Rose & the Robin
“God finds a low branch for the bird that cannot fly.”
— Turkish proverb
Water trickles into soil, the fuchsia drink, their white roots a thousand throats, their magenta plumage dazzling, dangling from baskets. I pour until water dripping to deck, ticking, says it’s time to move on.
Clouds lie low. Suddenly a heaviness hurled at me, bam, bam, bam in quick succession, hitting the tall window above my head, three soft stones, no, damp rags landed near my feet, brief flutter of splotched fabric, temporary confusion then clarity: the sky is throwing birds at me.
Thinking of Rose, not flung birds, not hung flowers. Rose, ninety-three, lives in a bed at Creekside, though there is no creek for her to lie beside. She nests—blankets, tissues, stray petals, purple and yellow from a wilted bouquet, all woven around her. Food is brought to her, creamy soup and pink yoghurt, also colorful pills for heart, thyroid, blood pressure, pain—one is almost sweet, she says, but which one, I don’t remember . Rose is an open mouth, waiting for the taste of whatever comes next.
Two young robins, a Swainson’s thrush, wings limp, chests speckled and still. Kneeling, I touch the downed bodies, finger to downy feathers feeling for buried heart. Two gone, one dazed.
Running late, I call Rose, her phone rings and rings, a fumble, distant competing voices, a television, then her Hello? She keeps asking what day it is, what time, a long pause. Is it today?
Memory is a web spun through the mind, delicate silks, attaching and collapsing.
Smear of blood on the plank beside the robin, shape of a red question mark, one of her blood feathers, broken. One wing struggles, then falls open, twig of leg pumps, then relaxes. I look down into her eyes. Little brown pearls, shiny and wet, stare up at me and past me, unblinking—so this is what help me looks like when there are no words.
What is the face of god to a bird? Mine no doubt a disappointment, naked and tense. When I lift her into my palm, hold her limp heat, want, want, want her to keep flying in this life, does the pain lessen or flare?
I keeping thinking I have to go on a trip, Rose says, but I don’t know where. I want you to go with me, but I keep thinking you can’t. I know you are so busy, you have your own trip to go on, don’t you? Is it the dentist? Am I coming to your house? Did I tell you I dreamed I could fly? And when I woke up, it seemed real, and my arms were cold, so I put them under the comforter and pulled it up to my chin.
A shoebox, a tea towel, a careful nestling of the young robin, then the lid, a blaze of sun as the clouds break apart, completing the cardboard incubator, while I finish packing.
Four hours to visit Rose through miles of redwoods, then the crowding of cars, her city, Santa Rosa, literally Saint Rose, a saint so beautiful she wore a crown of thorns and smeared her face with pepper to spurn attention. Not our Rose, her hair is still colored blonde. A picture of her modeling a big-brimmed hat, a smile, a shapely dress in the ‘30s hangs above her bed. When she stands, getting in or out of her nest, she looks, remembers herself, adjusts her pajama top, sweeps fine strands across her forehead with a cool hand.
On the deck, still two sprawled fledglings, litter of white tufts knocked loose, scuttling then drifting up on a current, a soft soaring. I gather the supple bodies, fold wings, straighten legs, lick a finger, smoothing a cowlick of down, slipping the birds into a plastic bag, into the freezer, models for my husband’s woodcarving.
I let my calico sniff a feather, scent of flight, her pink tongue flicking, a genetic lust for prey fidgeting in her mouth. She rubs her cheek against my knuckles, purring, peering up, her pupils black slits, where’s the bird?
Rose and I are standing in front of a row of sunflowers more than 7-feet tall, blossoms maned in golden petals, massive, fuller than our faces, one with crooked neck, looking down at us. Captured by camera, we are suspended, arms around each other’s waist, heads leaned together, sun on us, long stalks of shadow blooming in grass, reaching beyond the frame.
I take this moment with me, for her, Yes, yes, I remember.
What I keep for myself is how the sunflowers faded under the red light of maple leaves come October, how flocks of chickadees flitted and hovered, picking black seeds from the heavy, rain-soaked heads, how each face feeds another’s face until something winged takes it away.
Before I leave, I scan the redwoods for orange eyes, a wide skim of shadow, the hunger of a yearling Cooper’s hawk in the neighborhood. Only birdsong—kinglets, hummers, other robins— singing means safe. I lift the lid, the robin pulls her wings close to her ribs, blinks, clacks her stubby bill twice. Namaste, I whisper, and good luck.
On the phone, Rose forgot what she was saying, so spontaneously sang, I’ll follow the road wherever it leads, my little dog awaiting.
The baskets on the deck are still ticking, ticking, ticking, time to go. Two fuchsia blossoms drop into a shallow puddle, a row of ants nearby changing direction, sensing sugar. Good bye, little bird. I know the box will be empty in time, and that is all I know.