I ease from bed, remove needles and tubes, put on my gardening clothes, and open the front door. I fly the way I swim, arms pulling through thick night air. Thank you, God. I can breathe up here. Gliding around a tree, I startle a mockingbird hobbles in circles on the grass, gray wing jutting like a splintered oar. Daddy, Anna says, the cat did that. Her eyes are round and curious. I nod and look for the cat who leapt into the old oak is my nest. The thick branches are unmovable, but when the wind stirs the world sways. I nailed a wood box up here, stashed food to last all winter, raw nuts, dried fruit, and Anna’s toy canteen is always full of Tang. She pours an orange coin in her palm and offers it to the mockingbird. He won’t trust me, she says. He’s hurt, I say, cutting holes in a shoebox lid. I put on my work gloves are still in my back pocket. I throw them away like molted feathers and float out of the tree, rowing my arms, rising over our house has been so quiet since the divorce. This is the first time I’ve seen Anna excited in months. She holds the box and says to the bird inside, Don’t be afraid I tell myself as I swim over trees and telephone wires. I feel like I’m going to fall into the earth but know I won’t. On the street below I hear Anna crying in her room. What’s wrong? I ask. She points at the box. He won’t sing for me, she says. That’s just because he’s scared, I say. He will. Mockingbirds sing hundreds of songs, and all for love. For real? she says. For real, I say, and sing, All You Need is Love is the tether binding me here thirty feet above the house. Anna runs along the sidewalk, tiny hand waving like she’s reaching for a kite string. I can’t fly any higher. Can’t pull up my heart’s anchor. Can’t let go, I say. But Anna clutches the box. I want him to sing to me. I gently take the box and tuck her in. Her night light glows like the North Star shines brighter, dissolving the tether between us. I hear its light like a voice. It’s OK, I call down to Anna. I love you. She stops running. She opens her arms as if I’m about to pick her up. I open my arms as if I just put her down, and above me a trill of music rolls down the dark hallway. It takes a moment before I realize it’s the mockingbird. I wake Anna and carry her to the living room. He’s singing, she says. I sit on the couch and say, Listen to how the song changes, and my head leans back lifting my face to the universe. Lines begin to connect the stars, turning into tessellations of light. Time and space fold like paper and my eyes flutter watching Anna kneel on a chair, staring with a child’s reverent expectation at the box on the dining table. Even in the dark I see her face as if the mockingbird’s song is light streaming through those fleshy cardboard holes. She barely claps her hands and I close my eyes and see everything, suffused with the warmth, arms still rowing, body still rising, letting go, letting go.
Charles Duffie is a writer and designer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Bacopa Literary Review, Prime Number Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Meat for Tea, Exposition Review, FlashBack Fiction, and American Fiction by New Rivers Press.