The Hummingbird

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This short story originally appeared in the first edition of the anthology God Makes Lemonade.

It was the first time I received a check for something I wrote. A friend asked where he could find the story, which reminded me that I’ve never shared it on my blog. The story is very personal, emotional, and true. The “baby” in the story is now a gorgeous cheerleader in high school.]

The Hummingbird

Lisa heard a tapping sound but when she checked the front door, no one was there. It wasn’t the first time during the past year she’d thought she might be losing her mind. Given all that had happened, it was understandable.

Her beautiful daughter Stephanie dropped out of high school during her senior year because of excessive absences for a mysterious illness that turned out to be morning sickness. A surreal sequence of events caused a rollercoaster of emotion through the course of her pregnancy. In the end a beautiful baby girl named Ava Grace was born, but months of pain and anguish preceded that happy delivery.

The baby’s father was 21 year old Josh.   Both Lisa and her husband liked the polite young man who seemed to calm their impulsive and unpredictable daughter. Stephanie and Josh met at church. Both families were cautious about their relationship given their age difference because a few years can make a big difference at their age. Although the young couple needed to complete their education, Lisa secretly thought Josh might be the right man for Stephanie one day. His tender and caring nature was demonstrated by the small things he did when he was around, from treating Stephanie’s younger brother like a human being to helping care for the menagerie of animals both inside the house and out. Josh often took care of the hummingbird feeders for Lisa. He took his self appointed task very seriously, religiously checking the feeders, keeping them cleaned and loaded with fresh hummingbird nectar.

Lisa was an avid gardener whose large backyard contained a beautiful lawn surrounded by lush perennial flower beds the local avian population found particularly inviting. Bird feeders were strategically positioned among the flowers and beside a small waterfall that re-circulated water from an underlying pond filled with goldfish.

The centerpiece of the waterfall was a long, flat slab of rock jutting out from the hill bank to form an excellent birdbath. Often Lisa would look out the picture window in her kitchen and marvel at the number of birds lined up waiting impatiently for their turn in the showers. Two or three birds could bathe comfortably and luxuriously in the running water, yet four or five would invariably be waiting their turn, stamping about impatiently on the ground, chirping and scolding those lingering beyond their allotted bath time.

Stephanie and Josh began having trouble in their relationship. Her impetuous free spirit was trying the limits of his practical responsibility. The young lovers decided some time apart would be best and Josh stopped coming around the house where he had come to feel so comfortable.

Only then Stephanie learned she was pregnant. Before deciding to tell Josh, she went to a family counseling service looking for help trying to decide what to do. After choosing to keep the baby, she told Josh.

The young man reacted badly to the news.  He was not eager to marry Stephanie. He felt they were both too young to become parents and pleaded with Stephanie to give the life growing inside her up for adoption. Stephanie adamantly refused, and the distance and bitterness between them grew.

Lisa felt very hurt and great sympathy for her daughter and felt betrayed by her own affection for the young man. Lisa struggled to squelch her feelings of bitterness and resentment. No matter what happened between Josh and Stephanie, he was going to be the father of her first grandchild.

Tensions developed at home between Stephanie and her parents. Her father encouraged her to put the baby up for adoption while Lisa supported Stephanie’s decision to keep the baby.   Despite her failure to finish high school so close to graduation, with no husband, no job prospects or means of support, Stephanie stubbornly insisted she would not give up her baby. Friction built between Lisa and her husband. Both loved their daughter, but Lisa’s maternal instinct to protect her young superseded her concern for her marriage. Their household was constantly on edge.

Stephanie and Josh went to counseling together.   Both families held out faint hopes for reconciliation between them. Failing that all hoped for at least a softening in Josh’s heart toward his unborn child. Although Josh agreed to help pay for his daughter’s care and upbringing, it was clear he wasn’t happy about a sudden lifetime commitment. Josh felt trapped by circumstances and struggled to come to terms with his pending fatherhood.

Three months before the baby’s due date, tragedy struck without warning. Josh lost control of his car late one night coming home from work.  It ran off the road and into the woods. Before leaving work for home, Josh had taken some cold medication that caused him to be disoriented.   Though he was dazed by the accident and the medication, Josh was mostly uninjured. But in his confusion he wandered deeper into the woods that dark and frosty night in February instead of back toward the road.   Before help could find him, Josh died of exposure, only a few miles from the warmth and safety of his parent’s home.

The news was devastating. In addition to the incredible sadness Lisa felt at the loss of such a young, handsome, genuinely goodhearted young man, Lisa felt incredible guilt for the resentment she held about his relationship with Stephanie. Raw emotion magnified and increased as it transformed from anger into grief and turned bitterness into remorse. Lisa alternated happy thoughts and growing anticipation for the pending birth of a new life with mourning the loss of another.

Lisa wallowed in misery, sorry for Josh’s parents, sorry Josh would never see his daughter or be able to demonstrate a change of heart, sorry she hadn’t seen it all coming and done more to prevent it.

