I started my Saturday morning the same way I started every Saturday morning: I took Birdie a pitcher of cool water. She was in the backyard, where she always was, soaking in the early sun. She stood tall in her typical pose. Her long limbs stretched skyward, yearning to pull her slender fingers through cottony clouds. She said nothing as I gave her the water — and she could certainly get her own — but I knew she appreciated the gesture. This was our ritual, every morning.
The chilly air nipped at the tips of my ears and nose. It had been colder than average recently, and Channel 9 forecast an ice storm for early next week. Birdie, stubborn as always, didn’t seem fazed by the news. Of course, she wouldn’t be the one driving in it, I told myself.
It was too cold for me to stay outside with her, so I went back to the kitchen and made myself breakfast. Birdie wouldn’t have any. If I were to bring her food, the squirrels and birds would get to it before she ever did.
After breakfast, I curled up with a book in the big rattan chair by the window. The hours melted away. Periodically I would glance out the window and notice fewer clouds in the sky. By mid-afternoon, the sky was clear and blue. The thermometer on the window showed the temperature drop. I wasn’t worried about Birdie. She was sturdy, used to the cold.
I had a snack, then decided to do some yoga in the living room. I stretched long and tall, imagining myself like Birdie, reaching for the clouds during my sun salutation. My foot stayed firmly rooted to the floor during tree pose. As I transitioned into Warrior III, a loud noise jolted me from my calm. It sounded like a leaf blower or a lawnmower igniting for a brief moment but failing to stay started. The neighbors must be doing yard work, I thought.
I took a deep breath to recenter myself. The noise ripped through me as I exhaled. It was louder this time. And it sounded closer. Too close. As I entered the kitchen, the tiles cold beneath my bare feet, I saw it.
Tom had just chainsawed one of Birdie’s limbs off.
“What are you doing?” I screamed as I ran into the backyard. The violent noise of the chainsaw drowned out my shout. He was on a ladder and about to hack off another. Birdie stood stock still, as if in shock. I grabbed a rock and chucked it at Tom, hitting him in the lower back.
He shut off the chainsaw and climbed down the ladder. “Jesus, Willow. What does it look I’m doing? I’ve asked you to trim back this tree for the last six months, and I’m sick of it.”
“She’s not a tree, Tom. That’s my grandmother.” I raced to Birdie’s side, put my hands on her, tried to soothe her pain. I couldn’t get my arms all the way around her anymore, but I did the best I could. The last time she had been hurt by someone else, it had been me. Mom had been furious when she discovered I’d chiseled my initials into her. I was eleven, thought I was in love, and wanted to tell her about it. From the stories Mom had told me, I knew Birdie would understand. I could still see the carved tattoo now, although it had grown too high for me to touch.
Tom stared at me. The chainsaw dangled powerlessly at his side for a moment, then fell to the ground. He opened his mouth once or twice as he tried to form a sentence. He rubbed the stone of a gaudy ring on his right hand. I had never noticed him wearing that cheap thing before. Where did he get it, QVC?
Tom blinked twice. Clearly he felt guilty for the brutal act he just committed. “Your grandmother?”
“Yes, my grandmother. Now please, Tom, go back home, and stop dismembering my grandmother.”
Tom took a deep breath. “Willow, it’s a tree, it — ”
“IT,” I said, “is my grandmother. She has a name. I take care of her every day and — ”
“And if we get an ice storm this winter, your grandmother — ”
Tom took another deep breath. “Birdie’s branches will pulverize my roof.”
“She wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose.”
Tom’s mouth hung open slightly. He must have realized what a kind and gentle soul Birdie was. “Of course she wouldn’t,” he said flatly. He worried with the cheap yellow gemstone some more. “But it — she — she might do it by accident.”
“She wouldn’t even do it by accident,” I said, my arms squeezing tighter around her. “She’s a kind and gentle soul.”
Tom held up both hands and took a step backwards. “Of course she is, of course she is. I believe you.” He bent down and picked up the chainsaw.
“Put it down!” I squealed. I moved between Tom and Birdie, my arms spread wide. If he was going to attack her, he’d have to go through me.
“I’m just taking it back to my house,” Tom said, backing away toward the gap in the fence. “I’ll come back later to get my ladder, after you’ve calmed down — ”
“You tried to kill my grandmother!”
“I’ll come back later,” Tom said again.
“Are you threatening us?” I yelled.
“No. There’s nothing to be angry about. We can talk about this later.”
“I don’t know what we have to talk about.”
“I’m not trying to hurt anyone, Willow. I promise.”
I glared at him until he disappeared behind the fence. I could still see him through the wide slats. He looked down at his hand, as if he were talking to that tacky ring, and said, “Of course. A freaking Bios Urn. I should’ve known. Why couldn’t they have turned her grandmother into a LifeGem like normal people?”
Chance Lee has been writing since the second grade. Although he no longer writes Maniac Mansion fan-fiction (at least, not often), he still enjoys exploring offbeat themes. He currently lives on the Gulf Coast, but has New England in his heart.