Archive for the 'Blackbird Fly' Category

25
Aug
07

Blackbird Fly

The road was empty except for Caitlin and the blackbird. Somewhere, far behind, Jessie May was struggling along with her backpack. Caitlin sat down on her haunches and deftly fluffed the matted fur behind her ear, ignoring the chattering bird. The dewey morning air made the crevices behind Caitlin’s ears and elbows and legs feel sticky and in need of washing. It hung damply from Jessie May’s limp brown bangs, making her quiet face look sharply wan. The blackbird, in annoying contrast, was a vivid black, the dew causing it to sparkle like a black diamond. It ruffled its feathers and chirruped at Caitlin, who paused in her preening to give it a peevish stare.
“Hey, Cait,” Jessie May panted, letting her tattered purple bag slide down her arm to her feet. “Why didn’t you wait for me?”
Caitlin strolled over and began to knead the back of her head against Jessie May’s knee.
“Oh what a pretty bird!” Jessie May exclaimed, spotting the blackbird bouncing on a reed. Caitlin froze and stared icily at the bird, which sang a short aria and hopped down onto the road.
Jessie May sunk into a crouched position, perched wearily on the purple back. “Look how beautiful he is, Cait,” she said. Caitlin sat back and glanced reproachfully at Jessie May, and then at the bird. Its perky head cocked from side to side and its black button eyes gleamed.
“Are you hungry?” Jessie May asked, reaching into her pocket for the piece of toast that she was supposed to have eaten for  breakfast.  The blackbird whistled and slid across the road. Caitlin meowed in protest. “You already ate, Cait,” Jessie May replied. Caitlin hurrumphed and went back to washing the damp out of her joints, watching Jessie out of the corner of her eye.
Jessie May sat still, flicking the toast onto the road for the blackbird. She sat carefully, maybe stiffly, with one arm folded across her books, almost as if she was not just holding the books to her chest, but holding herself together. She herself had almost felt, through the long empty weeks, as if a part of her had crystalized and turned to glass while she waited. She couldn’t wait to leave.
Caitlin’s ears perked. A trail of dust rose above the blue pussy willows, announcing the arrival of the school bus. She felt the blackbird take flight and turned her head to watch it go, but only caught a flash of red and black in her peripheral vision. The bus moaned as it slowly came to a stop and Caitlin hopped three steps back. Through the cloudy door the bus driver grinned. “Nice to see you, Miss Jessie,” he said. “How’re you feeling?”
“Better, thanks,” she said, limping up the short flight of steps. “See you after school, Cait,” she called through the open doorway. Caitlin casually watched as the bus rattled away, and then ran right off the road.
The tall brown tipped cat tails swayed high overhead as she wove between them, expertly trotting over the half-rotted log stretched across a trickled stream. Her sleek black and grey body swayed on the flat surface of the muddied water as she streaked past.
She wanted to find where that blackbird was.  She thought she had seen it swoop into the blue-green bangs of a willow. She slowed to a trot as she came to its gnarled grey roots and looked up, narrowing her eyes.  The willow limbs twitched in the breeze, revealing only more snakey fingers of leaves. Caitlin was sure the blackbird was in there, somewhere.
“Caitlin!” Jessie May’s mother shouted. Caitlin ignored the call and stared up at the tree. “Caitlin, I have your milk here!” Lucilia hollered again. Caitlin’s whiskers wrinkled, then she darted away, leaping lightly over the tiny stream and dashing up under the white water stained porch.
She curled around the corner of the house at a leisurely pace, just as Jessie May’s mother set down the bowl of milk. Jessie May had painted the little bowl years ago, and Caitlin’s name was scrawled in clumsy blue letters around the sides. Caitlin admired the handiwork for a minute before condescending to the milk. She was going to miss Jessie May. She didn’t know why she was going back to school,  Lucilia said that if she didn’t want to she didn’t have to go. But when the alarm rang at 6:30 that morning, Jessie May had gotten up and dressed for school, packed the purple backpack with its usual load and shoved the toast into her pocket.
Caitlin had been vaguely distressed to find that Jessie May was not still in bed when she came by to wake her at a leisurely 7 o’clock. For the last few weeks she and Jessie May had lain in bed together and read the paper. Or at least Jessie May read the paper, Caitlin just liked to lie on it and feel the way the paper crinkled under her weight. Especially the comic section, because then Jessie May would have to move her paws or tail or sometimes pick her whole body up to read the words underneath. Then they would go into the kitchen and eat the breakfast Lucilia had left. Jessie May didn’t eat much, which meant that Caitlin got to nibble.  Caitlin liked their morning ritual very much, even if Jessie May scolded her for getting fat. Jessie May was certainly not getting fat.
