Friday, July 17, 2009

Three-minute Fiction

Hovering is for the Birds*
A short story
By Carol Robidoux

Ramona+ hovered daily over the nest hidden in the rhododendrons. In her heart it was no coincidence that the sky-blue eggs arrived on Mother's Day. Robins nested there before, next to the gladiola stalks and papery daffodil rot. Two days later three of the four eggs hatched, and she started snapping photographs.

She did a cursory search for the fourth egg but never found it.

Every time Ramona curled back the sturdy green leaves and burgeoning fuscia buds to snap a one-handed portrait of the feathering chicks, the mother bird's frantic screams echoed from a telephone wire as she hopped from ground to perch and back.

“It's OK,” Ramona told the puffed-up bird. “I won't hurt your babies.”

Ramona Googled “robins” and found that her adoptive brood would fledge in 14 days. Incredible, she thought. From invisible life form encased in porcelain shell to fully feathered red-breasted predator of worms in two short weeks.

Daily photographs were posted online. Ramona's social network liked the photos, and thanked her for sharing. Someone commented on the construction of the nest – perfectly formed cradle of sticks, leaves and bird fluff.

Such brushes with nature always stirred Ramona's humanity. Her thoughts spiraled deep into the substance of life, how every little facet of every little ecosystem is equipped to handle itself. Birds somehow know what to do to keep their species going. Without a network of friends and family or an information highway, they figure out nesting and hatching and feeding and protecting.

By day seven the babies were ruffled, their diamond-shaped beaks stuck in overdrive, expecting worms instead of zoom lens hum whenever Ramona visited.

Still at an impasse with mother bird, Ramona tried sitting on the porch steps, hoping mama robin would trust enough to nest while she was present. It never happened.

“I wonder why she doesn't do more to protect them if I'm such a threat?” Ramona thought, switching mental gears long enough to consider her own human brood of four.

In a few more years, her youngest would be off to college. Ramona figured bird years to be condensed dog years. In two weeks the robin was accomplishing what Ramona had spent more than two decades doing.

“You're obsessed with those birds,” her oldest son said in passing one day. Fully grown, he was between adventures, staying on for only a few more weeks before flying to Tokyo to take a teaching job.

“I'm not obsessed,” Ramona said, defending her right to be fascinated by a nest full of birds. “It's just that I know they're only here for a short time, then I can't hover anymore.”


Her objection to the word her son had used to describe her maternal instinct didn't override the fact that he was right. Whether measured in bird years, dog years, or humanity, the part of motherhood that requires vigilance ends almost before it begins. After training yourself to nest, hatch, nourish and nurture, all the while deflecting danger, eventually they fly.
Day 11 her younger teenaged son arrived home from school. “Your birds are gone, huh?”

Ramona rushed to the rhododendrons. One forgotten, perfect blue egg inside a masterful cradle. On her knees she probed the weeds for signs of life.

They should have been there, testing their wings.

As she turned back toward the house, she heard an unnatural shriek, overshadowed by a shrill caw, caw, caw. Ramona's heart raced. In the time it took to turn around, her eye glimpsed a crow in flight, a limp bundle of blue-gray feathers in its talons.

She searched the wires for mother bird.

Ramona gasped in vain, knowing that her vigilance had served the crow well.

+ ramona: spanish in origin, means "Wise Protector"
*Inspired by the birds in my rhododendron bush.  Fiction prompted by NPR's "3-minute Fiction" spot.  Many will enter, few will win...