Hal isn’t ready for the bevy of people who will flock to his house this week. He’s awake and downstairs before anyone else. With bent back, he drags the heavy bag of seeds out from under the banister. When the grandchildren were younger, they’d aid in the task, and it’s possible one of them will stumble into the kitchen now and help him lift.
A trepidation of yellow warblers, Vi said. When they’re in a group. Or a sweetness. She read aloud from “Birds of Connecticut” as he scrambled egg beaters on the stove.
He places the sieve at the narrow mouth and pours, careful not to spill, though the bird feeder sits upon a page ripped from last week’s news. He replaces the metal cap – effortless for humans but too heavy for squirrels – atop the clear plastic tube. Tonight, as Hal’s done every night for 55 or so years, he’ll unhook the feeder from its long arm on the porch. A frame for his days. A kindness performed to brighten hers.
Come, Hal, she called from outside. Shucking corn, a warm summer evening. Can you hear the peter peter peter? It’s the courtship song of the tufted titmice.
He wipes down the footholds. Finches are finicky and will avoid dirt.
“Go away squirrels,” she taught the grandchildren to say, shooing the rascals away from the porch, trying to leap to the base and nibble what’s not theirs.
Hal slides open the glass door. Hints of fallen leaves fill the air, crisp yellows and fiery oranges. The season of her birthday.
Her peripheral vision was sharper than his. From any of her favorite perches – at the dining room table tackling a thousand-piece puzzle, reading on a rocker in the screened-in patio – she’d look up in time to see a black-capped chickadee, whereas he might not notice a yellow goldfinch, with its shock of golden feathers, from a few feet away.
One of their four blue jays (Vi claimed it was the same four, but how could she know?) flutters from branch to branch on the nearby elm, waiting to be first.
She loved the northern cardinals, with their proud red plumage, but was also loyal to the state bird, the simple red robin with its melodious music. The robin may start its melody right before a storm, she read from the book. A voice for every occasion.
He latches the feeder to its hook and it sways in the wind like a long lamppost, a beacon for their backyard menagerie.
Today, this week, the house will be full of people and he’ll hear stories, some he’s never heard. Perhaps their grandson will recall his first, homesick summer at camp and the colorful snapshots Vi sent him of their birds. She had a wonderful gift for finding connections with small children, octogenarians and everyone in between. How he wishes she’d come through door now with tales of her hairdresser’s father’s role in the Polish resistance or bubbling with excitement that she’d met a nice young woman wearing a Brandeis shirt at the gym.
Two house sparrows flutter from out of the trees and alight on the perches, pecking at the seed openings. Months down the road, maybe next year, no mention of the feeder will be made when his daughters have the “talk” with him: sell, downsize, move in with one of them.
He won’t give in. How can he leave when he sees Vi in every room? When it would mean her beloved birds will go hungry?
Peter peter peter, he tries, but unlike the robin, he has no voice for this occasion. The chirps catch in his throat.
The Ultimate Guide to Surviving the Next Four Months While I am Out Enjoying Maternity Leave
Do rejoice! A new soul is about to be brought into the world. Consider all the times I’ve stepped in to save your asses. Feel fortunate for this baby: he/she will have the ultimate Mama Bear on his/her side, for life.
Do not slack. We all know B. is an anal tightwad. (Duh! Why else would I make him ‘Acting’?) Not that I don’t trust you, my beloveds, but sometimes you act like 12-year-olds who think they’re old enough to stay alone without a babysitter and end up leaving the water put up for pasta on the stove for hours, boiling out to nothing, smoke everywhere, etc. So, yes, a responsible adult like B. is necessary. Sorry in advance but I *may* have told him to take note of the exact minute you arrive / leave for the day. Coffee/lunch/bathroom breaks at his discretion.
Do remember: B. is friendly with the IT guys. I would never do this, but he *may* ask them to run some secret software script to make sure you’re not playing online poker or checking Instagram feeds or looking up birthday party ideas, etc., during work time.
Do not lose faith in our products, mission, team, ability to deliver on promises to customers, or in any of the other things you like to bitch about in our 1x1s. Even though I can barely walk, breathe, sleep, etc. with the baby pushed up against my every organ, I brought your concerns to management last week. We have a plan.
Do feel free to send fruit platters, balloons, flowers (hint: orchids are my fave!), bath soaps, and/or gifts for the baby and/or big brother and sister. Max Brenner chocolates and homemade cookies also welcome. Giving myself a pass re: dieting until the baby can crawl.
Do not even think about trying to angle for my position. Know that E. values my leadership, strategic way of thinking, and managerial skills (thank you, darlings, for your mostly positive reviews during our last performance review cycle). Despite his takedown of R. at sales kickoff, which some viewed as an indirect criticism of me, he comes by daily to see if I’m still here, so that’s a vote of confidence.
Do keep me abreast (pun intended, LOL) of any attempts by S. to lure you to her new company. No matter how much you’re suffering under B. I shouldn’t need to remind you but: remember the non-compete you signed? I do.
Do not send me work emails, whatsapps, texts, Slacks, Zoom invites, tag me in Chatter comments, or attempt to convey anything to me through any of the platforms put in place to “improve internal communications and transparency.” If you *must* contact me regarding someone’s contravention of #6 above, you *may* send an email to my Gmail account with “CYBTS” in the subject line. If you don’t know what that means I feel sorry for you. Depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten or whether I’ve had a shower or how sore my nipples are, I may or may not give a shit. Yes, I just used the word “nipples” in this email. Deal with it. Scratch that. Call immediately.
All will be well, my dears. Mama Bear will return in four short months weeks. Xoxo
About the Author
Julie Zuckerman hails from Connecticut but moved to Israel 23 years ago, where she works in marketing and lives with her husband and four children. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Ellipsis Zine, Former Cactus, SFWP Quarterly, Salt Hill, Sixfold, descant, The MacGuffin, and The Dalhousie Review, among others. Her debut novel-in-stories, The Book of Jeremiah, will be published by Press 53 in 2019.