We all thought, Birds! We all thought, Nests inside the chimney! We crumpled to the hearth, turned wide eyes up toward the flue. Our house’s mouth like morning breath, thickly caked with yesterday. Our eyes climbed up the smoker’s throat. WheetTweet. WheetTweet.
I thought of birds swoop-swooping down. I thought of wings still damp with birth.
If they drop, our mother said, don’t place your hands upon them.
But why? we asked.
Their mothers might just leave the nest, fly out above, and flitter off.
I cupped my hands behind my back. I told my sisters to do the same.
Old wives’ tale, our father said, his hands held out before him.
Silence sunk. A chill breathed in from out.
If we’d known that chill came from the opened mail slot, the neighbor Jenny blowing through it, we might not have cared which one was right. Instead we held one hand before us, one hand back; our eyes, pulled from the nest, soared back and forth between them.
When Father said, I’ll get the birds, and when he placed his hands upon our backs—if only we’d known there were no birds, if only we’d known it was someone out just breezing in—we might not have flown so easy with him, while Mother stayed, while Mother knelt upon the stony hearth, fisting fingers into knots.