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MUSED Literary Magazine.

The Moon and the Birds

Don Tassone

Helen tucked the pillow behind her head, sat upright in bed and wondered what day it was.

She knew she should have sold the farm years ago and that by now she should be living in a retirement center or someplace where people could take care of her. But she kept putting it off, and there was no one around to help make it happen. Someone from church still brought food for her once a week. But lately she was having a hard time fixing it, and she didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. Some days, she simply stayed in bed. She was too weak to get out.

For a moment, she thought about watching TV. But she found the news too depressing. She considered reading, but lately she was having a hard time seeing the words, and her hands were too shaky to hold a book.

She looked over at the framed pictures on her nightstand, photos of her husband, Charlie, and her children, Michael and Susan. How she wished they were there with her now.

How she wished Charlie were there to kiss her good morning, as he always did before leaving to work in the fields or tend the animals. Oh, to feel his lips on her cheek or hear him whisper “I love you.”

It had been more than ten years. And she hadn’t had the strength to visit his grave near the woods for nearly three weeks now. She missed him so.

Thinking of Charlie always made her think of the moon. When they were young, he had courted her under the moon. They danced by its light. He proposed to her under a full moon. When their kids were little, after they’d put them to bed, Charlie and Helen would sit together on the swing on the back porch and look up at the moon. And when their kids left home, they would cuddle in that same swing, like young lovers, gently rocking under the light of the moon.

“Gaze at it, Helen,” he would tell her. “Let it draw you in. The moon is eternal. If you let yourself be drawn in, you too will live forever.”

She would smile at him when he would talk that way. But he didn’t mind. He was sure he was right. He claimed he could feel the moon’s gravitational pull. He claimed he could feel the moon drawing him toward heaven.

If Charlie had a thing for the moon, Michael and Susan had a thing for birds. Helen didn’t know where Charlie got his ideas about the moon. But she felt responsible for the way her children felt about birds.

When they were little, she would take them out into the fields. There they would spot cardinals, orioles, whippoorwills, yellow-headed blackbirds, barn swallows, robins, gold finches, wrens, blue jays, sparrows, hawks and black-capped chickadees. Whenever her children saw a bird, they would stop and study it and listen intently. They were captivated by birds. They learned all their names and spent hours learning to mimic their songs.

They got so good at it that sometimes Helen would look out the kitchen window, hearing some bird, only to find Michael or Susan, crouching in the bushes, whistling, tweeting or chirping. Of course, they were watching for her the whole time, and they would laugh when she saw them hiding, delighted that they had fooled her. It was a game they played all the while they were growing up.

Her memories of that time were so real that sometimes when Helen would hear birds singing through her open bedroom window, she would think Michael and Susan had come home to visit. And sometimes when she would see the moon through the curtains, she would think Charlie was sitting next to her on the porch swing.

Tonight she felt so tired. She hadn’t done a thing all day, not even left her bed. She had simply sat there, thinking about her husband and her children, missing them, loving them, longing to be with them again.

Through her open window, she heard two birds singing together. A sparrow and a wren, she thought. Funny, she had never heard them singing together before, least of all at night.

Then she looked up and saw a harvest moon, so large in the sky that she felt she could reach out and touch it.

Helen smiled and closed her eyes. She saw the faces of her husband and children. They looked so happy to see her.

Charlie extended his hand and, without words, asked her to dance. Michael and Susan were running towards her, though the moonlit fields, laughing and calling her name. Birds, all the birds of their childhood, glided around them, guiding their way.

Helen took Charlie’s hand, and they danced in the moonlight. Then she knelt down and gathered her children in, as birds filled the air with a song of sweet communion.