In the afternoons Caitlin and Jessie May would walk a little way around the house. Jessie liked to sit on the bench and read, or sketch, and Caitlin would disappear into the foliage or nap in the sun. Sometimes they would watch tv, but the house only had two channels so Jessie May got bored. Sometimes she would try to work on her homework, but Caitlin made it very clear that it was much more productive to be scratched under her chin. Most of all Caitlin liked to nap on Jessie May’s stomach during the afternoons, or the mornings, or the whenevers. In the back of her mind she remembered that Jessie May had not always been so listless,  and registered faintly that she must be rather ill, but overall Caitlin was very pleased with the arrangement. She was not so pleased that Jessie May was gone, or that she had been feeding an obnoxious bird.
When she finished the milk Caitlin butted her head against the glass door until Lucilia let her in. Lucilia was doing a quick vacuum before she had to leave for work. Caitlin did not like the vacuum cleaner, so she fled to Jessie May’s room. She stalked around the piles of discarded clothing and papers and bits of sheet music that coated the carpet. Jessie May did not pick up after herself anymore. Caitlin did not approve of the new standard of messiness. Lucilia did not approve either, and nagged Jessie to clean up. Jessie said she would when she felt better.
The phone rang through the noise of the vacuum cleaner. Lucilia turned off the machine and pulled the phone off its cradle. Caitlin ran out of Jessie May’s room and bounced up onto the kitchen counter. “Caitlin, get off,” Lucilia hissed, putting a hand over the receiver. “Oh hi, honey, how are you doing? I was worried when you didn’t call last night.” She listened for a minute. “I thought you were coming home tonight?” She paused.
“Well when? You don’t know? Dave, you promised you’d be home this week.” She listened again. “Jessie May’s doing better, she went to school today. But she’s still very tired. She misses you. I think you should come home.”  She waited silently, tapping her red acrylic nails against the kitchen counter. “All right. Call me. Love you too.” She hung up and rubbed her eyebrows with her thumb and forefingers, obscuring the upper half of her face. She gave Caitlin a push. “Caitlin, off.”  Caitlin leapt off the counter and ran to Jessie May’s room to wait for her to come home.

It was nearly dark when Jessie May pushed through the blue weathered door and made her way down the dim hallway. The evening light cast a slightly foggy appearance onto her tousled belongings.  Caitlin was perched on the windowsill, blocking a chunk of light from entering which fell immediately below her into a black lazy shadow.  Somewhere outside the window, the blackbird was singing.
Jessie May slung the purple backpack into the room and slouched back into the kitchen. Caitlin unwound herself from the curtain and followed with quiet steps. The kitchen was lit by bright fluorescent bulbs. The white light streamed out the blackened square windows, giving the impression of the inside of a television screen.
“Mac and cheese?” her mom offered, spooning the cheesy shells into a bowl, another that Jessie May had painted. This bowl was dotted with shiny green hearts.
“Did Dad call?’ Jessie May asked, stirring the cheese with her spoon. She liked to eat with spoons rather than forks. She thought maybe it was because forks were too skinny and prone to dropping things. Spoons were much more friendly.
“Yes,” Lucilia answered, serving herself into a rainbow colored bowl Jessie May had painted when she was about seven. She ate with a fork.
“Is he coming home?” Jessie May asked, nibbling at the pasta shells.
“Not tonight. He said he’ll be home tomorrow if the meeting gets out early.”
“What is he doing over there anyway?”
“Working.” Lucilia turned away. “How was school?”
“Okay.”
“Did Tiffany help you catch up on your chemistry project?”
“No, she was busy today,” Jessie May said, squishing a shell against a green heart and watching the cheese spurt out of the shell’s tiny artery.
“Did you talk to your teachers about getting caught up?”
“Yeah.” Jessie May squished harder, until the pasta separated down the middle into two ragged halves. She ate one half.  “I gotta go start on my homework, I only have until Monday to get caught up in chem. That’s when grades are due.”
“Okay, honey. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Okay,” Jessie May slid off the kitchen stool.
“Jessie,” her mom called after her. “Don’t you want to finish your dinner? You didn’t eat very much.”
“That’s okay, Mom. I’m not hungry,” Jessie May shouted back.
Caitlin sat on Lucilia’s foot and licked her whiskers.
