Shattered Blue Bird

swallows on a wire

photo credit: ferran pestaña via Compfight cc

My brother wanted to put the blue bird into her casket before they closed the lid. But I wouldn’t let him. I took it out of his hand and held it in mine so he could not slip the small figurine into the satin folds surrounding her.

I ran my thumb along the smooth back of the bird to where the tail split into two narrow stems. I always thought it was a swallow because of the way the tail formed a “V” but my mother said it was no particular kind of bird. It was a blue glass bird, cobalt actually.

It was odd for me to see her cushioned on silk. But she seemed to belong in the lush cream cloud, as if finally she were calm. She was beautiful, even death did not steal the loveliness of her cheekbones or the grace of her chin.

Jimmy and I looked at each other then I bent down and kissed our mother on her forehead to say goodbye. Jimmy did the same.

We turned to greet our guests as the lid was closed.

The room was filling up with the neighbors and families we had always known. The plant was closed today, so most everybody could come pay their respects to Jimmy and me. Everyone had turned out in their best clothes. Black suit jackets too tight across a belly. Dark paisley dresses nearly worn through at the shoulder. Pant legs too short on the children.

The plant had been without work for almost a month now. No one had extra money for new clothes, especially fancy clothes that would only be worn for occasions like this.

Mr. Stanley, our father’s best friend and bowling teammate, came up to us and shook Jimmy’s hand, “Your mother was a fine lady. We all had a special kind of love for her.”

Mrs. Stanley hugged me tightly and told me to let her know if there was anything she could do.

The Leary’s were next. Mr. Leary who could whistle a jig better than a fiddle player could play it with a bow.

“We’re here to help you kids. You just ask,” he said.

Another tight hug from Mrs. Leary. Mrs. Leary who would sew our buttons, feed us a sandwich or tend a scraped knee when mother was too overwhelmed with her life.

And that’s how it went, hugs and words started to blur but they did not lose their meaning. We’re here. We’re here. We are here. Until everyone had come through to touch, or pat, or kiss us.

Everyone was kind. Everyone offered help. Now that we were alone. Now that mother was gone, too.

The room settled down with all the seats taken and people standing in the back getting ready for the service. I looked up and saw someone by the door who had not come forward to speak to or hug us or offer help.

A tall woman stood erect helped by the cane in her hand. She looked out over the crowded room with her chin held high. Her silver hair was twisted in a knot at the base of her neck, set off by the strand of pearls above her collar.

I knew her, even though I had never met her.

I walked to the back of the room. All heads turned and followed me. This was not how the service was supposed to begin. Whispering started.

“You look just like her,” she said to me. “The same nose and chin. But your eyes are sharper.”

I stood in front of my grandmother. My body was tense and anger was rising in me. The warmth and kindness that had just been given to me by all the other people in the room was wiped clean from my heart and coldness entered.

My fingers tightened around the glass bird that was still in my hand. The tail snapped at the “V”. The broken edge cut into the base of my thumb. I looked and saw a rivulet of bright red blood start down my wrist.

I uncurled my fingers and saw the shattered blue bird resting in my palm.

“She got that in Venice, you know. Murano, actually. Your grandfather and I took her there when she was 16.” My grandmother was speaking to me. “She met your father that summer after we came back from Europe.”

“And you never saw her again,” I said.

“I saw her one more time. To reason with her. To ask her to come home, to leave your father.” My grandmother paused.

She looked at me levelly, “I asked her to end the pregnancy.”

I looked back at her and said just as evenly, “She told you what I am telling you now. Please leave.”

I took my grandmother’s hand and put the pieces of blue glass in it. Then I turned and walked back into the room that held my family, so the service could begin.


This piece of flash fiction was inspired by:

Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge over at Use a color in the story title in 1,000 words.

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