Wednesday, April 16, 2014

'Freebird'

This week's guest post is by Michele Shaw

I’d warned my mother not to come. It wasn’t smart. Or safe. She came anyway. Dirt billowed along Maple Drive as she passed shells of houses and coasted onto rubble that once served as a driveway, tires spitting chunks of rock when she braked. The engine cut. Wind knocked colorless leaves from the trees and they surfed frigid currents, circling and landing in their final resting place. No one would rake them into piles.
Mom didn’t leave the car. I hoped that she realized the danger. That she’d turn around.
Dust stirred when I stepped closer to the attic window, fading sun painting the few unbroken panes with pink cotton candy. I watched from the shadows among broken boxes long ago pillaged of someone’s life. Decayed dreams strewn among used needles, a mattress stained in urine, vomit, and sex, a dress form riddled with bullet holes and exaggerated anatomical parts drawn in black marker.
I’d tried again and again to keep her away from this. When she left for her weekly therapy appointment, I snuck into her house and locked my old bedroom door from the inside to keep her from rifling through the past.
I took one thing: the scrapbook. The green binder that held pictures of me with a braid over one shoulder. Braces. A pimple-pocked face. An entire volume of me with my birds. Holding them. Healing them. I’d had a knack for stumbling upon things with broken wings and injured legs. Some recovered, as living things try to do. Some didn’t, as living things tend to do.
She had to stop searching for answers that weren’t hidden somewhere in my room. There were no answers. They didn’t exist.   
Her car door clicked shut, and she scanned left to right, gray hairs pulled loose from her bun caressing her cheek. She gathered her collar against a bitter gust with her eyes wary toward the house.
What my mother wanted wasn’t here. She wouldn’t find her Lark, the daughter she named because of her favorite line from a Shakespearean sonnet—number twenty-nine: Like to the lark at break of day arising; From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate. She wouldn’t find the daughter she thought she had for sixteen years. The one who evaporated by eighteen with no awards to display, no diploma—the one who left birds to fend for themselves and die alone. Even the once beautiful larks inked into my arm had suffered, raised and disfigured with needle tracks.
The house moaned and whistled in reply to the wind. Yellowed newspapers fluttered in the corner of the attic. Old news. She wouldn’t find anything here but old news. My story hadn’t changed since I’d left home.
A bang startled her. One of the shutters. It had hung loose for over a year. Ever since Mink, my dealer/boyfriend/sometimes pimp, had caught it by the corner after diving through the window when a rival dealer took us by surprise. Mink dropped to the porch roof while I hung across the sill, screaming for help. His jacket had fluttered behind him at the sides as he ran, not breaking stride when shots rang out.
The dangling shutter beat out a rhythm, a sad trembling chorus. Creak, hit, pause. Creak, hit, pause. Mom lifted her chin to its pounding against the sagging house. Splintered wood and peeling paint. A smokeless crumbling chimney. She took a step and then another. How could I make her stop?
I’d tried leaving torn up nests with cracked shells on her doorstep as a sign. I’d even busted up garbled cassette tapes of my eight-year-old voice mock interviewing her on the ancient tape player we’d found at a yard sale. Nothing I did worked. She still searched for reasons and relief from guilt.
The top of her head disappeared under the roof of the porch. If she ignored the city’s bright orange order to stay out, she’d be inside within seconds. She’d pass the first floor dripping with the stains of dirty money exchanging hands and drug-bloated zombies inhabiting its rooms. She’d head upstairs, looking for my room and the answer to why she’d failed.
I couldn’t get through to her that I’d failed, not her. Or make it clear that daughters can figure out their mothers aren’t superheroes and decide they don’t want to be scared of the world anymore, so they look elsewhere. And those stupid daughters can learn too late that their mothers really are superheroes, just a different kind than what they’d imagined.
She hit the third step, each one announcing itself. Eight more and she’d be within reach of the doorknob. Maybe she expected what the room held. Maybe not. It wouldn’t change what had become of me. She’d find shredded curtains billowing toward a rusty bed frame with a split mattress. Grimy walls echoing the horrors they’d seen. I could hear them so clearly. Why couldn’t she?      
With time ticking away, I had one last chance to help before this place and my choices swallowed her whole. She deserved better, but I had to be quick; they were waiting.
The door creaked. I flicked my wrist. She startled when it flew through the window, its wings flapping wildly before it rested on her arm. A crease dug deep between her eyes. “Lark?” she whispered, reaching a trembling finger toward the bird.
The lark chirped a high-pitched tune, tilting its head, trilling notes from deep in its chest; a sweet song of release. The lined corners of her mouth erupted in a smile. Her eyes welled and remained steady on the bird, not clinging to any ugliness in the room. She stared for a long moment, stroking its head. “Thank you,” she said at last as a tear slipped into a bubble, turning red when it met my blood on the floor.
I turned to the others waiting behind me, my grandparents outstretched arms beckoning. “Okay,” I said. “I’m ready. I think she can let me go now.”       


Michele Shaw is a young adult author, short story writer, poet, and editor who lives in the Midwest of the USA. She eats way too much candy while writing and snapping pictures of sunsets and has never met a dog she didn’t love. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@veertothewrite), and her website http://michelelshaw.com/. Look for her novel Scatter from Muse It Up Publishing, fall 2014.









NOTE FROM THE DESK OF THE BLACK CAT 

We hope you enjoyed today's guest post from Michele Shaw, latest in our regular series of guest posts. All written by our authors on topics ranging from: Writing Tips to Short Stories, Poetry to Flash Fiction. If you enjoyed today's entry, please leave a comment, and share this link on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

You'll want to subscribe to our blog or bookmark us so you don't miss the next in the series on April 30th when YA novelist, Johanna Harness brings us her take on Time Management! Johanna was a winner in our Mystery TImes competition in 2011and 2012.



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