The Pick 2016

Chickadees Dance on My Windowsill

By T. Gillmore

My daughter wanted to be a bird, and I said, “No. Please no. You’re too young to be a bird. There’s a whole life ahead of you. It will get better. After this hurdle. You’ll see. Please trust me. Don’t be a bird. Let’s do something together—shop, listen to music, anything you want.”

She didn’t answer. Her skin turned cold and hard and she tucked her head between her shoulders, eluding others but more so, avoiding me.

My daughter wanted to be one of those chickadees. The ones dancing on our windowsill. These tiny, short-necked, large-headed birds, bodies no larger than my fist, flutter their gray wings as if inviting her to come out and play. She doesn’t. She won’t. And I am glad because something inside me said, Don’t let her. So, I tried to change her mind about birds—to become something else.

“Why not be a dog or a cat?” I asked, delicately, not wanting to spook her back into her shell. She rarely peeked her head out at me. “You like dogs and cats. You can run and play. Little birds can’t run. They don’t play.”

She shook her head no and said, “Dogs and cats are stuck inside the house or chained in the yard. I want to fly.”

“But why a chickadee?” I asked. “You can be an eagle, soar the sky, and reach as high as you can. Or an owl; be strong and respectful. No one bullies an owl.”

My daughter had not answered. She stared at the window, and I wondered what was she thinking, but I didn’t ask. I was afraid of the answer. Instead, I left and cooked, sewed and sang as if time would erase all thoughts of chickadees. They said time had that power. I was counting on time.

My daughter became a bird. Overnight. Without a slight indication, she flew away. Time healed nothing. I then followed. But I am a cat. I am inside my house, safe, sitting on the windowsill. My paw pats the glass at the chickadees dancing on the outer edge. The autumn leaves swirl in the background.

Tell my daughter I am here. Please tell her to come and visit me. Here on the windowsill. She doesn’t have to sing to me if she doesn’t want to. I will know it is she when I see her flutter her wings. A mother knows her child. I will wait.

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2016 had been a rough year. We lost Muhammed Ali, Prince, Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Gene Wilder. And it’s been rough years ever since with so much twang and clang and yip yap, politicians swapping places with clowns, more wars, more heartbreak, more things to lose.

My pick of the year from the 2016 winter issue, Chickadees Dance on My Windowsill, by T. Gillmore,  mirrored the sentiment. As usual, the first thing that grabs my attention is the title. I then look for that first line. It has to be powerful enough to keep me going, setting the mood, giving me an indication of what I’m up against.

“My daughter wanted to be a bird, and I said, “No. Please no….”

This opening line did it for me.

The rest of the piece uses metaphors and surrealism to describe the narrator’s fear of loss. Palpable emotional bonding is crucial in fiction. If the use of language, the little details included or those left, fail in creating an emotional bond between the reader and the story, then to me personally, the story has failed in making me want to read further. Surrealism is more than often not everyone’s cup of tea, but conveys mood and emotion.

“My daughter became a bird. Overnight. Without a slight indication, she flew away. Time healed nothing. I then followed. But I am a cat. I am inside my house, safe, sitting on the windowsill. My paw pats the glass at the chickadees dancing on the outer edge. The autumn leaves swirl in the background.”

The ending in this piece echoes the rippling heartbreak of the narrator.

“Tell my daughter I am here. Please tell her to come and visit me. Here on the windowsill. She doesn’t have to sing to me if she doesn’t want to. I will know it is she when I see her flutter her wings. A mother knows her child. I will wait.”

So again, for me, what makes me pull a piece from a slush pile and retain interest are three things:

  • The title
  • The first line
  • The ending.

 

Riham Adly