THE SONGBIRD • by Angela Carlton

My mother spends her days in frigid rooms behind gray walls under dull white light. Once, she was quite the piano player, the songbird, showcasing her talent around town at local cocktail joints, churches and parties. Miraculously, she had an ear for music but couldn’t read the notes. Her fingers graced those smooth cool keys singing tunes by Ray Charles or Elton John with a fire that crackled inside until the curtain came down. One day, the music, it disappeared.

When she started hearing voices, my mother’s head became cluttered, full of noise and tainted. One brutal July, in the middle of a dead summer as a girl, barely seven, I lost her. Poof, like a gust of wind, her mind was gone.

Now we talk to one another here with the others who suffer. On a bad day, my mother looks off staring blank-faced across the room; she’ll speak about those beautiful places where the ocean meets sugar-sand beneath sky.

“Can we go?” she asks. “Once, just you and me?”

“Yes, mom.” I always tell her yes.

On a good day, we sit outside and she might sing a little “Ain’t No Sunshine”, in her lovely, raspy way to honor Bill Withers. With her head tilted slightly, a look resembling pain on her face, she gets underneath the melody. And when she lets go completely, a hand in mid-air, one of her delicate-delicate gestures, singing the “I know, I know, I know,” line, it always gets me. In those few sacred moments, I find her. I’m wrapped up in her, my blood rushing as her voice carries us to that place where we can breathe in the wet salty air. I am breathing, seven years old again, breathing it all in, and my mother, she is so alive.

Angela Carlton’s fiction has been published in Every Day Fiction, Camroc Press Review, Fiction at Work, Burst Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, Long Story Short, Pindeldyboz, Storyglossia, The Dead Mule, and Coastlines. In addition, she won the Reader’s Choice award with Pedestal Magazine in 2006. Currently, “The Beach Cottage” can be found in The Best of Every Day Fiction 2008.

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