Nagoya Writes

December 5, 2007

Narcolepsy and Birds by Rachel Price

Filed under: Issue: May 2006,Price,Prose — usbengoshi @ 5:33 pm
Tags: ,

“When you were born, the Cedar Waxwings swarmed the house.” Your mother will say these words when you ask her about the day you were born. Your mother will swim up through the years of Prozac and housewifery then. There will be times when you become worried that your mother has left you completely, evacuated before the lease was up, so you will ask her about when you were babies. You will watch her struggle up through the murk. You will see her surface in her eye sockets then and she will speak with a clarity reserved for the past. “You were born in December,” she will say, “and you would not look good in Bloodstones like me so I bought you a blue topaz instead.” While she tells you the story of when you were born, you must pay attention to how much this time in the air takes from her. You must notice this and you must not abuse it. You must do this for both your sakes. Firstly, because your mother will need more rest than others and also because you will see yourself in her in these rare lucid moments and it will cause you to shiver and wonder at the destiny waiting to shake its way up through your genes; You wonder if you will grow up to be tired.

The Cedar Waxwings will go extinct one May and you will dream over and over that your chest has gone Moroccan; that your lungs have filled with beads that rattle you awake in the night. You will think that it is the memory of your grandmother’s consumption whispering up through your lungs. You should go to the doctor but do not tell him the reason for your suspicions. He will find a spot on your lungs and tell you that you have been exposed to TB but not contracted it. He will put you on medication for a year just to make sure. You will spend a few years exhausted; worried that you will dream another illness into existence.

All your life you will have a strange relationship with birds and snakes. You will walk too early; at the end of your eighth month, and your terrified mother will dub you “the duck.” She will say over and over again that your little brain was not ready yet for the responsibility of mobility; that if you had wandered outside when it was raining, you would have drowned. Really, it will be a miracle that you live through that first year. Your mother will already be fading in and out by then and twice she will doze off and loose track of you. Both times, upon waking, she will find you, her ambling girl-child, next to the same cotton-mouth. You will know it by it being old and fat. Both times when she shows up on the scene, she goes stock still; willing herself to stone, to rock. She will be afraid to breathe even, lest she anger the thing. Really, she needn’t worry. It will just lazily uncurl and crawl away.

When you are two, your father will have to save you from a flock of gray geese. They will swarm out of the pond toward where you are playing on the grass; you will say later that they were like targeted missiles with bright orange feet. You will forever remember them honking their malicious intent through prickly mouths. Your father will still be young and quick at this point and he will scoop you up at the last moment to save you. He will be furious and you will not be able to breathe while he holds you and kicks at the flock. Your parents will keep you away from ponds until you can defend yourself and eventually quit buying you parakeets since they just fly into the side of the cage until they die anyway.

You will be just a shade away from a baby when the Waxwings die out and from this you know that you are to have no home, even when you own one. You will wander. Farther and farther you will circle away from your sleeping mother until finally you will no longer be able to hear her ever-even breathing. Away from her, the radius blurs and your travels loose their shape. It will feel as though you have been wandering since before cutting your first tooth. This is obviously not true. This is you feeling hollow and sorry for yourself and your fear of sleep and your anger at your tired mother will not help you.

You will know on the day that you walk up to inspect what you think is a miraculously viney tree-branch only to find yourself looking dead into the eyes of two intertwined, black, snakes, that you will soon anchor yourself to another even if you do not call him home.

You will know him by the shape of his mouth. You will marry him and plant things. Your daughter will be born in May and you will be surprised to find that her coloring is different from your own. At first you think that she is just jaundiced. You lay her in the sun but she stays that way. Accept this difference and trade in all of your topaz for an emerald. She will love you for this some day after she forgives you.

In your daughter’s room you will hang a picture of your father: a country doctor, a Methodist; widow’s—peaked, smooth skinned, and severe. On the other side you will hang your husband’s father: An Irish iron-worker, a Catholic; His skin will wear the badge of the windblown and you will know him in life by his limp. He will have shattered his leg in April. “The building went out from under him like a bird bone,” they will say. It will be a legend that you hear often on the street that you will live on but not call home; how even in those months after the fall, the months when he had to hobble close to earth, he never missed a parish fish fry or lost a singing contest. After he dies, these legends will cause you to picture him forever on crutches, singing the songs of the island that bore him.

Your daughter will be too silent in her crib. She will look up at you wide-eyed from her nest asking you for something that you cannot know. She will not cry and you will become anxious. You will dream of going into her room to find pillow feathers flying everywhere. The windows are closed and still the pillows will be deflated. The feathers will hesitate in a constellation near the ceiling refusing to acknowledge you. In the dream they will be playing a secret game, remembering their former glory, how they were once part of wing.

In some dreams the feathers will belong to those orange-footed geese by the pond but you are not as quick as your father, and these feathers, though they lack beaks, are prickly-teethed, threatening to fall on your daughter unless you leave. In others they will be the Waxwing’s feathers but they will not know that they are dead. They refuse to acknowledge the gravity that pulled every last one of them down while you still walk upright. “We will fall and cut you,” they chirp. You will dream of parakeets slamming themselves into the windows outside your daughter’s room until it rains glass. “We will fall until you fall with us.”

You will wake up calling for your mother and it is at this moment that you remember the way she knew about dreams. This is where you will circle back and remember her; where you finally allow yourself a genesis and a pattern. For only she will ever know about the shadows that crouch when the fever’s in your bed frame and the whispers in the farmhouse that your grandmother did not really die. She will have braved them more than most. You will remember that she who slept most slept lightest when your dozing terrors rubbed into sobs. You will realize then that the measure of all other faces will always be hers, blurred through tears and ever-waking. You must remember her as you walk into your baby’s room to these two portraits glaring at each over the crib; these two patriarchs who will not let the differences of the past lie down and finally rest. You will move them out into the hall because the baby cannot sleep.

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