Salome Magazine
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LAce Posted Monday, January 16th, 2006
Bella’s Fear of Flying
MaryAnne McCollister

Bella likes the red birds best. It’s three o’clock, sharp. She’s cozying on her chair on the back porch like every day at three with a cup of jasmine tea sitting on the redwood table beside her. It’s cold out and steam rises from the brew and reminds her of California, of the mist that sprays from the surf into the blue sky. But it’s not the same without George.

The North Carolina woods behind her new house are thick with cardinals and the yellow bellied sap suckers that drive them out and hover near the suet that hangs on her fence. She remembers telling her daughter who’s still out west that Eleanor Roosevelt compared women to a tea bag, they never knew how strong they could be until they were in hot water. But she never knew her girl out west was caught in a bubbling boil. The same boil Bella finds herself in now.

Everything seems flat now, except at three o’clock when the birds come. She holds her hand above the steaming cup of tea and lets it warm her, until the moisture she feels on her hand cools and drips back into the cup, the cycle of humidity in the environment that is the palm of her hand, warmed by tea, catch the warmth, rain it back down into the cup.

She doesn’t blame herself, because her daughter, the California Girl was always full of drama. Always the overworked victim Bella sometimes thought. We all get tired, and suddenly, Bella wants to sleep.

It’s warm inside but she keeps her jacket on and climbs into her bed. The California Girl’s so far away now, a days flight, and she tries not to feel responsible for not being there, but she can’t fly alone. No matter what, (and she’s tried) even with a prayer book, even with a good luck amulet made of lapis lazuli and blessed by a shaman, or a bible, or even a tranquilizer from her new doctor. She can’t board the plane alone to return to California, where her girl’s in that bed, her hair falling out, vomiting in a trash can lined with grocery bags so the children don’t have to clean up a mess. The children have been getting themselves ready for school alone. Her husband would be more help if he could, but he can’t stand to see his only true love withering away and spends his time away.

If only she’d have had a more positive attitude it wouldn’t have happened, the California Girl wouldn’t be internalizing her drama in the form of tiny tumors, floating like oil in water, regrouping, separating, eating her alive on the inside.

Bella sleeps. She wakes up in the morning and she’s still in her jacket. There is a cardinal at her window; it’s stooped on the siding outside of the glass. She hates that George isn’t here with her to see this, it’s unprecedented, a cardinal at the window, and at this time of day.

“George,” she says, “do you see this?”

She covers her mouth with two fingers and pushes her pursed lips, it keeps her tears back. She doesn’t move but she watches the cardinal, it’s looking into her window. She doesn’t normally speak to the dead, but today is a lonely day and there’s the cardinal at the window and she calls out to him, “George,” she says, “I mean really, this bird is looking at me.”

She starts laughing and at the same time she cries. George promised he would fly her home whenever she wanted to go, back to California, if she would just do this thing for him, if she would just let him move to the Carolina woods. And then in an instant George is gone, his heart just stopped out on the porch one afternoon when the yellow bellied sap suckers were being especially hostile to the cardinals. He took some lovely photos before he fell off of his chair. She’s placed them under magnets on the refrigerator.

The phone rings, it’s Anna.

“Grandma,” she says. Her voice sounds small, far away.

“Hi, baby,” Bella says.

“Momma’s getting really worse,” Anna says. “I think you need to come now.”

“Oh, honey,” Bella says, “I’m trying, it’s just…”

There is a rustling sound on the phone. Then she hears her voice.

“Mom.” It’s the California Girl speaking at the other end. Her voice cracks, like the earth splitting.

“Hi baby,” Bella says.

“It’s time for you to come mom,” she says. “You need to get on a plane.”

“I’ve been trying,” Bella says, “it’s just not that easy.” Who’s being weak now? Bella thinks to herself

Bella feels the muscles around her mouth bend and skew, she feels burning behind her eyes. The cardinal is still there, unprecedented, if George was only here to see it. She’s still in her jacket and she climbs out of the bed, the phone is pressed between her cheek and her shoulder. She walks to the closet and lifts clothes from hangers and drops them in the suitcase she’s found on the closet floor. She walks to the dresser and fills the bag with things from her panty drawer.

There is a cardinal outside of Bella’s window. She walks to it and it flinches, but remains. She presses her finger against the glass where the bird’s breast is pressed against it. The window is cold, it looks like it might snow today here in the Carolina woods; snow will float in gossamer wisps to the frozen ground the way foam floats up from the surf back in California.

Still in her jacket and carrying her suitcase, Bella walks out of the front door. She’s still holding the phone and she slips it into her pocket. She looks at her reflection in the window beside the front door and straightens her hair, she tries to wipe the shadows from beneath her eyes, but they remain.

She will steep long and strong today, while she conquers her fear of flying.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Miriam Kotzin on Monday, January 16th, 2006 at 10:27 AM
This is a beautiful, poignant story. The descriptions are lovely, for example, "snow will float in gossamer wisps to the frozen ground the way foam floats up from the surf back in California." Fine work!

Posted by Katrina Denza on Monday, January 16th, 2006 at 1:12 PM
This is really wonderful. I like the narration and the story's drama is realistic and heartwrenching.

Posted by Nonnie Augustine on Monday, January 16th, 2006 at 1:26 PM
Good one, Maryanne! I particularly like the leisurely way you let the story unfold. I believe birds are often messengers. Glad that's not just me. Nonnie

Posted by Sharon Hurlbut on Wednesday, January 18th, 2006 at 10:03 AM
MaryAnne, this is exquisitely heartbreaking and beautiful!

Posted by Patricia Parkinson on Friday, January 20th, 2006 at 1:57 PM
Hi MaryAnne, such a lovely story, so poignant and beautiful, so heartbreaking...."Mom," It's the California Girl speaking at the other end. Her voice cracks like the earth splitting. I can't imagine this...or it's because I can that makes it so painful..thanks MaryAnne.

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