Voices in a Tomb
~ Meovîgn, Marin. A.Y. 1769
The day came around again sooner than I had expected. Yes, a year is a year—always has been, always will be—but, this one felt longer than the rest.
I woke up with the dawn, shuffling out of bed, slipping on my slippers, not bothering to change out of my night-clothes. The light was dim, inside my little house. The sun wasn't sick—no; I just liked the curtains closed, that's all. I'm old, and I'm tired; I leave life to those who live.
It is cold, colder than one would expect for a midsummer morning. The air bites at my wrinkled skin.
But, I suppose, it is only natural; it does that, living in a house by the river does that. So, too, does living in the city that sleeps under the shadows of the Crystalpeaks.
Ah, those glorious mountains: white, and glistening—with skies so clear that the night stars would set them aflame and aglow. We used to hike up into those lofty reaches, she and I. We would spend New-Year's Day together—the first day of spring—gazing at the vistas, watching the frost melt, and glisten. But, like so many other things, that was years and years ago.
I don't celebrate the new year anymore. I have a new pleasure—a new secret. I have my bird.
Open the wooden door. Step out of the bedroom. Close the wooden door. Follow the ugly carpet down the hall. Turn into the kitchen. The usual pattern.
It doesn't smell of anything—at least, not anything good. No smell of candied pipberries—sweet to eat, and soft to chew; no fine tea, painstakingly tinted with extract of caramine; no smoked river-eel—soft, buttery and crisp. It doesn't sound of anything, either. No boiling water bubbling; no humming, no singing. No, none of that—only silence. Silence, dead lights, burnt toast, and weak tea. The food waits for me on the warped wooden table in the middle of the room. I "made" it yesterday; I don't know how to cook. I'll eat it later, I suppose.
Oh, but she was such a good cook. Such a good cook.
As usual, the kitchen's a mess. I would clean it up, but I don't have time—not today. And, even if I did, there wouldn't be any point to it. I'm not sure there ever was one. There are dishes piled up in the sink, spilling out, onto the smooth stone counter. Forks and knives lie scattered about, with old meals still stuck to their faded metal. Dulled paint flakes off the rickety cabinets. And dust—dust and cobwebs, everywhere.
Back when they used to come over, my relatives would always complain and nag. "Grandfather George, you're burying yourself alive." "Uncle George, what are you doing to yourself" "George, come out into the sun." Yes, "George, George, George." Now, it seems like they only know how to say my name. That, and calling my home a "mausoleum."
Bah, I don't need them. They don't know, they can't know.
…They shouldn't know. No one should.
Oh, but my secret—my special bird—ha-ha, that they will never know! I won't let anyone take it away from me—I will not lose my last tie to life. This, I swear.
I open the cabinet—the one with the most paint on it. I keep the nest in there. I reach for it, grabbing it as tightly and gently as possible, in spite of these shaky hands—Spirits damn them.
Oh… I move so slowly now. Everything passes by, so fast: neighbors, children, grandchildren, the occasional war, or two. But they'll get slower, too. There are few things in life as equitable as time—few things, indeed.
Of course, none of that matters now. Nothing really matters today—nothing except this wild weave of bundled straw and twigs and webs and Dahr-knows-what-else that that bird uses for a nest.
I blow off the year's dust from the nest's fragile threads, hacking and gagging as things blow loose—snorting my nose, and blinking my watery, tired eyes. I clear my throat a few times—it makes it better, I think.
But, first: the window.
I set the nest down on a clear space on the counter.
I turn my head, and look up at the plain wall to my left. The wall with the window in it; the window with the cross-hatched glass. I step toward it, turn the handle, and pull it open.
Ah… so bright! Too bright!
The rays of dawn shine down through it; they turn the musty air into fireflies. I raise my hands to my face, and hold them there, waiting for my eyes to adjust; feeling the cool breeze waft in, all the while, chilling my tired bones. Minutes pass; I lower my hands. Still, he isn't here. No. That isn't right. He would come today; he's been doing it for years. He would come again. He had to.
Ftftftftft—the sudden flutter of green wings.
There, there! There he is! Right on schedule! I feel like a giddy young schoolboy, watching him as he flits down and perches on my windowsill.
