Joan Wilking

Joan Wilking has had nonfiction appear in Brevity, New World Writing, and The ManifestStation. Her short fiction has been published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. Her story, “Deer Season”, was a finalist for the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and her story “Clutter” received a special mention in the 2016 Pushcart Prize Anthology. Her book, Mycology, won Curbside Splendor’s 2016 Wild Onion Novella Prize.

 

I Asked the Bird

The mockingbird perched on the deck rail has been bombarding my sliders for days. The attacks are so purposeful I’m worried it will break the glass. It sits, beak open, before it takes flight and flutters, wings outspread, in front of the exposed panel or until it gets a foothold on the side covered by the screen. It’s a healthy looking bird, lean, and gray and sleek. Every once in a while it ruffles its feathers and puffs up to twice its size.

“What the hell do you want,” I ask as it bashes into the glass again and I notice that below where its been hanging out on the back of my bright green Adirondack chair, there are bright purple stains, the result I assume of the grapes it’s been eating atop the arbor over the other set of sliding doors. It’s been dive bombing them, too. The splats are a lovely shade of purple for bird shit.

On the phone this morning I told my friend Bonnie about the bird and she reminded me about the sparrows that kamikazed my studio windows every spring for several years after I renovated the building and replaced the broken out panes. They’d built their mud nests in the eaves and preferred death to relocation. I flinched at every thud and ended each day disposing of their small black bodies, some of them still warm.

“And do you remember the hummingbird, the one that got trapped in the screen porch? One of your girls captured it.”

“Oh God, yes,” I said. “Poor thing. It died in her hand.”

I’ve Googled “Birds flying into windows.” The ornithological site maintained by Cornell said it is typical behavior for birds in spring. But it’s fall. Not time to nest or establish a territory. Last night we came close to a freeze. Today the air shimmers; the bay is still blue, but not for long. Almost all of the boats have been pulled from their moorings. The trees are baring their limbs. Flocks of Canada Geese have been seen heading south. Any bird with a lick of sense is out of here – except for my OCD mockingbird, cocking it head at me, one beady eye, sizing up the slider, looking for a way to get in.

I putter around the kitchen listening to the thumps as it attacks again. I finish washing the breakfast dishes, dry my hands and cautiously approach the sliding doors. The bird lifts off and hovers in front of me, its belly pale gray, the undersides of its wings feathered black, white and a darker gray.

“Who are you?” I ask the bird.

Are you the lost soul of someone I know? My mother? My father? My aunt who died too young? My uncle just weeks away from turning ninety who leapt from the 22nd floor? Are you one of my friends? Eric or Greg or Cheiko? Cancer took them. Or Scott? A suicide. Or Lily? Or her daughter Nicole? The one dead at the early end of old age, the other only weeks after giving birth to her only child, a girl she had named after her mother.

Are you one of our long dead pets? Spot, the dog, or Ruby, the cat, or Stuart, the guinea pig one of my daughters accidentally dropped down the stairs? I still have Spot’s ashes, and Ruby’s, and my father’s, and my uncle’s in boxes and tins hidden away throughout the house.

Or are you someone I didn’t know? A Syrian refugee, drowned in the Bosphorus? A famine bloated Ethiopian toddler? A diamond miner, beaten to death in Sierra Leone? A heroin addict, overdosed with the needle still in her arm?

Or one of my aborted babies? Lost and alone.

Or are you just a mockingbird, seduced by your own reflection, desperate to escape the impending cold, searching for a warmer, more welcoming place to land?

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