This is a story I wrote in college. I’m sure it could be expanded into a novel-sized story, one of these days.
“How could you do this to your mother?” my father said. His face had turned the color of a rotten tomato as he listened to my news.
I can’t say I blame him.
My mother sat in the fine oak chair she had as her designated perch. Instead of resting her arms on the carved armrests, her fingers were trying to dam the floods.
“Now what are you going to do?” Father said. “You got yourself into this. You expect us to help get you out? I don’t think so. You’re ‘independent’ now.”
I cringed at the term used against me in such a way. Being independent and having a supporting, loving family may be two different things, but they can co-exist.
“I want you out of here. My house, my rules; you broke the rules, you’re out!”
“Stan, you…you can’t…do that…” my mother said between the waves of the flood. “Where…how…going to…stay?…let…starve…no…”
“I don’t care. Just get your stuff and get out!”
I own a house now. It’s on a hillside in the country. I didn’t want to live along the streets lined with people like eggs in a crate. I needed room, space to be myself. A place where no one would look at me, knowingly, as if they knew what it was like to be me. Where no one would judge me on my past, not question where I’ve been. Plus, it was far away from my parents.
There’s a barn on the property, a small one that I keep my horse, Dignity, in. He’s a pretty thing, all black and shiny with white socks on three of his feet. Best of all, he accepts me for who I am.
Other than Dignity and a few barn cats, the farm is quiet. Just like I like it. It gives me time to think, time to write. I’ve begun to rather enjoy my writing time. There’s a small room upstairs with a big open window, like a picture window, with an oak desk and chair. Every morning I go there to write, saying, At least one page. Just one. That’s all I request. It’s been good for me. I’ve had two stories printed in the Circle of Writers literary journal. It made me so proud; I framed them both.
And I carry on.
My mother made the sign of the cross on her chest. She wore a medal of St. Margaret of Antioch that was her mother’s; her mother never took off until her death. As she was signing, her hand caught on the chain. She looked at it through her dripping eyes. Then she looked at me.
“Here…take this.” She slipped the chain off of her head and held it out-stretched to me. “For protection.”
I stopped throwing random clothes into a suitcase, and took the chain from her hand. I had never really, I mean really, looked at the thing. Engraved in the silver was a picture of a woman, a child almost. Beside her was a dragon, and she was holding what appeared to be a chain that attached to a collar the dragon wore. Odd. I looked back up at Mother.
“I can’t take this from you.”
“Yes, you need it more than I do. Nanna would have done the same. She would approve.” She sighed.
I looked around my room. There were things there that I know I could never fit into my tiny car. Thank god the car’s my own. I grabbed a hand-made carousel that my grandparent’s had made for me. The wood was old and stained, but the little music box still played. I pressed the button and gave it a spin.
“If you want, I can store some of this stuff until you can come get it.” Mother was starting to cry again, set off by the music that filled the room.
“I don’t think Dad would go for that,” I said.
“I won’t tell him.” She looked at me for a long second. “I still love you, no matter what.”
I walked over and hugged her.
A lone tree grows on the top of the hillside. It has this crooked angle to it that looks like it’s reaching for the sun. Or the moon, whichever happens to be out. At the top of the tree, there’s a branch that was hit by lightning. The lightning broke the branch where it met the trunk, but not all the way through. The tree ignored this flaw and went on growing. The branch, not wanting to fall off I guess, also continued to grow.
At the end of that branch there’s a bird’s nest, struggling to hang on as the wind threatens to remove it. As I sit to write, I can see the birds, swallows, I think, flying to and from the nest. They are preparing for something, probably spring. Sometimes when I’m stuck for a word or thought, I find myself staring at that nest, watching it sway in the air, telling the wind to stop shaking that broken branch so hard.
“Please, don’t cut yourself off just because your father’s upset,” Mom said to me. I nodded. She looked old, hair gone gray and face wrinkled. I did that, caused her to look that way.
“I won’t. I’ll let you know where I’m at, I promise.” I took one last look at the house. Dad was at the window, but he didn’t want me to see him standing there, so he put the curtain back and walked towards the kitchen. “Mom? I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to happen. Didn’t want to do this to you. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know.” She sighed again. “Just don’t forget that I still love you. And please, be careful.”
“I will. And I want you to come visit, once I get things straightened out.”
“I’d love to.”
My swallows are gone. I don’t exactly know when they left, but today when I was staring out the window, they weren’t there. I even waited most of the afternoon for them to appear, but they never showed.
The nest is still balanced precariously on the broken branch. It’s still much too early to migrate, so that can’t be the cause of their flight. I didn’t see one of the barn cats around, but that’s another possibility.
I walked up the hill to see if I could find any clues as to their departure. As I walked up the hill, the wind began to blow a little harder, forcing me to tighten my jacket to keep warm. I listened as I walked for any chirps or songs of the swallows, and when I reached the top of the hill I heard a small sound.
On the ground, a tiny chick was crying “Mother, mother.” I walked over to it and looked up towards the nest. It was empty, just as I’d thought. “Mother, mother.” Around the base of the tree, fractions of shells lay scattered. The birds must have either been attacked by one of the cats or some other birds, or given up on this small chick and opted to abandon it. They didn’t leave any signs of return.
“Well, little one, once you’ve fallen from the nest, young can never return.” I bent down to where the chick lay and picked it up. I cradled it in my arms, the sleeves of my jacket forming a new nest.
“Mother?” it asked me, unsure. “Yes,” I said, “I’m your mother now. Your only family. I will feed you and care for you like you were my own. I know how you feel, fallen and weak.” I smiled. “We’re a perfect match, you and I.”
I looked back up at the tree. Its trunk was gnarled and aged. It probably had seen many fallen chicks, I think. Some get up and move on alone, others cry until they are comforted. They don’t understand why their mothers leave.
As I carried the chick back home, I said, “There, there, little one. You’ll be ok. Sometimes, it is just time to go. Other times, well, we give our parents no choice but to leave. It’s just how things turn out.”
I walked into the house, wondering what to nest this chick in, and I looked out the glass door that faces the barn. Dignity was in the training ring, running circles. His fluid movements were mesmerizing. Th-thump, th-thump th-thump. I set the chick in a bowl with a blanket and walked back outside. Th-thump, th-thump, round and round. I stood there and watched him circle, with all the grace that he could muster as he th-thumped around the ring. Feeling my eyes on him, he stopped in the middle of the ring, facing me. He tossed his head back.
“Jack, come on inside. Look what Mommy found.”