Laura awoke to the sound of banging. Cold cringed her toes when she swung her feet to the floor. The hazy morning light illuminated her bedroom but not by much. Arg! Her aging body did not like the cold. But I’m not old! Not yet!

Smack!

Peering narrowly at the window facing the backyard, she grabbed her jeans and sweater.

A flurry of red wings hit the glass, a rather horrifying spectacle.

What’s it doing?  Fighting its reflection in the glass?

Once the blur had departed, silence and freezing cold reigned.

With a shiver, Laura tugged off her night clothes and pulled on her day set, making darn sure that she was wearing her thick socks. She hurried through the bed-making and headed downstairs.

It was only when she arrived in the quiet kitchen that she remembered what day it was. Saturday. Jim had gone to meet her brother Frank at the airport, and her sister Kimmy was coming in from Tennessee. Everyone was arriving together to say goodbye to Mom.

Mom was ninety-five and had lived a full life by any standard. She was in no pain, and she was well cared for. We all die some time. Now it was her time. Laura repeated these facts to herself like a hypnotist’s chant as she went about the business of making hot buttered toast and a cup of coffee.

She slid onto a hard wooden chair at the kitchen table, folded her hands, and recited the Grace Before Meals. Then, as she took her first sip, she let her mind wander. Her eldest son, Tommy, was busy managing a computer crisis for a chain of hospitals in the city, so there was no way he could make it home right now. Her youngest son, Pete, had mid-terms, so he had to cram. Always rushing about, that boy, doing so many things at once. Must live on air and three hours of sleep.

She finished munching her toast and took the last comforting swallow of coffee. Another cup? She considered the anxiety built into the day and shook her head. Better not. She gathered her cup and plate and climbed to her feet.

Slam!

Now the flurry was at the kitchen window. Laura tried not to be superstitious, especially since her religion especially forbid such idolatry, but she felt an odd sensation run over her body. Is Mom going to die today? Is there going to be an accident and more than one funeral to arrange?  Laura hated melodrama, but the bird’s antics did seem foreboding.

Her phone rang.

Rushing to answer it, Laura nearly tripped over Jim’s running shoes that he’d left by the center island, claiming that he would scrape the mud off in the morning. Speckles of dirt littered the floor all around his shoes. She tried not to sound irritated when she finally answered the call.

“Hi, Sweetheart.”

“Hey, honey, I got Frank, but he hasn’t eaten anything since he had to get up in the middle of the night to make this flight. Anyway, he’d like to swing by the Breakfast Barn on the way to your mom’s place and grab a bite to eat. We can get coffee and doughnuts or something. Be ready in five, okay?”

Laura couldn’t think of a reason why not, though something fluttered through her thoughts. She wanted to tell Jim about the bird, but he’d only laugh, and then Frank would say something informative about birds and…  She shook her head and said she’d be ready when he got there.

It was a short ride to the small-town diner. Bright curtains, sold wood tables, and plenty of light gave the place a cheerful atmosphere. Regularly serving enough homemade food to feed a small army, they were always packed. In a farming community, ample portions were expected. Good thing Jim worked as hard as he did or the guy would be four hundred pounds.

Once they got settled in a corner booth, the waiter took their orders, filled their cups with coffee, and then set the carafe in the middle of the table. Simple enough.

Between munching a dark chocolate doughnut and swigging down hot coffee, Jim, comfortable in his relaxed jeans and flannel shirt, chatted about how the harvesting was going, detailing recent yields and price indexes.

With a proper breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast before him, Frank, attired in his most formal dark suit, cut each piece precisely and chewed with care. He nodded soberly and advised his brother-in-law to make sure that the corn was good and dry since rising gas prices meant that drying at the granary could eat up the profits.

Jim cut a glance Laura’s way.

Laura avoided her husband’s look with practiced skill, merely nibbling a muffin that tasted as dry as chalk.

When it was nearly time to get back on the road and head to Mom’s, Jim and Frank both reached for the coffee carafe one last time.

Ever polite, Frank lifted his hands in humble deference. Jim should have the last cup.

Jim couldn’t allow that. He nudged the carafe toward Frank.

Frank nudged it back.

Laura stared at the floor and tried to pretend her husband hadn’t just elbowed her.

Finally, with fly-by-your-wits, she grabbed the carafe and tried to pour the contents into her own cup. But nothing came out. She frowned at it, swished it, poured, and frowned again when nothing happened.

His voice exuding patience with his little sister’s incompetence, Frank offered a reasonable solution. “You need to unscrew the cap a half twist to let the air in, so the coffee can pour out.”

Jim snorted. “You don’t need to do any such thing. It’s already open. I just had a cup!”

Laura glanced at her husband. Was he really mad about the coffee?

Frank picked up the carafe, gave the top a half twist, and poured. Nothing.

Jim laughed and snatched the carafe into his arms like a loving friend. Shaking his head, he smirked at silly Frank. “You just closed it.” He reversed the twist and tried to pour. Nothing.

Images of the bird slamming against the window pane sent panic through Laura. She grabbed her phone and checked the time. “We really need to go if we’re going to meet Kimmy at ten.”

