Silly Bird

Joan stared at her daughter’s confused expression. A grown woman and she could never keep track of anything. Now Jessica had misplaced her mother’s wireless phone receiver. Who knew where she’d put it?  Bad enough cleaning up after your children when they were children, but not when they were adults. “Where is it?” Joan asked. “Remember where you last saw it?”

“Mom, it was on the dining room table when I left yesterday. Now, it isn’t there. I haven’t touched it.” Jessica walked into the living room. “What’s your suitcase doing out here?”

Joan followed her daughter. The morning light barely threaded through the blinds, stretching broken stripes over the furniture in a chaotic pattern. Her red carry-on stood, half-zipped, in the middle of the floor. It belongs in the back bedroom closet. She didn’t remember lending it to Jessica, but she must have….and now Jessica had brought it back and forgotten to put it away. The girl had been raised better than that.

Jessica picked up the suitcase and set it on the wingback chair. She frowned.

“Now what?” Joan asked.

Jessica unzipped the case and opened it. The missing phone lay nestled in the bottom. A small red light blinked—the receiver’s battery had run down.

Joan stared. “Why would you put the phone in there? I’m not into playing games, Jessica. I need my phone. What would happen if there was an emergency and you weren’t around? Did you ever think of that?” Joan shuddered. Why is she doing this?

As she looked at her daughter’s face—a study of weary misery—the younger woman’s eyes welled up with tears. Joan swallowed the rest of her lecture. Poor thing. Something is wrong. I’ll  call Dr. Cohen later. He’ll know what to do. She watched Jessica set the phone on its recharging base in the hall. The hungry indicator flashed green, sucking power in.

Joan shuffled to the kitchen, picked up a mug, and filled it with tap water.

Jessica followed. “What’re you doing?”

“The begonia’s withered. I forgot to water it.”  She stepped to the window, drew the draperies back, then stopped. Wilted yellow leaves drifted to the floor, mingling with pink petals fallen from brittle arched stems. The soil glistened, moisture darkened the clay pot, and water overflowed the saucer, staining the wall and dribbling on the floor.

“Jessica, honey, you already watered it. Why didn’t you say so, silly bird?” Joan turned to get a paper towel.

“I didn’t…wait, I got it.” Jessica bent over and wiped the small puddle off the floor with a tissue. “Got a tight schedule today, Mom. Let me get the laundry started.”

“I did it yesterday, honey.” Joan returned to the living room, sat in the recliner, and pulled the Japanese red and black throw over her legs.

Jessica carried an armful of rumpled clothing and linens into the living room and dropped the heap in the middle of the floor. “Is this all of it?” Her salt-and-pepper hair fell away from her face as she straightened.

Jessica looks so old. Is she ill?

“I just did the wash, silly bird.” Joan got up. Something’s not right. She wandered over to the phone table in the dark hall, running her finger over a palm-size brown phone book and a dozen  yellow sticky notes—Water the begonia, turn off the stove…she craned her neck to see if the stove was off. Well, of course it was. Jessica wrote these… Joan recognized her daughter’s scrambled printing.

She looked at the notes. One yellow square stuck above the others. She grabbed the phone and dialed. After series of rings, Danny answered. “Hi, Grandma!”

Joan smiled. “Hi honey. Can I speak to your mom?”

“Mom went to see you, Gran!”

“Oh…” Joan lowered the receiver and stared at it. Jessica reached around from behind her and took the receiver.

“It’s okay, Mom. Come sit down.” She cupped a warm, soft palm around Joan’s elbow and led her back to the recliner.

“I need to call Dr. Cohen.” Joan said. Something was very wrong. The doctor, her good friend, would help her sort it out.

“You have an appointment with Dr. Patel on Wednesday,” Jessica said.

Joan shook her head. She remembered another reason why she needed to call the doctor. “No, Dr. Cohen is supposed to give me some test results, silly bird.”

“Mom, like I told you last week—Dr. Cohen died ten years ago.”


A therapist for emotionally disabled kids, Alina Vitali is working on her MA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University.


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