Ella’s mother circled the Park without purpose or direction. She stopped to rest beside the Chattering Pond, and inside a thorny bramble, and on top of the canary weathervane, and in a large oak tree filled with squirrels.
“Look at this beautiful acorn,” said one of the squirrels.
He held it up for her to see.
Ella’s mother didn’t reply.
Wherever she landed, she didn’t stayed long. Birds chattered and tried to gossip with her, but Ella’s mother couldn’t answer them. She couldn’t find the words.
How can I answer? she wondered. I don’t know who I am.
Ella’s mother had no name, no home, and no past. All she had was a few bars of a slow song that looped in her head. She couldn’t remember where she had heard the song, or how it ended, but she whistled and sang the notes again and again.
“What’s that tune?” said a finch. “You must not be from around here.”
I’m not from anywhere, thought Ella’s mother.
She landed in the kitchen window of the Bird House, and Madame Alouette waved.
“How marvelous that you have returned,” said Madame Alouette. “How splendid and delightful.”
She leaned forward and squinted.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought you were someone else.”
I’m not anyone, thought Ella’s mother.
She flew away wondering at the empty feeling in her chest.
Something is missing, she thought. I have misplaced an important part of me.
The Tower loomed up behind the trees, and her heart leapt and shouted something urgent and unintelligible.
She kept flying.
Ella’s mother flew to the Statue of the Lost Poet and landed on the Poet’s bronze shoulder. The arched entrance to the Park stood nearby. Ella’s mother wondered if she should leave and explore the streets beyond.
Not yet, she thought. I don’t know why, but not yet.
The slow song looped around and around in her head.
Below the statue, a man with salt and pepper hair and a threadbare evening coat sat before an empty top hat. His hat lay upside down before him on the pavement. The man held a scarred violin in one hand and a bow in the other.
Ella’s mother raised her head and sang.
It reminds me of something, she thought.
The musician saluted the bird.
“Finally!” he said. “An audience arrives, and with a song.”
Ella’s mother sang the song again.
“You sing with sweet sadness,” said the musician. “May I?”
He raised his violin and played Ella’s melody.
“Play it again,” said Ella’s mother.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp,” said the musician. “Sing your song for me again, but this time sing the entire song.”
“This one small part is all I know,” said Ella’s mother.
She sang it again.
“If I may say so,” said the musician, “it sounds like something is missing. Your final notes leave us in suspense when what we crave is resolution. Without resolution, we are left empty and unsatisfied.”
“Yes,” said Ella’s mother. “That’s me.”
“But who am I to lecture a bird about music?” said the musician. “What would my mother say? I suppose I’ll never know.”
Wilhelmina Nightingale walked through the arched entrance with her miniature poodle, Mildred. Mildred’s fur stood fluffy and white, newly trimmed and shampooed and blow-dried. They had just visited the dog beauty parlor.
Wilhelmina said to Mildred, “I’m afraid we’re going to be late to the Teahouse.”
It is the journey that matters, not the arrival, thought Mildred. Time is only an invention of the mind.
I feel old, thought Wilhelmina.
She wondered if she could do a better job hiding her wrinkles.
The musician watched Wilhelmina and Mildred approach. He began to play and sing.
Madame in the Park with the fluffy little poodle,
don’t you know I’d love to take you dancing!
For you I would give the whole kit and kaboodle,
and we could stay up all night long–
“What’s a good rhyme?” asked the musician.
He winked at her.
Wilhelmina looked at him slyly and dropped a coin in the top hat. The musician bowed.
“And now, dear visitor, I shall play you the glorious song of the mighty sparrow. Although incomplete, it is a thing of rare beauty.”
He nodded at Ella’s mother and played the song again.
Ella’s mother sang along.
“It’s a wonderful beginning,” said the musician, “but that is unfortunately all she seems to know.”
“But I know that song,” said Wilhelmina. “My mother used to sing it to me. I hardly recognized the sad and empty version you played.”
“I have an empty place inside me,” said Ella’s mother.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp,” said Wilhelmina.
“I think she says she has an unfinished song that leaves us uneasy and troubled,” said the musician.
“I did not,” said Ella’s mother.
“I hope I remember,” said Wilhelmina.
Wilhelmina put down her bag and clasped her hands together and began to sing. The musician raised his violin to accompany her, but when he heard Wilhelmina’s voice he stopped and let her sing alone. Wilhelmina’s song sounded different: the notes vibrated with sweetness instead of despair, gentle majesty instead of loneliness.
How lovely, thought the musician. It’s a lullaby.
At the point where Ella’s song ended, Wilhelmina kept singing. Her lullaby wound a slow path through a blue meadow hidden somewhere beneath the moon. It wandered along a low stone wall until it reached a gate, and when the gate creaked open, the lullaby drifted through and into a garden filled with starry white blooms and a box hedge maze. It spiraled carefully through the maze until it reached the final turn, and there in a clearing waited a tall, soft bed with the covers turned down.
The musician applauded.
Ella’s mother chirped.
Mildred sat and stared off into the distance.
“How do you know that song?” said Ella’s mother.
“What language was that?” said the musician.
“My mother was born in a faraway place,” said Wilhelmina. “She told me the song was as old as the hills.”
“But what do the words mean?” said the musician.
“I wish I knew,” said Wilhelmina. “Their meaning is one of the many things I have lost along my way. I wish my mother was still here to tell me.”
“I remember!” said Ella’s mother.
Little wings under the speckled-star blue,
and all of the dreams of the world inside you.
“I never knew my mother,” said the musician. “It left a terrible empty place inside me for the longest time.”
“I wanted to be a singer,” said Wilhelmina. “I wanted many things.”
Ella’s mother thought about the words, and the song. The melody trickled down through her empty thoughts, and the words and notes turned into colors, and the colors into pictures, and then the light flared up and illuminated them all.
“I remember!” said Ella’s mother. “I remember my mother singing this to me. And I remember something more.”
“Chirp, chirp, chirp!” said the musician.
He raised his violin and played the song again. This time he played it the way Wilhelmina had sung it.
It happened on the Terrible Black Night, thought Ella’s mother.
“I will return and sing with you again sometime if you like,” said Wilhelmina. “At the moment, I’m afraid I’m late to the Teahouse.”
“What a coincidence!” said the musician. “I am also late to the Teahouse. What are the chances of that?”
Wilhelmina’s eyes twinkled.
“It seems remarkable and unlikely,” she said.
“Maybe,” said the musician. “But today feels like a day when everything could happen.”
“I sang this song to my daughter,” said Ella’s mother. “I have an empty place inside me named Ella.”
Her head spun. She looked over to where the Broken Clock Tower stood beyond the trees.
What will I do? she thought. How do I get Ella back?
“Help me,” she said to the musician. “What should I do now?”
The musician picked up his top hat, tipped it upside down and caught the coins as they fell. He counted them.
“I have good news,” he said. “We’re fabulously rich. Would you join me for a cup of tea?”
The musician extended the crook of his arm.
“I think you should say Yes,” he said.
“Maybe,” she said.
The musician scrunched up his forehead and thought about this.
“That’s good enough for me,” he said.
Mildred looked up at Ella’s mother.
“Sparrow,” said Mildred. “The way is easier than you believe. Remember to bend in the whispering breeze.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Ella’s mother.
“You will,” said Mildred.
“Good luck, little sparrow,” said the musician. He waved his violin and bow. “I’m sure everything will work out, now that you remember your song.”
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© 2018 Colin Lewis · Brought to you by Unlikely Objects