Neither warrior conceded absolute defeat, so chins remained high as the three headed back to the car. Deafening silence for the next thirty-six miles.

Surprisingly, Kimmy, who was usually late, stood just outside the door as they arrived at the nursing home. Her makeup was bright and her clothes eye-catching. Kimmy was never one to be ignored.

Frank stuck out his hand like a dutiful brother.

Kimmy let her fingers be shaken. Then she latched onto Jim, slipping her arm through his. “You won’t believe what happened to me on the way over! Shouldn’t be surprised. I always have the worst luck. Some guy smashed into a truck one street over from Millard Ave. I was going to turn down that way to get here, but once I saw what a mess it was, I had to figure a way out of it. Luckily, a cop was nearby and helped me out, or I’d never have gotten here in time. Once he heard that my mom was dying, he made sure that everyone backed up so I could turn around.”

A cold blast swept over Laura, and she looked up. Not more than three feet away, a huge black crow launched itself into the air and flapped away. With longing, Laura wished she could fly.

Frank stood by the door, holding it open. Laura suppressed a sigh. It was an electric door and did not need to be held open. It probably didn’t even want to be held open. Some hospital manager would probably come and tell Frank to leave the door alone.

In a matter of moments, they were all standing before her mother laying on her back on a neat hospital bed. Laura had tried through the last few months to make the room “homey” but, with unswerving honesty, knew that she had failed. Unequivocally, the room remained institutional.

Someone must have done her mom’s hair. Curled wisps lay like feathers on the pillow, white against white. Her pale face was only slightly offset by the stark white sheets. Her eyes closed and her hands folded on the top cover, she looked like a woman at prayer, even in her sleep. Probably was praying. Mom never stopped invoking the Good Lord. It was her way.

Frank stood by the bedside, peering at the woman who had given him life. “She’s comfortable, and that’s all that matters. Though, I don’t like the look of her hands, bluish. She needs another blanket and should be wakened up for lunch. It’s about time, and she should have that, at least.”

Kimmy nipped one of the roses from a vase at her bedside and tucked it into her bag. “I’ll take it home for a memento. Something I can press into my scrapbook and remember her always.”

Frank nodded and took a flower, too.

Tears cascaded down Laura’s face. No words would come. Even memories seemed shy.

Jim stood at mom’s side, took her hand, and pressed it with gentle reassurance. Reassurance about what? Laura could not say. Jim went to church with her, but he’d barely spent any time with her mom. He wasn’t losing anything. And neither was she, really. Childhood was long over, and her mom’s love would endure.

But unease still ruffled Laura’s sensibilities. Her heart seemed to bang against her chest. Had she missed something? Something important that her mom had tried to give them?

Too late now.

The nurse came in, checked vitals, and murmured that Mrs. Cannady would not make it through the night.

Jim shuffled his feet. He’d been up since dawn and had been working hard on the harvest. He was probably hoping to get home early and get a good night’s sleep.

Kimmy did the needful. She bent down and kissed her mother’s brow. “Love you, Mom. Always have. Always will.” She backed up.

Frank followed suit. He kissed his mom on the cheek and pressed her bluish hands, and murmured, “You were the best mom a man could ask for.”

Jim waited.

Laura didn’t move.

With a quick clearing of the throat, Jim stepped forward and pecked his mother-in-law’s cheek with a kiss. “We’ll all miss you.”

Silence. Eyes bored into Laura. She met her husband’s gaze. “I’m staying. You can pick me up later, sweetheart.”

Amazingly, no one argued.

After a little more shuffling and a few words from the nurse, Frank ushered his teary-eyed little sister out the door with Jim leading the way, swinging his car keys.

Once they were gone, Laura pulled a chair close to her mom and got comfortable. Then she started talking. “So, there was this red bird that smacked into my window this morning. Freaked me out a bit, but what was really strange…” She told everything, every odd thought, and confused feeling, hesitating over nothing, never abashed. Her mom rested quietly for hours, until about nine when a suddenly muffled choke set off an alarm, and two nurses stepped in. Before Laura knew what was happening, her mom lay still, finally, resting in peace.

The next morning, when Laura rose from her bed, the sun shone, and the floor wasn’t nearly so cold. She stepped to the window and peered out. Four sparrows had lined up on the porch railing and hopped, one by one, to the bird feeder. Each got what it needed and in turn, flew away.

Then the redbird fluttered close by. It landed on the railing, cocked its head, and stared at her. Then it flew off. Apparently, it was no longer fighting against the reflection in the glass.

Laughter rose from the kitchen. In some “after death’s grim touch” truce, Frank and Jim were making breakfast together and chatting. Tommy and Pete had each called and said they’d be home for noon dinner. Kimmy wanted to come early and help.

As if a weight had been lifted, Laura’s heart fluttered in release. A prayer ascended. She rose to her feet, dressed in her sweater and jeans, and headed downstairs.

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey.  

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

BUY HERE

“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy

BUY HERE

“Readers interested in solid psychological inspections of intention, purpose, and changing perspectives presented as succinct, hard-hitting slices of life will relish the literary and psychological attractions of One Day at a Time And Other Stories.”

~Diane Donovan, California Bookwatch

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/cardinals-redbirds-mating-pair-male-6264497/


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