The Bird’s Nest

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Melody Lindsey


Theresa stepped off the school bus to the sounds of taunts and jeers behind her. She ignored them and looked down the dusty dirt road that led to her house. There was no choice but to start the long walk, alone. There was no choice but to ignore the taunts and jeers, either. She had learned that the hard way, as Grandma Lou would say. Crying had made it worse; they just added, “cry baby,” to the, “fat cow,” that had made her cry in the first place. Anger had gotten her pinches that made bruises on the insides of her arms and legs, and the ginger cookies Grandma Lou had baked, for her to share and make friends, were snatched out of her hands like a pirate’s booty and devoured without her even getting a chance to offer the bribe. Three days later Theresa had found the bird’s nest and the note.

She had spotted the nest in the low branches of an apple tree that grew alongside the road she walked everyday to and from the bus. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed it before and waded through the tall grass and weeds the few yards it took to reach the tree, but the branches were higher off the ground than they had looked from the road. Theresa couldn’t reach the nest from the ground. She thought about knocking the nest out of the tree with a stick, but she didn’t want to disturb the nest in case there were eggs or baby birds inside. She threw her book bag down and walked around the tree, looking for a way to climb it.

On the far side, she found a stub where a low limb must have broken off long ago. This gave her a foothold, and, by reaching up to the limb above her head and with her right foot on the stub, she managed to pull herself up and into the crook of the tree. Theresa muttered, “Could a fat cow do that?” under her breath as she held to the trunk and leaned out to see inside the nest. There were no eggs and no baby birds, and Theresa felt momentarily disappointed until she noticed that the nest wasn’t entirely empty. Embedded in the weave of the fine twigs was something white and small and square.

Theresa held to the trunk with one arm and reached out her right hand to remove what seemed to be a folded bit of paper. She tried for several minutes to dislodge it without disturbing the nest, but it was held firmly in place. Frustrated, Theresa ripped the nest from its perch and braced her back against the inner trunk of the fork where she stood, so she could use both hands to remove the object. It still proved to be a stubborn process, and she regretfully had to break several of the small twigs, jabbing one under her fingernail in her eagerness. Finally, she managed to extricate the small scrap of paper without ripping it.

Theresa carefully unfolded the square and read the words: “Ignoring them won’t be enough.” Dizzy confusion tingled along Theresa’s skin, settling at the nape of her neck like the breath of a whispered secret. She jerked her head up and looked all around to see if someone was there, if someone was watching her, but she saw no one. The tall grass and weeds were bent down from her earlier footsteps where she had left the road to walk to the tree. That was the only disturbance, the only sign that anyone had ever been there. A lone bee buzzed by, a robin chirped from somewhere near the road, but everything else was quiet and still. She was totally alone.

Hurriedly, Theresa replaced the nest back where she had found it in on the branch, clamped the note between her lips, and scrambled down the tree as fast as she could. She quickly walked around the tree to retrace her earlier steps back to the road when she almost fell over her book bag. Bending down to pick it up, she saw the bird’s nest lying on the ground beside it. Theresa glanced up and saw that the limb where the nest had been was directly overhead; the nest must have fallen out because she hadn’t wedged it in securely when she put it back. She hesitated a moment, then picked up her book bag and the nest. Once she reached the road, she took the note from between her lips and pushed it deeply into her pocket.

Grandma Lou noticed the bird’s nest the minute Theresa walked through the backdoor into the kitchen. “My goodness, honey, where’d you get that old thing? Get it back outside quick. It’s probably full of mites. You’ll be itching like the dickens. Then come back in and wash real good, right away.”

Theresa did as she was told. She carried the nest into the backyard and looked around for a good place to put it. She thought about putting it in the lilac bush or balancing it on the porch rail, but Grandma Lou might not like that. She didn’t want it to get thrown into the rubbish pile even if it did have mites. Then she thought about the tool shed. That was perfect; Grandma Lou didn’t go in the tool shed much. She pulled the wooden door open and stepped into the little building, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimness inside. There were old shovels and hoes leaned against the walls. A garden hose coiled in the corner and shelves with boxes of nails, a rusty saw, screwdrivers, a couple of hammers and bottles of weed killer and nearly empty bags of fertilizer. Theresa placed the nest on the highest shelf, closed the tool shed door and went back in the house, but she didn’t tell Grandma Lou about what she had found in the nest. It was a secret, her secret.

