Little Bird

By
The stars showed again in the city. Miranda stared at them, breathless, little sparks of joy going off inside her against all reason. I haven’t seen the stars… in years, she marveled. Instantly, she was counting in her head… How long had it been? Two years? Three? She shook her head slowly, denying it. In the ticking hands of clocks, yes; it had been nearly three years. But in reality… it was something different entirely. In reality, it was anywhere between a few painful weeks and a long, stretching something that seemed very much like eternity. Two loud, rumbling knocks, followed by three sharp ones, pulled her head up from where it had fallen into her neck. Of course; the door.

Miranda shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she held her daughter tightly on her hip. Bearing her hand down sharply on the aluminum door, it rattled with her response. The deep, smooth voice she so cherished quickly replied, ‘Jonas. And a visitor.’ Miranda’s hands were clumsy as she opened the crude locks. A ‘visitor’? Jonas’s clear baritone had not seemed frightened, nor given her any cause to be, but all the same… Finally pulling the door open, Jonas stepped in quickly, his shoulders hunched against the wind, with nothing but a brief glance in her direction. The other man hesitated; he stood erect in the biting air, fretfully searching Miranda’s face. For a full minute he stood without blinking while Miranda shivered in the air that bustled in through the open door. Of course he would think it over before he entered; he had much more reason to distrust them than to trust. But eventually, Jonas spoke up from behind his wife. ‘It’s all right; there’s no cause for concern. We… well, we are very much on the same side here.’ The man still looked hesitant, until he caught a glimpse of what Miranda clutched so protectively, so much like every worried mother before and after her. It wasn’t so much the presence of a young girl that swayed his thinking; it was her, her pale green eyes wide set across her smooth forehead, her limp sheet of honey-colored hair shimmering in the ice-bright rays of heatless sun. Wholly on impulse, and in a crudely desperate attempt to escape from the cold, the man nodded curtly, and stepped inside.

They ate silently, eating out of bowls they clutched in their hands. Tables were a luxury not to be afforded; not when wood was so precious a commodity. Jane was the only one not to look uncomfortable at the unfamiliar addition; at just fifteen, she seemed to have lost all her lifetime’s energy. On one of his longer and farther-reaching searches for all their demanded supplies, Jonas had found her, limp and frozen, huddled under a frail spruce tree in the thick underbrush two miles from the city border. She herself did not say anything of that journey; she suffered her nightmares in silence, yet every morning Miranda saw in her young eyes a tiredness greater than if she had not slept at all.

Miranda had kept the complicated introductions brief. So used to playing a hostess in much more glamorous circles, she managed to smooth out the tension at first. She introduced Jane, and Hazen, and Lucie and herself all to the unexplained company. She waited, cautiously, for a name to provide them with; the man, startled when he realized this, gave only the single syllable ‘Luke’. Hazen, an ancient creature with a face like a gargoyle past its prime, had instantly mistrusted him. Snapping at Miranda about the dangerous times and rattling off a long list of military terms, he had snatched his bowl and stormed off to eat in the single other room. The space in which they lived was opulently open, with high ceilings but only scanty partition of indeterminately beige walls. The front part of the building was so demolished that they had never been able to uncover a name, but they suspected it may have been a library or church. A single, thin wall split the space in two, and the room assignments had been simple; eating, and sleeping. There were none of the carpets or vases or candelabras or wineglasses Miranda had been so used to; but it was at her adamence that they stay in the hollow shell of their long-ago city. She had taken what she could get.

Luke sat against the corner, trying and failing to keep his guard in all this wonderful comfort. The walls, however thin, did more to keep the wind from his back than he’d experienced in a long while. He had warm, though watery soup between his hands, and human faces surrounding him rather than the empty shadows of the places life had fled. Miranda peered at him with interest; he was middle-aged, she guessed, older than either herself or Jonas. From the thin squint of his eyes, she suspected he’d had thick spectacles in the time when such extravagance was considered necessary. It was amazing, she thought, with but a fraction of her old bitterness, how little really was necessary. His bald head was sun burnt from months without shelter, and his swollen, calloused hands fidgeted ceaselessly. Then the warm shape turned over in her arms, and Miranda’s gaze wandered over to her daughter. She was awake, and looking up at the newcomer as though she could not remember his coming. Her hands pressed anxiously into her mother’s arms, and Miranda held her tighter in reassurance to them both. An idea struck Miranda then, and she turned her head toward Lucie, her curtain of auburn hair falling over her face to hide the whispered words she murmured in her daughter’s ear.

Hazen limped out of the sleeping room with pain etched into every primeval crease of his face. To limp in front of the others would be a disgrace not to be dreamed of, but here, alone, his weak legs begged for relief. He was nearing the doorway when the sound pierced his ears again, and he stopped against the wall, his heart moaning from within his chest. They were the gentle sounds of the world seized from him, a life ripped from his person, of decades stolen; and at times, the ache was too much to bear.

Lucie sang low and uncertain at first; the way she always sang for strangers. But as her mind withdrew more and more from her parted lips, her voice rose and grew. She trilled without words or even sounds; a prehistoric language from a time without letters. She crooned not to her audience, but to herself; her small, warm hand pressed against her cheek. Jane leaned her head back; her eyes still the same dull mirrors to the world around her. But her hands, thin and pale; these were her only outlet for what she was feeling, as her mind soared backwards without the pretense of time or space. Her first true thought in those months and eons, which came from the soul rather than the mind, was ‘Keep singing, little bird; please, please, don’t stop.’

Miles away, in a small scrap of forest torn from its shredded fabric of rising and falling tree-covered lands, a little bird sang. The winter bit horribly at its young flesh; but even in pain, its cries were exquisite. The little bird was trapped, its wings young and useless. With every delicate snowflake that landed against it, it gave up another high wail to the stinging breeze. The little bird sang and sang until exhaustion stole its voice once more, and the forest refused to restore sound with any mundane noises. The silent echoes still reverberated in the openness around them, passed from one to the other until it intertwined them all in a binding grip. Little bird slept fitfully in the hush; its dreams as startling and vibrant as the heights and depths of its voice, the peaks and valleys that the silver wind rode, the resounding bliss and cruel desolation that traveled after its willowy song.





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