“Not for you, Cait. You’re getting fat as it is.” Lucilia placed the almost untouched bowl into the refrigerator. Caitlin gave her an indignant look and meandered down the hall.
Jessie May lay on her bed with the pink rubber at the end of her pencil embedded in her teeth.  Her chemistry book and various papers were scattered across the purple and blue bedspread. Caitlin leapt lightly onto the bed and settled on the papers, propping her chin on the book.
“Move, Cait, I’ve got to turn the page,” Jessie May said. Caitlin complained loudly.
“I’ve got to do this homework, Caitlin. If migrates go down much farther, I might not get into college.” Caitlin licked her whiskers. “What do you care? You don’t even want me to go.”
Caitlin purred and rubbed her ears against the book. Jessie May smiled and massaged the sides of Caitlin’s head. “ You’re the only whose stuck it out with me as it is. Everybody else, my friends,” she sighed. “Never mind. Let’s do this thing.” She placed one of the earbuds to her ipod in Caitlin’s ear. Caitlin sat up straight, listening to the strange sounds coming through the silver wiring. Jessie May bit her lip and wrote. Caitlin got bored and shook the little white pod from her ear. She curled up on a small pile of notes, enjoying the stiff noises they made, and fell asleep.

Jessie May had foregone breakfast again. In the pale morning light her wan face was divided into shadows by her thin cheeks and the vaguely haunted look in her eyes. Caitlin was upset that Jessie May was leaving. She was even more upset that the blackbird was there. Jessie May sat on her pack like before and sprinkled the ground with her breakfast.
“Look at that blackbird, Cait,” she said. Caitlin gave it a grudging half-glance. “He’s so happy. Why do you think he’s so happy?” Caitlin guessed it was because he had free breakfast.
As soon as the bus had gone Caitlin gave the bird a disgusted look and walked away, back toward the house. She meowed and butted against the glass door but Lucilia had already left for work in the battered blue mercedes. Caitlin sat down and gave a disgruntled snort. Her bowl was empty. The house was empty. The stupid bird was out there eating Jessie May’s toast.
Caitlin had almost given up on the house and was about to head down to the marsh when the noises of a hardworking engine shuffling its way down the driveway announced the arrival of a dented maroon pickup truck. Caitlin jumped down under the porch to watch as a tall man in a blue collared shirt with unbuttoned sleeves slammed the door shut and walked up the stairs. He tugged at the door, but finding it locked, reached into his back pocket for the key. His sleeves floated between his elbows and wrists. Caitlin followed him into the house.
“Hello, Caitlin,” the man said. “I guess you’re the only one here right now.” He reached down to rub behind her ears. Caitlin mewed. She wanted her morning milk.
The man opened the fridge and pulled out the milk carton, taking a white swig before placing it back as Caitlin watched, aghast. Then he went to the phone and dialed.
“Hey hon,” he said, leaning against the counter. “No, I won’t be there for awhile. I told you I had to come home for a few days. Remember?” He listened patiently. “My daughter’s been ill. She misses me. I haven’t been home much lately.” He patted the flesh of this thumb rhythmically against the counter edge. “I’ll try to call you tomorrow night. Love you too.” He hung up, then pulled the receiver back to his ear to dial again.
“Hey hon,” he said. “I’m home.”

Jessie May didn’t even look up when she walked into the house. She slung her backpack onto the floor and trudged into her bedroom. “Jessie,” Lucilia called. “Dinner!”
“Not hungry,” Jessie May shouted into her pillow. Caitlin swam out from the darkness under the bed and shook herself.
“Jessie May,” the man said, poking his head into her room.
“Dad?” Jessie looked around. “You’re home!”
“You  betcha,” Dave said, opening his arms for a hug. “I promised I would be.”
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
“I’ve been working,” he said. “My boss has been really giving me a hard time right now.”
“Why?”
“There’s just a lot going on at work right now. Everyone’s stressed, and my boss especially.”
“Why don’t you tell him to shove it?” Jessie May asked, following him into the kitchen.
Dave laughed. “I wish. Maybe right before I retire, when you’ve safely graduated from college and can support your old dad.”
“So how’s school?” Dave asked, sitting down at the table and rubbing the smooth but empty place in front of him. Jessie May quickly set the table.
“Umm,” She murmured, looking down at the napkins in her hands. “I’d really rather not talk about it right now.”
“Is everything all right?” Lucilia inquired, giving her a sharp look.