Green bird. Beautiful green bird. Wing-edges tinted a shimmering blue. Orange-yellow, curved beak. Four toes on the right foot; three toes on the left. Zygodactyl. I remember reading that word, somewhere—I don't remember where. He had lost it—the toe—before his first visit to me, years and years ago. It was fortunate—but only for me. It made the bird impossible to miss.
"You and I are of a kind, Mister Bird," I say. "Both of us spend our time alone. Yet, still, we know when to bother with company." I chuckle.
He bends his head to the side, tucking it under his wing, and drags it up. He preens himself; he makes himself look presentable. He hasn't been broken; he still hopes. That's good for him, I suppose.
"We are both old loners, Mister Bird; we both wait, hopeful that we might soon meet our women." I pull a sweet nut from my pocket and bring it close to him, holding it between my fingers. He grabs it with his beak, splits it in two, and gobbles it down.
"You're very determined, aren't you? All these years, you haven't found a wife, yet still, you come here, hoping. Hoping to find the gal of your dreams, at last."
Do emerald gossipers dream? I don't know.
He shakes out his wings and looks at me with those bright, black eyes. Then he hops down—down into his nest, all cradled and cozy. He looks happy, that way; certainly more lively than me. Oh, I know: one day, he'll find his love. His years of searching won't be for naught. And when that day comes, he'll take his nest, and then, he'll start his family. But, I smile—silly—that day is far away; until then, he is mine. My treasure. My gift.
I look down at him; I hunch over and I tickle him under his head.
"Mister Bird, are you ready to sing for me?" I ask.
He flutters his wings a few times. He likes it.
"Please, Mister Bird, please. I want to hear your song. Please. I've waited all year."
He'd heard her sing, many, many years ago. And, luck—I don't know why—he latched onto my darling's voice. Every year, from autumn through spring, my bird would venture forth across the land, questing for a sound special enough to win him a mate. And yet—be still, my heart—each year, he would return, only to sing the same song. Michelle's song. Over all the sounds he'd heard throughout his many wanderings—throughout the changing years—he still thought Michelle's the best. Oh, it would have made her so proud, it—
—His beak opens wide and points his head toward the heavens, and then… he sings!
Oh! oh! I can hear her again—my darling Michelle.
This marvelous bird, this wonderful, beautiful old bird—he houses her voice. Every detail, every one of her perfect tones is there, locked away, safe, in the breast of this emerald miracle! And he shows it to me—to me! Oh, oh—I hear her! I hear her! I sway and dance. Oh Michelle, my darling, Michelle—dance with me, climb with me—come to me, please! Make me whole again! Make me young, and happy and sweet. Please, my darling, my darling… please….
My ragged breaths draw deep on the air. Tears stream down my face. Tears of sorrow; tears of joy. That sweet bird; he still sings her song. He sings the song that my Michelle sung for me. He will be here 'till summers end. The days will be good, the sun will be bright, I will not be lonely—not 'till summer's end. I close my eyes, and I see her, my darling. Yes, yes—I can't be lonely when the bird is here, for when he is here, she is here, and when she is here, I am—
The nest is gone. He took it. The… the song—it… it stopped. He. The bird. Gone.
Two. Two in the distance. Two in the distance! He found her. They'll share the nest. But then—that….
No—no! No. My bird! My Michelle! No! I need you! Come back, please—please. Live with me, stay with me. There is room here! There is room! I can draw open the curtains for you, I can make it alive, I can let in the sun! This can be your home! It doesn't need to be a mausoleum! I—I'll do whatever it takes. Just, come back! I can change! I can—
I gasp. I fall to my knees.
Pain in my arm….
I fall to the ground.
Pain in my chest….
The world goes quiet. The dawn grows dim.
(2/1/2013) Murdered an unnecessary semi-colon. Thanks to Linguistic for goading me into finally doing it.
(1/7/2013) Minor tweaks here and there. Thanks to RequiemAnon for an inspirational review! :D
(1/5/2013) Change a "her" to a "she". Thanks to Amy B. R. Mead for pointing it out.
(1/2/2013) General editing. Thanks to improvementneeded, this wild abyss, and eatmyawesome for pointing it out. Also, changed the story's title from "The Emerald Gossiper" to "Voices in a Tomb".