MURMURATIONS • by Andrea Rinard

Mom’s ashes are in the urn on the table, and I smile with my lips at people who hold pieces of her. I am greedy for every fragment, but hugs are extortion. “She never got to be a grandmother,” one lady tuts, tipping her head to the side to regard me with sad eyes. The revelation throws me once and for all out of the peace I’d been hiding in. We say we are putting her in the ground in a “private ceremony,” but my dad keeps her next to the winter coats in the upstairs closet. He thinks there will be a right time.

***

Starlings cover the clouds, and there is a language in the movement, a murmuration. It’s the most perfect word for the wave that rises and dips and rises again. I find my hollow body swaying slightly as if holding a sleeping child in a moonlit room, and I remember the songs my mother sang to me. Years of losses have emptied me, and I’ve finally miscarried hope as well. Now, though, I look up. Like a sheet lifted above a bed, the birds move across the sky.  

***

I’ve been pregnant with papers and questions and a patience I’ll never have. The flight is delayed. Even though it’s only a step on the journey, I can’t stand the stillness. My jaw is already sore, but I squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the panic into a wad behind my molars. My baby girl is waiting. In her picture, she has hair like down that will be so soft between my fingers. I wonder if my mother will see us. I rock uselessly back and forth. I wonder if my baby will smile when I gather her up. I wonder if I’ll know her. I’ve been waiting too long to fill the space that’s just for her. It’s time to bring her home.

***

A friend of a friend asks if I know anything about her real mother, and my hands itch, fingers curling to talons that will rip her useless eyes out because she can’t see. Rise above it, my mom whispers. I am her real mother, I answer with a smile that is nowhere near my eyes. My daughter flies across the yard with her shoelaces untied and a necklace of dirt. Her beauty chokes me with its perfection.

***

Large, angry things stalk the house, and furious silhouettes with hooked beaks fly overhead. I move softly through the chronic outrage and try not to ruffle my daughter’s feathers. It’s just the age, but her every glance makes me wonder if she’s looking past me and searching for the other mother who let her go. My mother whispers to my heart in the quiet of the sleeping house that it’ll pass, that she survived it, and I will too. I can’t go to ground and wait it out. There’s nowhere for a mother to hide anyway. It’s my place to put my hands in the air and ride the currents, waiting until my girl gives me back a place to perch.

***

She’s drinking her coffee over the sink with a cocked hip, her eyes raised to the almost-morning outside the glass that reflects her darkly. She throws a half-smile to me over her shoulder, and I want to trace the shadowy crescents of delicate skin under the blueness that’s nothing like my brown. She was up too late studying calculus. She rinses out her mug, and we’re face to face, and I see her. Somewhere, far from this moment but almost close enough to touch, my mother is with me. All the questions burn away. My girl’s smile is every answer. She will soar past the sun on wings I helped build.


Andrea Rinard is a veteran high school English teacher and writer. She has work in Cease, Cows; The Jellyfish Review; Lost Balloon, and X-R-A-Y among others, and she was nominated for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions in 2020 for her flash fiction. Her first novel is currently on submission after winning the Key West Literary Seminar’s 2020 Marianne Russo Award for a novel-in-progress. A native Floridian who wears shoes against her will, Andrea lives in Tampa with her 1988 Prom date. You can find her at www.writerinard.com and on Twitter @aprinard.


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