I was born an old soul they say, a quiet spectator mulling over muddled thoughts, about what I don’t know, perhaps a previous lifetime. I woke to bird sounds in the trees outside my window, which made more sense to me than the hubbub of people. I could never get over how those sounds called to me in the morning, and yet I could not get outside until someone put me out there, in my carriage, too late in the day to converse with the birds. They had flown, or were quiet. Either way, they were my only link to a world I simply could not reach.
There was a little girl in the house who wanted to kill me. Later, I would learn she was my sister. There was a soft-spoken man whose voice was the closest thing to the sound of the birds. And there was a woman whose foreign smell intrigued me, but after a few weeks, she disappeared – she was the baby nurse, I guess. The most regular person in my life, besides the nurse and caretakers to follow, was a mother who talked to me in a high-pitched voice, a special voice people sometimes use for babies. You may describe that voice as sing-song, but I can tell you it sounded nothing like the bird song I loved. In fact, it sounded like the voice of the little girl who wanted me dead. This scared me and thrilled me both. Every day, my mother and my sister left the house together and I was alone with someone else, not the baby nurse, a different woman, a huge woman, in whose arms I felt both insignificant and safe.
A whole cast of characters came around to see me at first. Some would be regulars in my life, so I made a study of them: what they smelled like, looked like, the sounds of their voices. Just as I felt I was getting to know them, they lost interest in me. I was powerless to draw their gaze back. But someone else wasn’t so powerless: my sister, who danced and sang and played her toy piano. She did everything reptilianly possible to draw the attention to herself, and usually it worked. Then when nobody was looking, she’d pinch me or push me or creep up and yell “boo” to scare the shit out of me. Her plan almost succeeded; several times my heart hurt so badly I thought I was dead. I cried silently. My crying has been described to me as like a slow leak from a pipe. Tears formed and dripped down, a few at a time, then stopped, then started again. But there was no sound. I was not a bawler. Perhaps I was a sort of songbird myself, but since the flock left me every morning I never learned my song.
Maybe that’s why it feels as if a message is tied up in my chest, a speech, a lyric. It’s my mission, like a carrier pigeon, to get this message out. But by the time I get to a place where I can write it down, it’s gone. How could it be gone, though, when all day long I feel the weight of it, in me, or wrapped around me? I am a feminist who shakes off all kinds of girdles: whether clothing or prescribed manners. Yet this encumbrance I bear. I carry messages I can’t see, songs I can’t seem to sing, and the desire to take flight far away from people, though I know I will come back to people in the end.
After I came on the scene, there was one, last hatchling: a baby boy. He was not birdlike. He was round and fleshy as a panda cub and yet he was always hungry. He consumed everything in sight and demanded more. I would wrap my arms around him and hug him like a lonely child consoling herself with a teddy bear. I hoped some of his plump satisfaction would seep into my hollowness. This was my family, I had to make it my family, now that I realized I would never sing from the treetops, but would carry my weighty messages around, able to deliver them slowly, only to people near me, in no hurry, in fact, at a crawl.
Lena Silver is a fiction and non-fiction writer. Her stories have appeared in Everyday Fiction and Flash Fiction online, and she has also published non-fiction reviews in a Forbes magazine. She is working on a memoir about two freaky-insane aspects of her otherwise ordinary family.