Photo: raven black bird tree background from layoutsparks.com
“There’s a dead bird in your tree,” my husband tells me as he steps into the kitchen in from the garage. He’s just home from dropping our oldest daughter at her latest soccer practice.
It gives me a slight chill, the way he says it, like it’s no big deal at all, just another day that this bird is hanging from a tree.
And why is he calling it ‘my’ tree?
“What? Where?” I look out the window, but I don’t see a thing in any of our trees.
“It’s there; I saw it,” he insists, opening the fridge to get a snack. He spills the milk in the process, but I don’t bother asking him to clean it. I’m curious now about this bird.
I continue to scan the back yard and branches of all our shrubbery for signs of any animal of any kind, but still, I see nothing. A few more minutes of frustrated searching and I give up, assuming he’s just seeing things, or that it was a shadow, perhaps.
After all, he doesn’t seem too concerned.
I go back to slicing my cucumber.
“How was practice looking?”
“It was fine. Coach wants to take the girls to the courtyard tonight for a party after.”
I slice the vegetable carefully. “What kind of party?”
“A celebration, I guess.”
My head whips around and my hand slips. I cut the tip of my thumb with the knife, and I suck air in through my teeth.
Jesus that hurt.
But the pain is an afterthought. “The what?”
“Their winning streak,” he says slowly, as though time itself has made his tongue heavy. I narrow my eyes, and try to decide if he’s screwing with me, or if I just heard him wrong. He doesn’t give me another look as he leaves the room with his dish full of cheese.
Suddenly he resembles Rod Serling and I swear he flippantly directs someone to capture the moment. I even hear the creeptastic music that accompanies any given episode of The Twilight Zone, playing somewhere nearby.
The walls close in around me and I begin to panic but then the stinging pain from the cut in my thumb brings the entire scene to an abrupt end. My breathing slows and I swallow down the tightness in my chest. I run some water, clean up my finger and dismiss the whole thing as part of getting old.
The party is huge – more people than simply my daughter’s teammates are here. I wonder if this is a more formal banquet than what my husband had eluded to earlier.
I should have dressed better.
It takes a while to find a familiar face, but finally I think I see my family sitting in the back. I edge my way through the thickening crowd but the more I push, the more lost I become. Suddenly, I’m where I thought I saw them, but now there’s no one I know in this corner of the room. Only servers and party goers who don’t know me from a hole in the wall.
Exhausted, I find a table and order a drink. I can always catch up with them later.
There are a few girls here that my daughter knew. Knows. They appear somber and give me pointed looks. I think maybe they finally lost a game but when I ask them about it, they all stare at me like I don’t belong here. It’s awkward, so I stand and take my drink in search for a less intimidating area of the party.
In a field, just off the patio, the sky is dark, without a star in sight and it’s quiet, except for the rustling of leaves in a nearby oak tree.
My daughter calls out to me. She’s finally found me, and I smile at her. I wave for her to join me and as she does, the sky becomes less dark and more eerie. The wind stills and the clouds above us swirl. Their colors change from grey, to almost blue, then black. The party that, only a few moments ago, was bustling with activity, has gone completely still. There are only a few workers there now. They pay us no mind and the only sound I hear is the clinking of dishes being collected and the swooshing of a broom that clears the floor of leftover debris.
I turn to my daughter to ask her how her night went. She’s staring up at the oak tree. Its leaves are gone now but its branches crack and break, like something heavy is struggling to climb them.
Whatever is in that tree bothers me on some level, so I walk in that direction.
“What is it?” my daughter asks, catching up to me, and I search harder.
“I think it’s a bird,” I tell her as I get a better look . . . and it is. Tangled up in some ropes within the branches of the tree. It seems too small to be caught at first but as we step closer, the bird grows larger and when I’m finally close enough to reach out to it and help, I see it’s not a bird at all. It’s a child.
Panicked, I push up on the body to keep it from strangling and instruct my daughter, “Go for help!”
But she doesn’t move an inch. She simply stares at the child in shock.
Because she knows what I don’t want to yet.
The poor thing is dead.
When I wake up, I can still feel the dread of seeing that child’s pale, blue face and her vacant eyes staring back at me.
I know, immediately, that thoughts of my mother, dying too young, have been lingering in my mind lately and have now followed me into my dreams.
Her birthday was only two weeks ago, I remind myself. I tend to think about losing her on a much more profound basis this time of year.
As I grow closer to the age she was when she left us, my anxiety over the possibility of being taken from my own girls becomes stronger. I don’t want to die and miss out on watching them thrive in life, grow as women, find love and have children of their own, like she did with me.
My chest aches with missing her and worrying for my daughters but I only allow myself a minute or so to reflect, then I know it’s time to let the dream go and get on with my day. I force myself out of bed and away from the remnants of my subconscious, then I take a deep breath and head downstairs. There, I find both of my daughters, already up. They’re sitting at the kitchen table, eating their cereal, chatting away and giggling every so often. It’s not rare but it still makes my heart burst with love when I see them getting along so well. I give them both a tighter hug and many more kisses than normal. Then I move on to the coffee maker and pull out some bread while my morning caffeine brews.
My husband walks in from the garage, sweaty and breathless. It’s summer now, and the Florida sun is threatening to hit an all-time high today.
“What are you working on so early?” I ask him as I drop two slices of bread into the toaster.
“Mom! You won’t believe it!” my youngest daughter shouts from across the room.
“It’s disgusting,” my oldest adds.
“What?” I ask them. My husband holds up a pair of clippers he’s been using and hooks a gloved thumb over his shoulder, toward the garage.
“There was a dead bird in your tree.”
Author’s Note: Many thanks to Corie O’Brien and Randi Flanagan for their assistance in editing this piece. And thanks to you for reading.
J.R. Richardson (Jo) grew up in Maryland with four siblings, three parents, and an endless number of cousins within the vicinity – but it was too cold up North for this thin blooded girl. So today she lives in Florida with her two girls and a husband that shares her same sense of humor and basic take on life as we know it.
She’s always loved writing and always will. Jo tells contemporary stories with romance, humor, the supernatural, the paranormal, suspense, mystery, action, and anything else she can think up.
In 2012, she wrote Cursed be the Wicked, a character driven, paranormal mystery romance that was picked up by Soul Mate Publishing and released in March of 2014. Since publishing Cursed, Jo has also written a couple of short stories and is currently editing a romantic comedy that she hopes to get out to the public soon. Learn more about her on her site.
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