“Yeah,” she answered. “I just had a bad day today, that’s all. Let’s talk about Dad’s work.”
“Tell us about this project you’ve been working on,” Lucilia suggested. Dave explained that he was designing a new road system for a town a few hours away, because of the traffic problem.
“When will it be finished?” Lucilia asked.
“I don’t know yet. I’ll be finished designing it by the end of the year, but I might have to help oversee the building.”
“How long will that take?”Lucilia asked again.
“I don’t know yet. I just said that.” Dave said patiently, giving her an annoyed glance.
“Can’t you tell them that you can’t do the overseeing?” Lucilia kept asking questions.
“Honey, this is an important job. I’m getting paid really well for it, and Jessie May can go to college next year. It’s going to take a lot of money to support a kid in college.” The tone of his voice grew impatient.
“I know that, dear,” Lucilia began, her tone growing a little harder. “But it would be nice if you were home a little more often.”
Jessie May put her spoon down. “May I be excused? I really don’t feel well.”
“Why don’t you go take a hot shower,” Lucilia said, looking at Dave.
“Let us know if you need anything,” Dave said, looking at Lucilia.
Jessie May slipped off the chair and walked down the hall to her room. She stood in the messy purple lit room, staring at the bits and pieces of her life that littered the floor. Caitlin wound herself between her ankles and Jessie picked her up, slinging her front paws over her shoulder. Caitlin lay limp, her long grey tail swaying.
Jessie sat down on the bed and sighed. Caitlin shoved her face into Jessie’s neck. “Hey Caitlin, that tickles,” Jessie May giggled. She lay down and pushed Caitlin onto her chest.
Caitlin folded her paws and yawned. “Hey sleepy, you’re lucky you don’t have homework,” Jessie said. “I have to try and catch up with everything.” Caitlin flicked her ears and jutted her chin out for Jessie May to scratch. “I just feel so tired now, Cait. Some days I think maybe it would be easier just to melt into the floor than get up in the morning. And I know that isn’t right. But everything’s all so hard now. Like even normal stuff, like turning in homework or climbing the stairs. It’s stupid.” Caitlin turned her head to look at Jessie May’s face.
“I did something really stupid today,” she whispered. “I’m only telling you because you can’t tell anybody. I started crying in the middle of 4th period, for no reason at all. It was terrible.” Caitlin blinked. “I don’t even know why. I think I’m going crazy.”
Caitlin began to purr, stretching her neck out to be scratched as well. Jessie May started to scratch, but then began to cry. “Everything’s falling apart, Caitlin, and I’m falling apart with everything too.” She buried her face in Caitlin’s soft grey fur. Caitlin looked down reprovingly at the sticky salt tears becoming adhered to the shafts of her fur. But she sat, still and quiet, until Jessie May had finished crying and fallen asleep.

Sometime in the night Caitlin woke. She often woke in the night to prowl around the sleepy house, but tonight someone else was awake too. She lifted her head and stared through the open door into the black hallway.
“What is it,” Jessie May murmured sleepily. Caitlin climbed out of the hollow of Jessie May’s curled body and walked to the door. Jessie May got up and stood in the doorway too, rubbing her eyes. Then she stopped and listened. Somewhere, down the hall, someone was  crying. Jessie May padded after Caitlin, feeling her feet grow cold on the hardwood floor. At the door to her parent’s room she stopped and looked down at Caitlin. Caitlin’s eyes glowed eerily in the non-light.
Jessie May pushed the door open a crack. A soft pink light flooded the hallway, accompanied by a shiver of muffled sobs. Jessie cautiously peeked around the door. “Mom?” she whispered uncertainly. “Momma, what’s wrong?” She pushed the door open all the way and walked to the bed, sending a wavering pale shadow along the floorboards and wall.
“Jessie May, you should be asleep,” Lucilia sniffed, clutching a wrinkled pillow. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”
Jessie May sat down on the edge of the bed and awkwardly patted her mother’s back. Then in a swift move Lucilia sat up and put her arms around Jessie.  She began to sob into her shoulder. Jessie began to uncertainly rub her mother’s back, looking across at Caitlin, perched unceremoniously on the folded comforter.  On the other side of the bed was her father, staring unmoving at the pinkish ceiling. His hands were crossed over the sheet like a man lying in a coffin. She had forgotten he was home.
“It’s okay, momma, its all going to be okay,” Jessie May said, rubbing her mothers back and trying not to cry out with anger at her father, who ought to have been comforting her mother, but for whatever reason was not.

