Lady Blackbird - a short story
New for this year - I will be sharing my writing with you here - a short story or poem(s). One post each month. To begin, January's read is a short story I wrote last year. Illustrations are from my recent sketchbooks.
Lady Blackbird - a short story
It was a hard winter. Grandfather went out into the ice to catch a bird. Eventually a blackbird came to peck at the crumbs. Grandfather’s stiff arms captured the bird. The lady blackbird was so cold it could not fight out of his locked arms.
Now we will have something to eat, Grandfather said.
His three grandchildren did not think so. They were sure the bird had a name, a family, another place it should be.
Don’t be ridiculous, Grandfather said.
The bird sat on a shelf. She seemed to be waiting patiently for something to happen. There was no need to use a cage.
A few hours later and Grandfather was making a small chair for the bird.
Why does a bird need a chair? The grandchildren asked.
Grandfather placed the chair on the shelf. The bird hopped upon the chair.
The bird looked quite regal. Soon it was telling Grandfather all sorts of things. It would only speak to Grandfather. The bird demanded seeds, water, a small mirror, a box of sewing things, a pillow filled with lavender, a picture postcard of Paris.
Why Paris? Grandfather asked.
The lady blackbird would not tell him.
Grandfather told his hungry grandchildren that he would have to grow a beard now. The blackbird wanted to see what he might look like. He was not an old man. He was youthful and tall and fair. He knew it would take time to grow a beard, yet each day the lady blackbird looked at him with hope.
He felt sure she was falling in love with him. And he with her.
They talked of old times, when the weather was always gentler and Grandfather kindly returned eggs to a nest. The lady blackbird, Grandfather said, thought he was the kindest person she might ever know.
The children were so hungry. They were tired of just bread to eat. Their mother had gone to a far-off city to work in a hotel. Their father had been eaten by a bear. They wished either of these things might happen to them. They played a game: hotel or bear. To play the game they used a mop, a broom and a carving knife. The game always ended badly with someone crying, more often than not all of them crying.
Grandfather had news. He was marrying the lady blackbird.
Then she will be our step-grandmother, the eldest child said to the other two. She will boss us around all day. How are we to tell our friends we have a blackbird grandmother?
Grandfather’s beard was growing very slowly. He admired himself in a tiny mirror. Soon it would be his wedding day. They were to have the ceremony out in the woods. It was to be a very private affair and the children were not invited.
She cannot really marry, the children agreed. She just wants him to take her outside, into the woods, then she will fly away.
Grandfather was out in the woods fetching firewood. The eldest child decided to try and chat with the blackbird.
Now then, tell me, why don’t you just fly out of here? The child frowned at the bird, waited for a reply. Fine. Why don’t I open a window and watch you fly out of here?
But you will get into such terrible trouble, the lady blackbird said. She had such a warm yet rasping voice. She had the voice of an old lady.
The child stared at the bird. Well I suppose I would get into trouble, the child said. Grandfather would send me to bed without any supper.
The bird flicked her tail feathers and shuffled about on her little chair. So you see, the blackbird said, always best to go with the flow. Your grandfather and I will be married soon. Then things will get better for you all. He and I will grow a garden.
Is that some sort of metaphor? The child asked. She was a bookish sort and always sceptical. She knew when it came to speaking creatures one had to be very sceptical indeed.
The bird did not reply. She looked at the child with one dark eye.
I still think you should fly away, the child said. We kids don’t like you. And you can’t like us.
That evening the children waited and waited for Grandfather to return from the woods. They stood by the window to see him. They waited for the tall shape of a man carrying logs. No shape appeared. It was very dark. The moon was a speckled thing.
The eldest child lit a fire with rags and the splinters left in the log basket. The blackbird tutted to herself. The eldest child tried to ignore the tutting.
The next day, hungry and tired from waiting up most of the night, the children set out to look for Grandfather. The eldest child left the cottage door open, just a tiny bit, so if she should choose to leave now the blackbird could tiptoe out.
They walked so far into the woods and did not see a soul. They could hear nothing at all. Then the smallest child sat on a stump and began to sing a song their mother had taught them.
Just then the lady blackbird flew out from a bush. She flapped and danced about them.
Go no further, the lady blackbird said. The hungry bear ate your Grandfather! I’ve seen his tattered shirt and bones, it is a pitiful sight! What shall ever happen next! Go no further! Run home children!
So the children ran home and locked the cottage door. They looked out of the window and saw the lady blackbird flitting and flying in the snow. Was she happy or sad? It was so hard to tell.
A few days later and a neighbour came to their cottage. He was an elderly man with a kind face and worn hands. He thumped a bag of bread and other good things on to their kitchen table.
A blackbird came to me, the neighbour said. Don’t think it a madness. She flew at me and spoke.
We believe you, the children said and ate the neighbour’s food.
I promised her I would come here and give you all the food that I have, the neighbour said. He stood, wringing his hands. He watched the hungry children. Such a pitiful sight.
Now you will be our Grandfather, the children said.
Oh dear, the neighbour said, I’m just not the family type.
The children stared at him. Oh well, the eldest child said. Then there’s only one thing you can do. Go out and find that blackbird and marry her. Then she will be happy. That is all we want from now on.
The neighbour shook as if afraid. But I’m not the marrying type, the neighbour said.
You must! The children said.
So the neighbour went into the bitter chill of long winter. He walked across the gardens. He called out and the lady blackbird came to him.
And they shall live happily ever after, the children said.
Copyright Cathy Cullis - all rights reserved 2020
I hope you enjoyed reading. Would you like to support my creative writing and publishing projects? If you can, please consider buying me a coffee here. Many thanks!
Looking forward to sharing more writing next month.