The baby came into this world in a birthing room surrounded by mothers and aunts from both families. Eyes that spent months crying for the loss of Josh now wept tears of joy for the birth of his daughter.

After Stephanie and the baby came home from the hospital, Lisa resumed going through the motions of her life.  She took over the maintenance of the hummingbird feeders to honor the memory of Josh. Lisa watered her guilt with her tears like she used to water her flowers before his death, before her world was shattered.

Ava Grace was a magic tonic that initiated the healing process for Lisa. The baby girl was more photogenic than a Gerber baby. Her beauty was only surpassed by her sweet personality. Her thin blond hair gave her an essentially bald appearance that only accentuated her piercing blue eyes.

Seeing Ava Grace at the hospital for the first time, Josh’s mother said she was the spitting image of her father when he was a baby. That proved indisputable after a comparison of their respective baby pictures. Josh had been a beautiful baby as well. The pictures triggered a new flood of sad and sweet memories.

Ava Grace cemented the relationships between all those who loved her. The parents of Josh and Stephanie found common ground in their love for Ava Grace. Josh was sorely missed by all. His death seemed so senseless, so…wrong. It felt like he should suddenly reappear and shout something stupid like “April Fools” and everyone would laugh in an explosion of relief.   But his presence remained only in their memories.

Lisa heard the tapping again. Where was it coming from? She walked back into the kitchen to check on Ava Grace, still asleep in her baby carrier resting on the island countertop.   Lisa looked at the picture window and saw a small red and green hummingbird striking at the glass if was trying to get inside. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Hummingbirds just don’t do that sort of thing.

With all the birds that visited the backyard habitat, it wasn’t the first time a bird tapped at a window. There was one whole summer a bluebird who nested atop one of the columns on the front porch conducted an ongoing war with his reflection, determined to drive the intruder away from his territory. Once in a while a thrush or sparrow would accidentally fly into a window in a desperate attempt to flee the occasional hawk hunting on the premises.

Yet Lisa had never seen a hummingbird behave this way before, and she’d seen a fair number of them in her lifetime. The bird looked perfectly normal, but it certainly was acting strange. She often saw one hummingbird chase another from a feeder and as a result she’d placed one on each end of her backyard, but Lisa had never seen a hummer attack its reflection or try to chase anything but another bird. The hummer persisted, striking repeatedly with its beak against the glass. A quiet whisper of an idea entered Lisa’s mind.

Remembering Josh’s affinity for hummingbirds, she thought “Could it be?”

Almost immediately she dismissed the thought. It was crazy. But apparently so was this hummingbird. It kept striking at the window as if earnestly auditioning for a part in the remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic movie. There was food in the feeders and an abundance of blooming plants that should have attracted the bird. What could the hummer want?

Lisa watched for a moment, fascinated. The bird seemed to have an unusual intelligence considering the miniscule size of its brain, and it seemed to be following some sort of pattern or routine in its approach. Whatever it was trying to accomplish, it obviously wasn’t giving up easily. Again the same quiet whisper flitted through her mind, but this time on instinct she reacted. Lisa turned the baby’s carrier around to face the window, so Ava Grace could see the bird and it could see her.

The bird stopped hitting the window. It darted around as it had before, but no longer struck the glass. Seeing the baby’s face somehow mollified the bird. It flew back and forth, up and down, but it didn’t leave. Lisa picked up the carrier and moved Ava Grace closer to the window.

The bird wasn’t the least bit frightened by her approach. It continued to dart high and low as if searching for the perfect vantage point to see this beautiful baby. A long, indescribable moment passed where the bird seemed to hover in midair, its wings beating so furiously their movement was only a blur. Then as unexpectedly as it came, the bird disappeared in a streak of red and green.

Tears welled in Lisa’s eyes. The floodgates holding her emotions in check burst and she wept for the child who would never know her father and for the young man who never got to know his daughter.

This time her tears of sadness were mixed with tears of joy. She felt a new peace and comfort. Somehow she knew Josh had managed to see his new daughter after all. Lisa didn’t expect she’d ever see the bird again. She also knew she’d never see Josh again in this lifetime. The remarkable encounter she experienced allowed her to say goodbye to the tragedy and finally turn to face the future. She had a daughter to help establish her own life, and a new grandbaby to love.

Comments

  1. Norma Taylor says:

    Great riding and a new take on death and healing..those left behind to wonder? mourn…do they re-appear or no? Inspirational story of something mystical that can move your most inner pain to surface and heal after so many years.

    Enjoyed this read!

  2. This life is short and full of joys and sorrows. But God loves us with a never-ending love. He doesn’t want his children to stay broken.If we are willing, when we are ready to receivie healing, he provides the healing experience we need. He doesn’t want his children to stay broken by past, present or future experiences. We will go through trials and tribulations but God will deliver us out of them all.
    Such a beautiful example of God’s mercy and Love! Beautifully written! Speaks to my soul of the struggles we have being human. Speaks to my spirit of God’s wonderful love. How mindful he is of each and every one of us.
    I love yhis journey you are on John and I appreciate you sharing it with us! God bless!

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