In the morning, the maroon truck was gone, along with her father.  Jessie May peeked through the slatted blinds at the bleak light sneaking across the empty driveway, and went back to bed. Caitlin murmured her approval of this decision and went back to sleep.
At 9 o’clock Lucilia came in and opened the blinds, forcing the grayish light to straggle lamely across the rumpled bed.
“Mom,” Jessie May groaned. “I’m tired.”
“I just wanted to check to make sure you were all right,” Lucilia explained, standing in front of the window and letting the weak light slither around her shoulders and wispy hair.
“I’m fine, Mom, I’m just tired. I want to sleep.” Jessie May buried her face in the pillow.
“Are you feeling okay? Is the fever back?” Lucilia bent down to feel Jessie’s forehead.
“I said I’m fine!” Jessie May groaned through the pillow. “I’m just tired. I stayed up too late doing math.”
“Okay, well I’m going to go to work, I’ll be home to make dinner. Call me if you need anything.”
“I’ll be fine!” Jessie May almost shouted. Then she sat upright. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s at work,” Lucilia replied, and closed the door.

When the soft putter of Lucilia’s battered Mercedes had fallen silent, Jessie May pushed Caitlin off her chest and sat up. “Ugh,” she said. “Another morning.”
Caitlin leapt to the floor and headed straight for the kitchen. Jessie May followed, dragging her feet and muttering. “You want your milk that bad, huh?”  Caitlin whined.  “All right, all right. I gotcha.” Jessie May pulled open the refrigerator door, needing to jerk it a couple times before it finally came loose. She bent and poured a stream of white into the blue bowl. Drops of milk sprayed clumsily onto the crooked lettering.
Caitlin began to lap noisily. Jessie May looked down at her. “Go ahead, drink your milk and be content. But what am I going to do? I have to go back to school sometime.” Caitlin looked up, milk dripping from her chin. Jessie May laughed and caught a droplet in her palm before it splashed onto the linoleum floor. “At least I’ll always have you, won’t I?”
The toaster popped. Jessie May swiveled to grab the hot bread. She dipped it into Caitlin’s milk and nibbled a corner. Caitlin watched her expectantly, licking skimmed cream from her whiskers. After a few bites Jessie May gave up and dropped the whole piece into Caitlin’s milk. Caitlin ducked back into her bowl and swallowed the soggy pieces.
“I wonder if I’m ever going to be hungry again,” Jessie May said thoughtfully, putting a hand down Caitlin’s back. “It’s not that I’m not hungry, I just can’t eat anything. Isn’t that weird?” Caitlin had no idea what she was talking about, so she ignored her and finished licking the sticky crumbs from the sides of the bowl.
After breakfast, Jessie May still couldn’t concentrate on her homework. The grayish light had turned to drizzle. She pulled on her purple slicker and matching rubber boots and opened the door. When Caitlin balked, Jessie May gave her a push with the toe of her rain boot.
The willow leaves hung heavy and limp, dangling haphazardly into the trickled stream. Jessie May looked unhappily into the unhappy sky and seemed almost to enjoy for a moment their shared opinion of the drizzly unhappy morning. Caitlin sat down and fluffled her fur, equally unhappy. She had the sneaking feeling they were looking for the bird.
Jessie May sat down on a log and stirred the water with a knobbled stick, waiting. She saw the bird’s silvery image before she saw the bird itself. Its feathers stood out like jagged dark puzzle pieces. Caitlin hissed. Jessie May smiled. She held out her empty hands.
“I’m sorry I don’t have any crumbs today. I already gave the toast to Caitlin.”
The bird whistled and bobbed its head from side to side in mock disappointment. It fluttered its wings, flashing red and forcing the water on the bank to slide away in a silver tide.
“He always looks so happy,” Jessie May remarked, resting her chin on her knees. “I wish I could be like that. Where does it come from, do you think? Happiness?”
Caitlin just looked at her. Then her ear’s perked. She turned and shot the road a deadly stare. Through the trees and reeds, the dusty maroon shape of Dave’s truck crumbled over the gravel.
“Dad?” Jessie May said quizzically, staring toward the road. She scrambled to her feet, knocking into Caitlin. The blackbird took flight, but nobody noticed where it went.
Jessie May ducked behind a log, not worrying about the mud that squelched through her buttons. Her father parked the car and climbed the porch steps, his tall boots thundering heavily on the old wood. Jessie May pressed her face into the log, leaving a red bark mark on one cheek. When he had closed the door she darted to her feet and ran, Caitlin winding in between her feet and getting caught around her pounding rain boots.