That night, Theresa lay awake for a long time. It could be a coincidence. Someone, a long time ago, could have written that note and thrown it out, or dropped it someplace far away, and a bird could have found it to use in building its nest. Birds did that. It could be that the note had nothing to do with her, but… Theresa slid her hand under the pillow and touched the small bit of paper, but… it could be that it did because she had to admit that ignoring them wouldn’t be enough.

Grandma Lou didn’t consider anyone to be sick unless there was a measurable fever involved. Theresa tried to convince her that she was too sick to go to school on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, but she couldn’t do anything to change the reading on the thermometer that Grandma Lou seemed to have ever at the ready. So, off to school she went. It was an especially miserable week for Theresa. Monday morning, all the kids on the bus had waited for her to sit down and then they all moved to the opposite side, to balance the load somebody said. She trudged the long road to and from the bus day after day, all the way wondering what new taunt or trick they would think of next on top of the usual name-calling, cow mooing, and pig sounds. Theresa managed to ignore all of it.

On Thursday, one of the quietest girls sat down next to Theresa on the bus. This was very unusual and made Theresa nervous, but she smiled at the girl because she couldn’t remember this one calling her names or anything directly.

The quiet girl leaned toward Theresa and whispered, “Your epidermis shows when you walk, we’ve all seen it when you get off the bus.” Then the girl jumped up and went back to sit with the others.

Theresa broke out in a cold sweat, and she could hear them all laughing and giggling behind her. She didn’t understand. She turned it over and over in her mind trying to figure it out. Epidermis just means skin, but it must mean something else, too. It must mean something really bad. It took all of Theresa’s strength and willpower to step down off the bus at her stop. She stood completely still waiting for the bus to pull away. Even so, several of the kids shouted, “We can see it, we see it,” out of the open windows as the bus drove away.

By Friday afternoon, Theresa had decided that she had to do something; she couldn’t ignore them anymore.

Theresa moped around the house all day Saturday. She roamed from room to room feeling dissatisfied and sighing out loud. Nothing held her interest. She couldn’t get her mind on a book or television. Finally, Grandma Lou told Theresa to go outside and get some air. She said maybe that would cure her of the “doldrums.”

Theresa went out on the back porch and sat down on the top step. She knew Monday would come no matter how much she wished it wouldn’t, but she dreaded it so that she couldn’t think of anything else. Then her sight focused on the tool shed, and the thought of the bird’s nest hidden inside interested her enough to move her to cross the yard and pull open the wooden door. Again she stepped inside and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the interior. Once they had, she moved toward the wall of shelves and saw the nest resting on the top one exactly as she had left it.

She wished there would be something, that something would happen to, at least, help her feel that she wasn’t so alone. She reached up and lifted it down, feeling silly to even admit to her self that she was hoping for another note to be tucked inside. There was nothing in the bird’s nest. Theresa looked at it for several minutes, remembering the day she had found it. It all seemed comforting now in some strange way. At least someone somewhere had once felt the same way she did.

She was holding the nest in her right hand and lifting it upward to return it to the top shelf when she noticed how cluttered and dirty the shelf was. She pushed some of the bottles over to make more room and brushed the shelf lightly with her free hand to remove some of the dust. It seemed fitting to make a cleaner place of honor for the nest to sit. As she brushed, a small piece of paper floated down from the shelf and fluttered to the floor. Theresa drew in her breath sharply and bent down to pick up the stiff and yellowed piece of paper.

Theresa asked Grandma Lou if she could bake some cookies to take to school with her on Monday. She wanted to bake them all by herself to share with her friends. They had loved the ginger cookies so much before. She thought it would be nice to take a batch she had personally made just for them.

Grandma Lou said, “Of course you can bake some cookies. I’m just glad you thought of something you want to do. See what wonders fresh air can do. Cured those doldrums right up.”

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Melody Lindsey lives with her husband and son in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. She teaches English at Blue Ridge Community College. E-mail: melody3[at]mchsi.com.

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