For the Birds Radio Program: Chickadee Ghost Story
Today in anticipation of Halloween I’ll be telling a little ghost story, about a man who missed his wife. It was a year ago exactly that she had collapsed, dead, in the snow.
Those damned bird feeders! He shouldn’t have gone to work that morning, not when she was so sick, the cancer eating away at her breasts and bones and lungs. It wasn’t the cancer that killed her, though. The doctor said it was her heart. He came home to find her lying there, spilled sunflower seeds scattered around her, the bucket on its side, one of those stupid birds actually sitting on her face, not flying off until he stooped to pick her up. She was dead, of course, stiff and cold as ice. She must have been there the entire day.
It was all his fault. Why hadn’t he filled the feeders himself? Of course, it was her fault, too. Why was it so important to keep those blankety-blank feeders filled? He never filled them again, and every time the chickadees came to the window, staring at him, he stared back emptily. So the hell what if you’re hungry? My wife is dead.
The chickadees should have disappeared as soon as they’d finished the seeds. But a year later, they were still coming. Curse them! Every time he looked at one, its eyes sparkling with life, he thought of his wife’s dead eyes, open and glazed, staring out. She had a smile on her lips but her eyes were dead.
This morning when the chickadees came, they seemed especially annoying. One actually tapped on the window, staring him down insistently. He wanted to grab it and crush it and throw it in the snow. And suddenly he stood up and headed down into the basement and grabbed a fistful of seeds and was standing on the porch before he knew what was happening. And without a moment’s hesitation, in flew that windowsill chickadee, straight to his hand. As if in slow motion he watched his fingers curl as the chickadee looked up at him, its tiny body balanced on minute, cold toes digging delicately into his palm. Slowly, one by one, his fingertips touched the chickadee’s wings on one side. It didn’t move. Then his thumb closed in on the other side. The stupid bird didn’t seem to recognize the danger. It would take no pressure at all to squeeze the life out of it. He’d never felt such malevolence before. It was boiling out of him—he was surprised the chickadee didn’t seem to feel the heat of rage emanating from his skin. Still it gazed up at him with sparkly black eyes, as if it didn’t have a care in the world.
Slowly, inexorably, he tightened his grip. The chickadee didn’t struggle—it just looked steadily at him. And suddenly a spark flew from the chickadee’s eyes and pierced his heart and there she was, smiling at him, telling him in all but words that she was okay. The cancer didn’t kill her. She had triumphed over it, dying in a burst of joy, diamonds of snow sparkling all around her, chickadees filling her eyes and ears and fingertips with happiness that infused every cell of her body. He loosened his fingers. The chickadee looked into his weary eyes, and in the sparkle of the chickadee’s eyes, he saw his wife smiling at him, released from all pain, her cheeks filled out again, her eyes radiant with joy. Through his flowing tears he saw the chickadee perched on her hand, and then the two of them flew off into the woods. They’d be back, of course. She was in heaven, right here on earth.