Jessie May peeked through the window. Her father was perched on the counter, his dirty heels hitting the cupboard as he absent mindedly swung his feet. He had his back to her, one ear pressed against the telephone receiver. Jessie May cracked the door to hear. Caitlin pushed it open all the way and wandered into the kitchen.
“Cait, get back here,” Jessie May hissed, then was quiet as her father started to talk.
“I’m sorry, Hon, but I won’t be back for a few days,” he was saying. “I know I said that, but things are different now. Jessie’s still sick. Yes she’s getting better, but I can’t come. I’m sorry about the concert tickets, sweetie. You can turn them in for a reimbursement. No, no one’s at home now. No, she still doesn’t know about you. And that’s what I need to talk to you about.” He waited, breathing heavily. “I need some time to think about this, sweetie. Yes, of course I love you, but I don’t know if I can go through with this.”
Jessie May stood frozen at the door, her eyes wide, barely breathing. Caitlin jumped lightly onto the counter and rubbed against Dave’s broad back. He jumped. “What? Oh, hi Caitlin. How’d you get in here? No, sweetie, its just the cat. Don’t worry. How’d she get inside?” He turned around to look at the door. His eyes met Jessie May’s.
“Hey, hon, I have to go,” he said slowly, his eyes still locked with Jessie’s. ”Yeah. Bye.” He hung up. There was silence. Jessie May’s bottom lip trembled. “Jessie…” Dave started. But Jessie had gone, her boots flashing through the flying puddles. Caitlin paused at the door long enough to give Dave a hateful stare and bounded out the door.
“Jessie!” Dave hollered. “Jessie May!”
Jessie May sprinted down the driveway away from the house. Her boots skidded on the gravel and her pants up to the knees were soaked with dirty water. Her heartbeat pounded erratically across her eyeballs and a dark wave rose at the back of her head. She ran until dizzy nausea forced her to her knees. The bits of gravel bit into her skin as she vomited sharply, dripping whitish fluid from her empty stomach. She realized that she was crying, but she couldn’t tell where the tears where coming from. They were around her everywhere, streaming down her cheeks and hair, ears and shoulders.
Caitlin sat and shook the rain from her coat, watching Jessie May cry. Her nose and tail twitched, but the rest of her was still.
There was a rustling on the side of the road. Caitlin’s head whipped around to face the intruder, but it was only the blackbird. With a chirp and a clatter the blackbird hopped onto a swaying branch, the red of its underwings glittering like a blood diamond. Jessie May half sat up and turned her mud teared face toward the bird.
“Did someone send you to cheer me up, blackbird?’ Jessie May asked. “Everything keeps getting worse and worse. I don’t know how you can.” She rubbed Caitlin’s skull with her thumb and forefinger, taking comfort in her soggy fur. Caitlin purred and wiggled into Jessie’s lap. The blackbird swooped across the road and back, showing off.
“Don’t you wish that we could fly like that, Cait?” Jessie said. “Fly away to wherever, or nowhere, or anywhere but here.” Caitlin wrinkled her nose. All the bird’s swooping was making her tail twitch.
“I think I’m going crazy, Cait,” she whispered.
There was a grinding sound from around the corner and with a raging screech the Ford careened into sight. Jessie May gasped and scuttled off the road into the ditch, Caitlin in her arms. Caitlin pushed herself under Jessie’s knees and crouched there, her eyes glinting eerily in the shadows at the blackbird, swooping carelessly onto the road.
The truck threw gravel from its tires as Dave saw Jessie hidden in the ditch and threw on the breaks. The blackbird jumped into the air, its wings gleaming black, then red, as it slammed into the windshield.
“Jessie, its not what you think,” he said, leaping from the truck. But Jessie  May wasn’t listening. She had leapt to her feet, screaming. The noise seemed to come from another world, another place, ripping through her abdomen and launching into shrieks. She was suddenly intensely dizzy, everything rippling with darkness as her own voice continued on and on.
“You killed it!” she hollered. “You killed it!”
“Jessie, its just a bird. It’s just a bird, Jessie. Calm down,” Dave reached out, trying to untangle her hair, hold onto her shoulders. But Jessie slapped him away. “I’m sorry. I said I’m sorry. You didn’t hear what you think you did,” Dave repeated. “I love you Jessie May. Listen to me!”
