1 nonfiction Story
by katherine moore
Superior High School
“Waxwings spend most of the year in flocks whose movements may be quite erratic. Hundreds will suddenly appear in an area to exploit a crop of berries, only to vanish when that crop is exhausted.”
– National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds by John Bull and John Farrand, Jr. 1994 revised edition.
The birds flew in with a gust of wind that brought the first signs of winter to the Northland. My face smudged the glass door as I squished my nose as close as possible to the outdoors so I could see the monstrous apple trees outside. By mid-fall, most of the leaves had fallen off leaving rotted apples and gnarled branches to twist and turn over the deck. Cedar waxwings and chickadees were placed delicately across the branches, almost like ornaments. I had my bird book open to the section with pictures of “perching birds” but I didn’t lay eyes on the page. Instead, I stared out at what seemed like hundreds of birds in the trees. My mom had read to me from the book before and told me that they’re like ghosts, here one second and gone the next. I hardly dared to blink as they bounced from branch to branch, passing dried-up crab apples to each other.
A yell and a crash rang through the silent house as my brothers came upstairs. It startled the birds and most of them scattered.
“You scared them!” I shouted, effectively sending more away. “Now they’ll never come back!”
It was hard to maintain quiet in our house with my brothers there, even though dad and my oldest two siblings were gone. There were only four of us, but with a single mother raising a four-year-old and two teenage boys, chaos was always close by.
We had a courtyard full of fruit trees at our new apartment in town. The spring blossoms reminded me of apple trees outside the window of the old house, but here there were few birds living in the branches.
At the start of first grade, the pink blossoms had fallen off the trees, replaced by tart green apples. For the first day of school I was forced into a girly pink dress by my mom and my hair was in perfect ringlet curls despite my resistance. I had time to pluck an apple off of the nearest tree before I had to leave for school. I ran inside and smiled into the bathroom mirror with my mouth full of fruit, messed up my hair, and ran out the door into my dad’s truck.
“Love you, sweetie!” my mom yelled after me.
I heard her start to say something about my hair, but I was already buckling my seat belt. My dad had been waiting in the driveway to bring me to school. As a six-year-old, there was no one I admired more than my father.
“Can I try your coffee?” I asked him as we drove down the bumpy road. He warned me it was black and probably wouldn’t taste good, but I told him I was ready. I took a big swig and turned the other way so he wouldn’t see my reaction to the bitterness.
“Wow, that’s pretty good,” I told him to prove that I could be just like him. But when he wasn’t looking, I took another bite of my apple to try to get the awful taste out of my mouth. “Delicious.”
After my mom got an apartment in town, my dad had moved back to our old home. I stayed with him at the house with the birds every Monday to Thursday, and at my mom’s the rest of the week. It was quiet with my dad, nothing but the sound of each other and the chirping birds. But mom’s house never settled down.
Shortly after the move, my older sister moved back home. She was pregnant and couldn’t live alone. Her belongings were packed where ever there was space in our already too-full apartment.
An extra person meant my mom and I were bumped from the bed to the living room. Once in a while I would curl up next to my sister at night, cozying in with her and her daughter-to-be. But most nights I would wind up in the living room on the floor next to my mom.
Sometimes I heard my mom whispering to my brothers and sister about how our nest was too small and something about eviction. But I didn’t know what that meant so I didn’t worry about it.
I just enjoyed the last of my apple and was grateful it wasn’t coffee.
The bare floor was cold on my legs. The morning sun was just starting to peek its way through my window shining cold winter light into my room.
It was the first morning in our new home and my room was bare except for two boxes of books, empty hangers in the closet, and a blanket that was too short to cover my feet. The rest of the house was empty, too. My mom was on a bed in her room, the only furniture we had in the house. This was the eleventh time I had moved – or was it the twelfth?
Inside my head I was still back at the old house, stacked with the boxes of pots and pans. But the cold floor and the harsh light anchored me to reality. I was in a cookie cutter apartment laying on a fake wooden floor.
My fingernails tapping against the hard floor seemed to be the only noise echoing throughout the apartment. The quiet reminded me of the bustle I had grown up in. It was rare to find a moment as quiet as this. There were always voices or birds or storms. Never silence.
My mom stuck her head into my bedroom. “Are you awake?” I sat up, nodding.
“Come see,” she said. A faint smile played on her face as she pulled me to my feet. We walked into her room together and I saw the magnificently pink sunrise through open blinds. There were no trees in the way. Nothing to block the sun. There was an odd silence without the birds nearby, but it was peaceful. Instead of the chickadees calling out we took in the dawn to the sounds of each other's breath.
The rest of our family – the rest of our flock – had scattered in the past ten years, each of them finding a place of their own. My mom and I sat together on her bed watching the sun rise over our new home.
Katherine Moore is an aspiring author from the outskirts of Superior, Wisconsin. In her free time, when she doesn’t have her nose stuck in a book, she spends time doodling, baking, and adventuring with family.