My mother had a parakeet when I was twelve years old, and for a while, she clipped its wings with a pair of kitchen shears. My mother stayed home and, in the early days of Blogger, spent most of her time on the computer with the bird perched atop her head. As she stared at the screen, the bird would lean forward, pressing my mother’s bangs flat against her forehead with its feathered chest, and clean her eyelashes, separating each hair with the hook of its beak and licking with its pink slug of a tongue.
When my father got home from work, he and I would watch television and wait for dinner, tuna casserole or spaghetti with meat sauce, my mother taking a quick break from her online life to make the meal. On nights she ate with us on the couch, as soon as she finished her food, she’d move back upstairs to the office where the bird’s cage lived next to the desk. My father called her hours at the computer doing the dishes because that’s always where she was when he thought she should be doing the dishes. After dinner, my mother opened the birdcage door and offered the little stoop of her pointer finger like a sign-language X for the bird to take in its feet. They’d sit at the screen together, preening and posting, until their one- or two-AM bedtime, long after my father and I had fallen asleep.
My mother hated clipping the bird’s wings; she didn’t want to feel like its captor, like she was keeping it from doing what it was meant to. So, one day, she stopped and let the jagged flight feathers grow into their natural taper, and the bird started flying free through the house. It became increasingly difficult to coax the bird down from curtain rods and light fixtures. We cleaned its shit off the rugs and mirrors and dining chairs we never sat in; we couldn’t turn on the ceiling fans. Evenings into nights, though, my mother and the bird kept their usual routine, now with the office door closed.
On a weekday while I was at school, my mother opened the back screen door to pull some laundry from the line, and the bird flew out. We’d all been so careful at first to open the door just a crack enough for our bodies to pass through, keeping the bird in our sights all the while. Someone was bound to slip up eventually, but I never thought it would be her. When I got home, my mother was staring up the tree in the backyard where I could see the bird’s slight yellow body hugging the trunk. We watched it, whistling and cooing its name, until dusk, and that night my mother sat alone at the computer. I don’t remember if she cried.
The next morning, when the bird wasn’t in the backyard, my mother and I searched the block for the bright spot of yellow and found it in a towering oak a few houses up. There were other birds in the tree with it, and they were chirping. The bird stayed in the neighborhood a day or two longer, gradually flitting from one new home to the next and always further away from ours, until one day we took our morning walk to find the bird and didn’t.
Brenna Womer is an experimental prose writer and poet. She’s a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Washington & Lee University and the author of honeypot (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019) and two chapbooks, Atypical Cells of Undetermined Significance (C&R Press, 2018) and cost of living (Finishing Line Press, 2022). Her work has appeared in North American Review, Indiana Review, DIAGRAM, The Pinch, and elsewhere. She is a Contributing Editor for Story Magazine and the Faculty Advisor of Shenandoah.