Through a mist Jessie heard the words, but she was beyond him. An earthquake was crushing her insides, and her voice was caught in sobs. The darkness continued to spread, blocking her sight and making her sway on her feet. She fought it.
“I hate you!” she screamed through the cloud hanging between her and the world. “You killed my blackbird!” She knew that wasn’t really why she was mad but it was as good a reason as she could think of. She began to flail wildly, fighting her father, fighting exhaustion and despair. She fell to the road and lay there, the gravel pinching her face, sobbing. Dave stood over her, bent and broken, his head pounding in his hands.
Caitlin sniffed the dead bird. It’s shining feathers lay slick with blood, some ruffled and twisted, others plastered to its body. She moved past it and padded slowly to Jessie May’s crumpled form. She put one paw on the girl’s face and mewed softly. Jessie didn’t move. She rubbed the back of her head against Jessie’s cheek, but still she didn’t move. Caitlin crouched down on her haunches and wailed.
The sound of an approaching car startled her mid-cry. The blue mercedes ground to a halt and Lucilia leapt out, eyes gleaming.
“Lucilia, I can explain,” Dave said, jumping to his feet.
“Explain my ass,” Lucilia snapped. “I already know about your girlfriend. Now what have you done to our daughter?”
“Nothing,” Dave protested. “I haven’t done anything to her. I accidentally hit a blackbird and she went absolutely ballistic. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“You haven’t seen me yet then,” Lucilia shot back. Then quietly, “Jessie, Jessie honey, can you hear me?”
Jessie May opened her eyes and began to cry again. Lucilia helped her into the car and then turned to face her husband.
“You and me are going to have to have a little talk,” she spat. The fur along Caitlin’s back stood up. She hopped onto seat next to Jessie May and hissed through the window at Dave. standing silent and stony in the road. Then he climbed into his truck and began to back down the narrow driveway toward the house. Lucilia followed, glaring at him all the way.

In the early blue light of the dawn Jessie May crept out of the house to watch the sunrise. In one hand she clutched her father’s red pocket knife. She had dressed for school and tucked her backpack behind the fallen log she had hidden behind the night before. On the counter she had left a note. “Gone to school. Don’t worry. Love, Jessie May.”
Caitlin trailed behind her, mewling pitilessly about the hour and the warm rumpled bed left behind.
“Look, Cait, I didn’t ask you to come,” Jessie May said. Caitlin complained more quietly.
The morning silence seemed to fill Jessie, or maybe oozed from her, from the empty place inside where she had turned to glass. She paused in the driveway, looking back at the cloudy blue house with the worn white porch. From the maroon truck parked in the driveway she could hear her father’s snores.
They had fought long into the night, until finally Dave had cracked and begun to shout too, dissolving his wife into tears.
Jessie closed her eyes and tried to block out of the sound of their voices, lingering in the morning mist inside her memory.
“I’m ending it, Lucilia.”
“It’s too late for that.” A bitter laugh.
“It was wrong. Jessie May needs me. You need me. I realize that now.”
“Need you? Since when have we needed you? Jessie and I have been getting along without you just fine for quite some time. I think your new girl needs you more, by the amount you call her. When did you ever call me that much?”
“What? How do you know?” He spluttered.
“Phone bill.”
Pause. “The point is Lucilia, that I’ve decided to come back. I love you. I love Jessie May. And she does need me. She’s sick.”
“Since when is it your decision whether or not you come back? And since when did you decide Jessie May needs you? Where were you when she was really sick? Off with some secretary floozy, that’s where!”
“I didn’t realize,” he started. She cut him off.
“What, realize how sick she was? Our daughter was almost hospitalized. I went to all her doctor appointments, got all her medicine, talked to all her teachers, all by myself. And where were you? Screwing around!” Her voice rose to a shriek. Jessie May flinched at the memory.
“Lucilia, calm down. You’re being irrational.”
“Irrational! You, you…out! Get out of my house!”
Tears filled Jessie May’s eyes as the voices rang out through her mind. Caitlin climbed into her lap and she hugged her tight. Caitlin squirmed.
“It’s all my fault, Cait,” Jessie May whispered. “Everything. Because I’m sick. I can’t do what they want me to do. And I can’t go on like this. It’s too hard.” Her voice cracked. She turned, and walked over the half -rotting log  to the island where the willow grew. Caitlin followed anxiously. Jessie May smelled something like despair.
Under the willow was dark. The tangled willow branches were a silhouetted curtain against the grey horizon. Jessie May lay down with her face by the running water, letting the mud settle against her bones. She held out one hand, admiring the polished skin turned ghostly in the dim light. Then she flicked open the knife.
