Draped in a black dress and overcoat, the old lady knelt next to the tombstone. She’d been frozen there for two hours already, for without Harry, she had no one to help down the stairs, no one to cook for, no one to wheel through the park. She felt as if she was some sort of space junk; discarded and sentenced to free float for eternity. She remained dazedly beside the tombstone until the honking of a flock of geese snapped her from her trance. Looking at the geese, the old lady’s eyes widened and she sprung up from the grass, walking with as much briskness as her frail legs could muster. Twenty minutes later, she arrived at the checkout line of the grocery store with two loaves of bread. As she handed over a bill and grasped the bagged bread, a smile spread across her shrunken lips.
The next morning, the sun was just beginning to peak over the horizon when the old lady walked into the park. In the stillness of the morning, the world was on mute. The trees stood barren, not a single bird was chirping. While her hands usually grasped the handles of Harry’s wheelchair, they were now armed with the two loaves of bread. She shuffled over to a bench, sat down, and gingerly placed the loaves beside her. Slowly and methodically, the old lady broke off pieces of the bread until a sizeable pile had developed next to her. Across from her laid a pond, which, upon completing her bread pile, she began to throw the pieces into. At first, the mouth of the pond remained so still that one might’ve thought it was a painting. Nevertheless, the old lady remained on the bench, her eyes locked onto the water’s edge like lasers. Suddenly, the reeds began to wriggle, parting and giving way to a family of geese. The mother paddled out in front, her broad feathered chest setting the path for her babies. She snatched up a piece of the bread and the ducklings all followed. Soon enough the bread was gone and the old lady threw out another handful, the reflection of the water dancing bright in her eyes. More geese began to emerge from the reeds and pigeons began to gather. As the sun climbed to its highest peak, blue jays and cardinals had joined the gathering. Once every last grain had been distributed, the old lady rose from her bench, and the melodious harmony of bird’s songs floated her out of the park.
Day after day, the old lady returned to the park. With each visit, she was greeted by a welcoming committee of birds. More joined the gathering each day, filling the park with their wings and painting the trees with their vibrant colors. One day, as the old lady broke apart the day’s bread, a snicker floated up from behind a grove of trees. Squinting through her spectacles, the old lady scanned the trees, searching for the source. Spotting only trunks, she turned back to her bread. Moments later, the snickers erupted again. A group of boys emerged from the woods, pedaling towards her like a pack of wolves. They passed the old lady in a blur of limbs and bicycles, the force of their movement blowing her neatly coiffed hair from its pins. Bird lady. Wrinkles. Who let her out of the looney bin. Their whoops and hollers engraved themselves into the old lady’s ears as they slipped back into the trees. She smoothed her hair and turned back to her birds, her spectacles concealing a single tear.
The old lady returned the next day, her frail figure silhouetted against the dawn. She began to feed the birds, carefully doling out the two loaves. In the same stampede, the bicycles flew by once again, circling her bench. Old hag. Bag of Bones. Die already. But the old lady remained, dutifully tending to her birds as the days turned cool, then frigid, then warm again. Doves and blue jays and cardinals and sparrows and ravens and pigeons and geese all paid visits for the bread, forming an outdoor orchestra. Their deep bellows and airy chirps echoed throughout the park, each day filling the air with their intricate melodies. The old lady had breathed life into the park, yet day after day the boys knocked the air out of her. All the while, the daily whir of bicycles and taunts never ceased.
Then, one morning, as the sun woke up and stretched its rays down into the park, there was no figure to be silhouetted against the bench. As the geese gathered at the edge of the pond, no one was there to break up any bread. As the doves floated down to perch on the reeds, no one was there to throw out the pieces. When the snickers pierced through the trees and the bicycles flew by the bench, no one was there for the boys to jeer at. The birds’ songs still floated through the park, but with each day without the old lady, they fell fainter and fainter. Silenced by hunger, the doves and the cardinals deserted the park. The blue jays and sparrows, too weak to sing, collapsed into their nests. Last were the geese, who retreated into the reeds and never reemerged. The park was empty, coated in silence.
Then one morning, cloaked in the shadows, a figure emerged through the trees. The wheels of his bicycle ground to a halt at the base of the pond and his hood fell back to reveal a boy’s face, smooth with youth. The boy reached into his coat, and pulled out a paper bag. As rays of light filtered through the trees, they illuminated the bag’s contents. Two loaves of bread.