Yellow Bird ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a slightly expanded version of a story I posted earlier with a different title.)
Terry awoke to the smell of cooking food. When he got out of bed and went into the kitchen, mother turned from the stove and smiled at him. She was wearing her red silk dress with the white buttons instead of the usual old chenille bathrobe.
“Sit down and have some bacon and eggs,” she said cheerily.
“Why are you so dressed up?” he asked.
“We’ll talk about that later.”
While he ate, she sat across from him and drank coffee and smoked.
“Now that summer vacation is finally here,” she said, “what are you going to do today?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Read my book and watch TV, I guess.”
“Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to get out and get some exercise and some fresh air?”
“I might ride my bike to the park.”
“Don’t you have some friends?” she asked. “It’s more fun with friends.”
“Sure. Is anything wrong? You’re acting funny.”
“I need to have a little talk with you.”
“Do you remember my friend Tony? You met him once when we were having lunch downtown.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
She clasped her hands together and looked down at them. “Well, he and I are going away together this morning. He’s coming by to pick me up.”
“Where to? Does daddy know?”
“I wrote daddy a letter that he’ll read when he gets home from work.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know yet. We talked about going all the way to the West Coast. The important thing is for me to be someplace other than here.”
“But why Tony?”
“Well, you see, it’s like this. I’m in love with him. Right now he’s got a wife and I’ve got a husband, but I hope to marry him someday. I know it’s hard for you to understand right now.”
“Is it something I did?”
“Of course not! I don’t want you to ever think that.”
“Is it something daddy did?”
“No, daddy didn’t do anything, either. I can’t go into it now. I’ll try to explain another time. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. I was waiting until you were out of school for summer vacation so you would have the summer to get used to my not being here.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go. When will I see you again?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll call you just as soon as I get to where I’m going.”
In a little while there was a honk out front. She went into the bedroom and when she came out she was carrying her suitcase and had a white sweater thrown over her shoulders.
“I want you to come out on the porch and see me off,” she said, taking him by the hand.
Tony had parked his shiny blue car at the curb. When he saw mother and Terry come out of the house, he smiled and waved. Then he stood beside the car waiting for mother with his hand resting on the fender as if he was posing for a car ad.
Mother let go of Terry’s hand on the porch and bent over to him so that her face was close to his. She didn’t have to bend very far because he was almost as tall as she was.
“I want you to know that my leaving has nothing to do with you,” she said softly. “Wherever I am, you will always be my son and I’ll always be your mother.” She took ten dollars out of her purse and put it in the pocket of his pajamas. “Here’s a little mad money,” she said. “A little money never hurt anything.” She laughed and kissed him on the cheek and gave him a little squeeze. She let go of him then and, without looking back, crossed the lawn and got into the car with Tony.
He watched Tony’s car until it was out of sight and then he went back into the house and got dressed. He was used to staying by himself during the daytime, but the house seemed awfully lonely and quiet with mother gone. He turned on the TV but, not being used to watching during the daytime, wasn’t able to get interested in anything that was on.
Mother was right, he thought. He did need to get out of the house for a while. He took his book and went to the garage and got out his bicycle and headed for the park.
There were some kids in the park that he knew but he ignored them, hoping they didn’t see him. He didn’t feel like being with anybody. He rode back and forth around the perimeter of the park until he got tired and then he found a shady, secluded spot under a tree and sat down. He opened his book, holding it in his lap, but didn’t look at it.
He thought about mother in the car with Tony, the wind blowing her hair. He could see her laughing and smoking cigarettes and pointing to an old barn or a windmill or something that she wanted him to see. After that, everything was just a blur. He couldn’t see her sleeping in the same bed with Tony, fixing his breakfast, or even sitting across from him at a booth in a restaurant. When he thought of Tony, he saw daddy’s face and how it would change when he read the letter that mother left him beside the toaster.
He sat under the tree for a long time until some girls settled themselves too close to him; he could hear them chattering and laughing and he felt insulted in some way that they pretended he wasn’t there and didn’t matter. He left his spot under the tree and, realizing he was hungry, bought a hot dog and a Coke from the vendor at the pavilion out of the money mother gave him.