Caitlin flinched. She watched wide eyed as Jessie May turned the gleaming blued blade from side to side. “It’s time,” she whispered. “I’m so tired. I want rest.” She closed her eyes and imagined the red of her veins flowing down the trickled stream in a long ribbon, a lifetime of ribbon waving with the algae. The blade hung trembling, poised on a dewy breath inches above Jessie May’s pale sleeve. She bit her lip and pushed the point into the divot just below her thumb. A tiny slice of red welled and dripped around her wrist like a bracelet.
Caitlin pounced. Her claws sank into the soft flesh of Jessie May’s inner arm as the knife spun into the stream and disappeared.
“No!” Jessie cried, diving into the freezing water and scrabbling for the pocket knife. But the blade was gone, hidden underneath the pockets of mud and rotten reeds that lined the stream. She threw herself onto the bank and lay there, sobbing quietly. Caitlin sat on the bank and licked the blood off her paw, noting Jessie’s whereabouts with one eye.
“Why did you do that, Caitlin?” Jessie May asked angrily, sitting up and wiping her sleeve across her face. It left a muddy streak. Caitlin climbed to her feet and pranced purring around Jessie, her gray tail caressing Jessie’s face. She climbed into Jessie’s lap, sniffing reproachfully at the putrid stream bits clinging to her clothing. Then she looked straight into Jessie May’s face. Her big green cat eyes seemed to fill even the corners of Jessie May’s dark world.
Jessie blinked and shook Caitlin off her. She looked up. High above the island, nestled in the hidden hair of the willow, were birds. The red of their underwings shone as they fluttered from branch to branch, singing and twerping. A whole colony of blackbirds.
“Oh, Caitlin,” Jessie May said wonderingly. “He has a whole family.”
Caitlin peered upward too, noting with annoyance the way the new light sifting through the willow branches struck Jessie May’s pale face at an almost angelic angle. It was much too cinematic a moment. She snorted and leapt over the tiny stream toward the road.
“Where are you going?” Jessie called, scrambling to her feet. “Caitlin, don’t leave!”
Caitlin pushed through the reeds, bits of flower fluff sticking to her stripes. Jessie May blundered behind her, squashing the flower fluff beneath her boots. She leapt across the ditch water and on to the road, where the blackbird lay in all its deathly glory.
“Oh,” Jessie May said, staring at the twisted body. She knelt beside it. “It looks so pathetic.”
It was too early in the day for any fly or mosquito to have disturbed the blackbird’s sightless rest, but already its bright eyes had turned cloudy , ringed in coagulated blood. “I guess that would have been me, too,” Jessie May said quietly. Caitlin sat and licked fluff from her back. She took that as a thank you.
Jessie May thought a moment, and then scooped the bird up in her hands. She grimaced as its head swung limply over her thumbs, and tried not to think of avian flu.
Jessie May and Caitlin buried the blackbird in the soft earth in-between the roots of the willow. Above their heads the rest of the blackbirds flapped and chirped, going about their morning business. By the time Jessie May had patted the muddy mound into an oval, the willow had quieted and the sun had become a golden sphere balancing on the horizon. Jessie May swept her muddy hands against her pants, but she was coated so thoroughly that her hands remained hidden in their earthen gloves.
“I guess I can’t go to school like this,” Jessie May laughed, looking down at herself. In the golden light she felt somehow lighter, freer, smothered in mud and blood. She pulled her backpack out from behind the log, smearing the handle with more mud. Everything was dirty and wet and Caitlin picked her way carefully to avoid coming in contact with Jessie or the backpack. Her beautiful fur was stained and matted enough already.
As Jessie May crept inside to shower, Caitlin sat up on the patio and looked out across the road to where the reeds swayed and a solitary blackbird spun lazily over the creek. She washed carefully, wanting to be clean when Jessie May brought her her morning milk. The driveway was empty, both the blue mercedes and the maroon pick up gone. Caitlin didn’t know where they had gone, but she wasn’t worried. As Jessie May emerged from the house, drying her hair and bearing Caitlin’s bowl with its crooked lettering, Caitlin leapt onto her shoulder.
“What’s up, Cait?” Jessie May asked. “You’re going to make me drop your milk.”
She set the bowl on the rail and followed Caitlin’s gaze, over the stream and the willow, across the valley where the sun had left a dusty trail.
Caitlin began to purr. Somewhere a blackbird was singing.

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