THE BIRDCAGE

 
 

She calls me Natalie even though my name is Dianna. I don’t get mad though, we do look very similar. It makes me sad. I’ve visited her almost every day for the past three months and she still doesn’t recognize me. We’re strangers.


She sits with her calendar on the table beside her. The blue ink scribbles that fill in the squares are written in a language that only she can understand. She’s peering at it now, her glasses perched on the tip of her birdlike nose.

“Is Victor coming today?” She asks, pointing to her calendar. “It says here that he’s coming.” White tufts of hair cover her head, as if feathers sprouting sporadically from her skull. Her colourful sequined vest changes colour whenever she shifts in her seat, perched on the edge as if she’ll take flight at any moment.

“Yes, he’s coming.”

We sit side by side across from her turn-of-the-century television set. The tiny apartment is filled with an eclectic assortment of odds and ends. There are glass figurines of dolphins, cats, and little girls playing with their puppies on her shelves. Paintings by artists who I’ll never know the names of adorn the walls. Mismatched carpets cover the hardwood floors and an old, weatherworn pair of rain boots rest by the door. In one corner sits a giant, golden Buddha and in the other a rusting birdcage. The entire room is like a shadow of the life she had once lived; fragments she had picked up through her journeys and experiences. They now sit gathering dust in the afternoon light. The birdcage feels especially ominous; you can sense the creatures that once flitted around its insides.

The room smells like cigarettes. She’s not supposed to smoke in here, but she’s forgotten and occasionally lights a Lucky Strike. One hangs from her lips now, but unlit, drooping so low it seems to have been forgotten about. She is too focused on her calendar again, writing something down in her illegible scrawl.

“Is Victor coming today? When is he going to be here?” She asks without looking up.

I sigh and glance over. “Soon.” Her tiny hands are covered in blue ink and there’s a smudge on her blouse as well, but nobody will tell her. I won’t tell her either; she won’t notice anyways.

I’ve watered her plants, I’ve dusted her figurines, and I’ve organized her jewelry box. I can’t help but think about her favourite pieces that she is now wearing. The gold necklace that will go to my sister and the watch that will go to me. Probably soon too. But before I go down that path, she interrupts.

“Put on that show I like. The one with the fellow in the glasses.” For a while the only sound that fills the room comes from the TV as the opening of the program shows a husband and wife laughing and sharing in a kiss. The silence is broken by a sigh and then, “Victor’s not coming, is he?”

I pause. For once her eyes are bright and clear, but there is a great sadness behind them. She already knows the answer to her question. I wish I could just keep telling her what I’ve been telling her all evening, but I can’t bear to lie to her again.

“No, Gran,” my voice cracks, “He’s not. I’m sorry.”

Something suddenly shifts in her demeanor and the light behind her eyes goes out. She turns away from me and back to the TV. I watch as she settles back into the chair and back into the woman she’d been for the past three months. The television flickers across her face as the show’s theme song plays a light and cheery tune that does not suit the sudden mood of the apartment.

She stares at the TV with eyes as empty as the birdcage. “Natalie, pass me the remote. I don’t like this show.”