by Timothy G. Huguenin
Bird’s been a-peckin on my window. Mama, she’d told me that when the bird comes a-peckin, it ain’t nothin else if it ain’t an old spirit come to warn. Or to comfort. Can’t say I remember, just that it’s one a-them, or both. Maybe both, come think of it.
Bird came just the same once to Mama’s window, back when the sky was still blue and the leaves green and hot yellow pollen was a-swirlin on the breeze. That’s when she told me, when it came and pecked and she saw it and grabbed me and rubbed my hand with her finger. Only I can’t remember now whether she said if it’s a spirit come to warn or to comfort or both. But I reckon now it was at least the first — a-comin to warn — since before that hot yellow pollen a-swirlin turned into the cold orange leaf doin the same, my Mama, she done breathed her own spirit right out. She held my hand like that again, and rubbed it like she’d did in the summer and she said, Nicholas! which was Papa’s name, only Papa done been gone long before and I’d only heard stories of him. (He was a leathery man, a man of toughness but soft too, I always imagined.) And then I saw it — though Aunt Maggie don’t believe me — but I saw Mama’s soul come outta her mouth like that hot yellow pollen swirl, or the cold orange leaf, or both, if it pleases ya.
Aunt Maggie, she says she ain’t seen no bird, but that’s ’cause it flits away or hides back in the bush when I call her to see. She says she thinks I’m a bird myself for thinkin it and sayin what Mama told me, but I can tell she’s only sayin that for fear that I’m becomin like the way my Mama was just ‘fore she done breathed away her own soul. Folks were always a-whisperin around like she was some big secret right up until that last autumn day. Now I hear Aunt Maggie a-whisperin about me, too, but it don’t scare me none. I done talk to that bird, and it don’t talk back but still it tells me: it’s a-comin to warn, and to comfort, since both is the way it is, if I’d think of it, and it pleases me. And it tell me about that last day, and I know I’ll see my bird and Mama’s bird both; Mama! Papa! I’ll say before I breathe my own spirit to fly into the blue sky until it’s time to come a-peckin.
Timothy G. Huguenin grew up in the Appalachians and spent most of his college years and the first two years of his marriage in southern West Virginia. Although his body is now located in Wyoming, his spirit still haunts the Southern Appalachian hollers.