a very long time and now I wasn’t. I could feel myself breathing and it wasn’t painful and I found myself smiling at nothing at all. I felt pretty even with tangled hair. I found myself wondering, which felt almost terrifying, but absolutely lovely. A wondering like the beginning of hoping.

 

It was June, on the cusp of summer, and I had my pink and green watermelon top on. We were having a picnic. Mother looked very beautiful despite her uncombed hair and swollen belly. Her blue eyes were shaded by her 1950s style straw hat and I liked watching her cheeks sink in as she sucked lemonade from a straw. Papa had offered to push me on the swing, but I told him I wasn’t a little kid anymore and instead we contented ourselves by laying under the sun. Mostly, I just wanted to listened to the swans gossiping about how annoying the fish were and the mockingbirds cracking stupid puns just to infuriate the blues.

Then aunt Rachel came and I listened as she talked with mother about food and health and the other mother’s at school. I envied their easy sister chatter, but today I didn’t mind as much, because I knew my brother would come in just over a month. So instead, I imagined all the adventures we would go on and all the things I would teach him.

“Darling, come sit next to me. You never hug your mother anymore.”

Of course that wasn’t true. Mothers are unbelievably strong, but unbearably melodramatic. I sat up and nestled next mother, both of us leaning against an oak tree.

“Are you hungry? Do you want a seed cake?”

“Sure.”

Aunt Rachel handed me one. I didn’t really want it, but I knew better than to turn down food from mother. When the baby came, I doubted mother would have time to feed me this way.

Mother then made a comment on the negative effects of sugar and aunt Rachel had a word to say about honey as a substitute and I zoned out and went back to the birds.

The crows were particularly interesting. They were arguing and squabbling and I found it all very amusing. It made me wonder if my brother and I would argue. I thought we would. They say all siblings do. But I would be a good big sister. I’d be patient, like my teachers always said I was and I’m sure he’ll be sweet. Sweet and adorable like pumpkin pie.

Mother said I was hurting her shoulder so aunt Rachel took my head in her lap and pet my hair as the sun dropped to gold. The crows were still bickering, but I could hear a few hummingbirds playing a game of who could find the sweetest nectar first. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew I was cold and aunt Rachel was telling me to get up because we were going home.

“Come help me pack up the picnic, you mother is very tired.”

“I am not tired,” mother retorted in her queen voice. But she didn’t help pack up either.

Then we drove home and papa put on npr and I looked out the window, imagining the time when I would have someone else in the back seat with me.

 

The sun was just setting when his tiny feet landed on my shoulder and his wing brushed against my neck as he found his balance. I froze with a terrible excitement, but didn’t forget to breath. Birds are shy things and I didn’t want to startle him.

“Hi Gabriel,” I said and continued washing the dishes.

He chirped a hello and then crooned a bit nonsensically.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to say so I asked if he was hungry and he said yes, which almost broke my heart even though it shouldn’t have. I went to the cupboard and got out my five gallon bag of bird seed, scooped a handful out with a saucer, and set it on the counter for him. He flitted down to perch on the edge of the saucer. With him disappeared the tiny bit of warmth his body exuded, barely noticeable, but disappointing, like losing just one earring.

I watched him for a moment as he ate the seed, his head bobbing up and down like a teeter totter. Then I remembered it was rude to watch people eat so I went back to doing the dishes. It was somehow strange and familiar being with him, but without him talking. Most birds talk incessantly and I always chime in helpfully just on cue, but of course, Gabriel never learned to talk. It’s funny all this twittering silence. Funny, but nice.

I heard slippered footsteps just before aunt Rachel came in. I looked first to Gabriel who’d stopped eating, my hands frozen and soapy in the sink.

“Thank you, baby for doing the dishes. I said I would do them, but that’s very sweet of you.”

Gabriel hopped off the saucer and then back a few steps. He seemed hesitant. Then he flew lightening quick to the back window and perched on the sill. Aunt Rachel didn’t notice and Gabriel stayed strangely still for a bird. Such a small bird.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” I said washing up the last dish.

Aunt Rachel smiled and put on the kettle. “You’re so grown up. You’re a proper young lady.”

The comment made me frown, but I didn’t say anything.

Aunt Rachel emerged from the tea drawer with a soothing camomile which she dropped into my mother’s crimson soup-bowl sized mug.

I hesitated. Aunt Rachel was the first person I’d talked to today, besides the cashier at the grocery store and Gabriel who didn’t count, and the talking made me suddenly desperate. Desperate to tell mother about Gabriel. I wanted to tell papa too. I wanted them to know. Just like when I was little and wanted them to know all about the stick figure drawings I’d done. I didn’t want to ask, but I did anyway.

“Is mother alright.”

“Yes dear. Don’t worry about your mother. She’s just having a bit of nerves is all. This tea will put her right.”

I watched as aunt Rachel squeezed honey into the mug. She put too much. Mother doesn’t like her tea too sweet.

“Do you know when papa will be back?” I asked turning back to the dishes and placing them in the appropriate cabinets.

“Oh I think he’s already home. At your place I mean.”

I didn’t bother asking why no one had told me. It didn’t matter at that point.

Aunt Rachel gave the tea a little stirred and then picked up the mug, kissed me on the cheek, and left the kitchen. I stood very still for a moment, the dish cloth clenched in my hands. Then there was Gabriel’s suddenly familiar warmth on my shoulder again. I smiled a little. Clumsily, Gabriel used his tiny beak to push a loose strand of hair behind my ear. He then nestled into the crook of my neck, humming and warm against my skin. I felt safe and strange, because I was with my family, but completely alone.

“I love you.”