Taking Flight

by Michele Shapiro

After breakfast, I go to the window as I often do. There’s usually one robin or another who builds her nest on the corner of the rooftop just above our apartment. Today, for some reason, the nest is empty. I know it’s silly, but I feel the urge to open up the window, pushing the stubborn frame until my arms tremble under its weight.

Norman is in his study watching television. That’s pretty much where you can find him Monday to Friday from after breakfast until bedtime. Oh, he had big plans for retirement—trips to Italy to sip Limoncello by the Parthenon, walks around the lake, feted by swans, concerts and dances and outdoor picnics in the park. But here we are, he with a pipe perched on his bottom lip—the same that’s already cost us thousands in dental bills—and me with a pair of wings that reach from one side of the bedroom to the other when fully outstretched, a yellow beak, and three crooked talons where my toes were only yesterday. No more pedicures needed, I guess. Norman will like that. He thinks I spend far too much money on frivolous pleasures.

Should I do it? I see the empty nest, made of twigs and branches from the trees in front of our prewar building. I know it’s silly. I know there isn’t room. And while I don’t know what kind of bird I’ll end up when my transformation is complete, I don’t think it’s a robin. Well, here goes. I duck down so as not to bump my head and perch myself on the window ledge. Amazing! I couldn’t even hold the tree pose in my yoga class! If my instructor could only see me now. I spread my wings until I feel the tips press lightly against the window frame and then I count to myself “3-2-1” and, before I know it, I’m on the roof. The nest collapses beneath my weight. “I’ll have to build my own,” I think. “Bigger, stronger, better. Isn’t that the American way?” I laugh silently, thinking of Norman who insists on buying only American-made products. Perhaps if I become an eagle, he’ll respect me more. Wouldn’t that be something?

“Gertie!” I hear Norman calling me from the armchair in his study. I want to respond, but I’m afraid. If she sees me on the roof, he surely won’t understand. But he hasn’t noticed the wings, the beak, or even the talons. So maybe he won’t notice I’m responding from outside the apartment.

“Give me a minute, Norman, I’m busy,” I say.

“Doing what?” he asks, sounding surprised. As if I have nothing to do once I’ve put our breakfast dishes in the washer and swept the crumbs from the table. I have plenty to do, thank you. I have a nest to build! There won’t be any eaglet eggs for me to sit on, I’m afraid. That ship has sailed. But once a mother, always a mother. Or almost a mother. The hole in my stomach widens as I think about the daughter I lost so long ago that I’ve forgotten the year and how she danced for months in my swollen belly. I think she would enjoy me enveloping her with my thick, grey feathers. Maybe I could hold her by the beak and we could fly together—without a passport or a seat that barely reclines because Norman’s too cheap to spring for business class, even on our 40th wedding anniversary trip to Southeast Asia. Twenty-one hours we spent, seated upright, using each other as a pillow. Arriving with inflamed joints and creaky necks. We spent the first two days in a dark hotel room, sleeping away the plans we’d made to explore the golden temples and cherry blossoms.

I take the too-small nest under my wing and carry it to the side of the building and watch as it catapults downward, in gravity’s spell. Perhaps it will land on the head of a small boy who’ll think he’s Davy Crockett. Or maybe it will crown the head of a businessman. And he’s in such a rush, he won’t even notice that the woven twigs are shielding his bald spot. A miracle, a true miracle. Now, I need to start building my nest. And I must get started before lunchtime when Norman will expect his tuna on rye with light Miracle Whip and one slice of tomato.

We’re all such creatures of habit, aren’t we? I was, too, until today. But now I feel lighter, more focused. I have a purpose—to build a home big enough for one, me. Unless I can convince Norman to move up here with me. But I doubt that will ever happen.

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