When he got back home he put his bike away in the garage and waited outside until daddy came home from work. When daddy’s car finally pulled into the driveway, he felt relieved somehow, as if the hours of waiting were at an end. He didn’t have to deal with mother’s leaving on his own anymore; here was someone else to try to figure it out.
“Where’s your mother?” daddy said when he got out of the car and saw Terry sitting on the back steps. It was almost as if he already knew she had left.
“She’s gone,” Even said. “There’s a letter for you from her in the kitchen.”
He waited a few minutes, giving daddy time to read the letter, and then he went inside. Daddy was standing at the sink drinking a glass of water. The opened letter was on the table.
“I think I know where she is,” daddy said. “I’m going to go get her and bring her home.”
“I want to come, too,” Terry said.
“No,” daddy said, “you stay here and take care of things.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
And, with those words, echoing the words mother had spoken earlier in the day, he was gone.
Terry felt better than he had felt all day, ever since mother told him she was leaving. Daddy would straighten things out. He would bring her back and get her to see reason. He always said that women were illogical and could change at a moment’s notice. Terry was witnessing that first hand.
He ate some leftover fried chicken and potato salad from the refrigerator, and when he was finished he went into the living room and turned on the TV and laid down on the couch. He watched one program after another until the news came on and then he got up and switched off the TV. He made sure the doors were locked and, leaving the porch lights on and also lights in the kitchen and living room, he went into his room and changed into his pajamas and got into bed. He was tired from all that had happened and soon he went to sleep.
He had been deeply asleep for an hour, or maybe two, when something woke him up. The floor had creaked or a door closed—someone was in the house with him. He was going to get up and see if daddy had come back, or if it was mother, when he realized somebody was standing in the doorway to his room looking at him. He sat up in bed and tried to get his eyes to see in the dark who it was.
“Mother?” he said.
“Yes, it’s me,” she said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You came back!” he said.
She came slowly into the room and sat on the edge of his bed. “Yes, I’m back,” she said.
“Daddy went to find you.”
“We got all the way to the state line and I made Tony turn around and bring me back. I know he thinks I’m crazy but I don’t care. I thought I could go off and leave you but I wasn’t able to do it. It seems I’m a better mother than I thought.”
“You’re not going to leave again?”
“We’ll talk in the morning. I’m so tired now I’m dead on my feet.”
“You’ll be here when I get up in the morning?”
“Of course I will.”
He rolled over and went back to sleep, and a little while later when he woke up again he wasn’t sure if he had dreamed that mother had come back or if it really happened.
In the morning when he got out of bed she was sitting at the kitchen table with her hair pinned up, dabbing polish on her nails. She looked up and smiled at him when he came into the room.
“You’re really here!” he said.
In the coming days mother’s dark mood seemed to lift. She changed the color of her hair and started taking pains again with her appearance. She bought some new clothes and made her face up in the mirror everyday, whether she was going anyplace of not. She cleaned the whole house and cooked lavish meals and didn’t seem to mind.
Terry hesitated to say anything that would darken her mood again, but he wondered where daddy was. On the third day of daddy’s being gone, he could keep silent no longer.
“When is daddy coming home?” he asked.
“I’m afraid you’d have to ask him that,” she said, lining the forks up in the drawer, just so.
“You don’t know where he is?”
“Not exactly, no.”
“Don’t you think you should call the police and have them look for him? Something bad might have happened to him.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” she said. “I’m not calling the police or anybody else.”
“We don’t need any men in our lives,” she said. “Haven’t you noticed how happy we’ve been without them?”
He started to speak again but movement out the window caught his attention. Tony had parked his car in front of the house and Tony himself was coming up the walk, carrying a large suitcase in one hand and a birdcage in the other with a fluttering yellow bird inside.
The doorbell rang and mother went to the door and opened it. When she saw it was Tony, she instantly reverted to the giggly and feminine type. She took the birdcage from him and set it on the table in front of the window. Then she took Tony into the bedroom with his suitcase and closed the door.
Terry turned the TV on to a game show to drown out any sounds that might be coming from the bedroom. The bird hopped around inside the cage, facing one way and then another, getting a measure of his new surroundings.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp