blackbirdonline journalSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Mom drives us to the airport in the still-blue Indiana morning, my father and brother left behind to sleep in warm beds. It is one of the first times I’m leaving for boarding school—not the inaugural send-off in the fall of my freshman year, but my return after Thanksgiving break. Barely fifteen, I wear the too–neatly–matched clothing my mother bought for me: jeans cut like riding pants, loafers, and a sweater with shoulder pads—fuchsia, to match my slouch socks. It is the kind of day that might rain or sleet or snow or not.

“Excited to go back?” Mom says.

I shrug.

She looks at me sideways while steering with one hand. I can tell she wants desperately for me to talk, but the only words in my head come from the monologues I practice behind closed doors: Ibsen’s Nora, Chekov’s Sonya, William’s Laura. I have no language of my own. And this face with its too–large nose, vampire teeth, and wild eyebrows—it can’t be mine.

“Can’t you at least answer? Is that so hard?” Her voice pulls tight, a strained wire.

“Yes,” I say. “I guess I’m excited.” Add to that lost, terrified, and angry for reasons I can’t yet understand.

“Well, good. Because it’s costing us an arm and a leg to send you to that school. I hope you know.”

“I’m on scholarship.”

“Scholarship does not pay for everything.” She looks away from the road again to shoot me the stink eye.

There is no way for me to forget how inconvenient I am with her mentioning the cost every time we talk. I watch the white sun inching up the sky, my loneliness large and dark as an undiscovered planet.

We cross Blue River, marked by a small sign on a bridge I anticipate each time we drive to Indianapolis. It reminds me of a favorite book from childhood, The Bears of Blue River, a story recounting the days when wild animals still lived here, before the land was parceled, fenced, and plowed into perfect rows.

Mom’s lips wrinkle into a Revlon Red prune. Her fingernails match. She sighs to make sure I’ve noticed that she’s not talking because I am impossible and she is a martyr and life was not supposed to be like this. She wanted a daughter who would study ballet, wear matching mother-daughter dresses, and win beauty pageants.

My body rests against the car door, a hand on the handle, and, truth be told, I am mostly excited to be let loose in the airport with my headphones, my notebook, and twenty dollars.

Then, something large and gray hits the windshield with a bone-breaking thud. The road whirls out of sight and back again as we spin and spin and spin, coming to rest backward in the breakdown lane.

For a moment, everything is perfectly still.

Mom’s face peels open, the expression I imagine the soul might wear regarding its just-shattered body. Her mouth moves, unable to catch a single word.

Someone raps on the glass. “You OK?” A man asks. I see his blue pickup in front of us, hazards flashing red through the mist.

“Yes,” Mom says as she rolls down her window. “I don’t know what happened. Something hit our windshield. A bird, I think.”

“A bird?” The man looks from my mom to me, back to my mom.

“A bird,” she says. “A large bird.”

I nod violently, my body shifting into adrenaline overdrive.

“Lucky your windshield ain’t cracked.” The man nears a smile.

We nod and laugh and oh-so-politely refuse help. Mom rolls up the window, breathes deeply, and U–turns to aim us back north, on the interstate.

“Don’t tell your father,” she says. “Because everything’s fine.”

And she’s right. The car is fine, the plane ride will be fine. We will keep on being this kind of fine for a long, long time.

But what I can’t figure out is how a bird can make a mistake like that and fly straight into a car. I replay the moment in my head, and by the time the Honda makes it back up to speed, the truth comes into focus: we were the first to swerve, spinning off course and into the bird.  

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