Birdsong

Grace kneels next to her distraught child. “Well, why don’t you set the table? Dinner should be ready in a little bit.” The silverware door sticks a little as she pulls it open and grabs five sets of utensils. Why not be optimistic? she thinks, and grabs another set for Estelle, in the event that they can actually get her inside and get her to eat something. The whole mess gets dumped on the table where Lucas can reach it. “Be back in a minute,” she promises him. By the time she was out the back door, he was digging under the pan cupboard for the paper napkins and wiping his eyes. Good kid.

The wind is rising outside, spitting little gobbets of rain. It takes Grace a few minutes to spot a flash of brilliant blue in the big tree outside the back door. So very high up.

Bark skins her hands as she begins to climb, and digs in as she climbs higher. A wave of dizziness passes when Grace takes a few deep breaths and makes a conscious effort to loosen her insane grip. Good thing Estelle has chosen the biggest tree to roost in – it could easily have been one of the evergreens that grew in a thicket way in back, and those were nearly impossible to climb. Still, it’s not easy to go that high with the wind beginning to howl and thrash the branches around, and it’s been years and years since Grace has clambered up a tree. It was easier when she was eight.

A gust whips her boy-cut hair into her eyes. It stings badly and makes tears well up, making the climb even harder. Why do bangs grow faster than the rest? Maybe Estelle will give her a trim, if she can ever get her out of this blessed tree.

hair over dark turkey feathers
hair over dark feathers

It seems to take years to reach the nearly catatonic bird woman. The flurry of feather-ripping has left little tufts of down hanging in a lot of the rattling branches. Finally, Grace’s hand touches a fragile wrist and Estelle turns her face toward the other woman.

Estelle hisses her alarm, mouth open, panting. Grace pulls her hand back. She wants to grab Estelle, to keep her from falling, but the bird woman jerked away from her so hard that the whole treetop dipped. Grace is not sure why, but Estelle doesn’t like her. She normally gives Pen’s girlfriend plenty of space, but she can’t just leave her up in this tree. There must be some way to get her down.

Her eyes are depthless, whites seemingly swallowed by the darkness of pupil. “Estelle,” Grace nearly shouts above the clatter of the thrashing leaves, “why are you way up here?” Inwardly, she groans. Lame question.

“Maybe… Maybe I’ll be blown away…” was the answer. Soft, wistful, almost hopeful. Oh, this is bad. She doesn’t even seem surprised that Grace is up here instead of Pen. Maybe she figures that Pen has run out of things to say to tempt her down.

“Please, Estelle. Nobody wants you to blow away. Pen and the kids would be lost without you. Lucas would cry. I wouldn’t have anyone to trim my bangs.” Estelle didn’t answer her wry smile, instead turning her head and leaning her face against the tree trunk. Okay, then. This wasn’t working. She musters up her best commanding tone. What would Master have said if Grace been the one in the tree?

“Estelle. Come down from the tree. We’re waiting for you to come to dinner, and you don’t need to keep Pen waiting. It’s selfish. Do you really think that you’re accomplishing anything up here?”

Estelle sags against the tree, but doesn’t move. “Go away, Grace, and leave me alone.” Her eyes aren’t as hopeless and panicked now. They’re hostile.

Grace wants to cry by the time she’s made her way back down to the ground. Estelle’s unrelenting distrust is hard to take. Pen is relying on her to help take care of his neurotic girlfriend, but no matter how nice Grace is to her, no matter how many times she offers the younger woman friendship and understanding, Estelle just pulls away, stares at her with frightened, angry eyes.

Lucas is waiting for her at the base of the tree, and he throws his arms around her waist, leaning in as Grace combs his messy hair through her fingers. He looks up into her face. “Don’t worry, Mom. I bet I can get her down.”

She doesn’t want him climbing the tree in this wind, but his eyes convince her to let him try. So she gives him a boost and warns him to be careful and hold on tight. She watches him as he clambers up the trunk, holds her breath as he shifts his grip and hauls himself up another limb, close enough so that he doesn’t need to shout over the sounds of nature. Then, to her utter surprise, he begins to sing.

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing is gonna be all right.
Singin, don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right!
Rise up this morning,
Smile with the rising sun,
Three little birds
Perch by my doorstep
Singing sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Saying, this is my message to you-u-u…
Singing, don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing is gonna be all right.
Singing, don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing is gonna be all right!”

Eventually the song eats away at Estelle’s inertia, and she turns to look at Grace’s son.

“I’ll come down.”

wing of jay or macaw feathers
fanned out
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