When I was young I met a bird woman, who seemed just like a regular woman except she called herself differently.
“I’m not a woman. I’m a bird,” she told me. She was on her fourth glass of wine, which I figured was probably why.
“Well, I’m not a woman, either. I’m a… song,” I said, trying to play her game. She just looked at me with a soberness she couldn’t have felt and didn’t mention it again, not that night or the night after.
It was on the third night, when I tried to sleep with her, that she backed away nervously and I saw a flutter of what she meant.
“I can’t,” she said. “You’re a woman, and I’m a bird. It won’t work.”
We went our separate ways, though I couldn’t forget her. I tried to capture her with pen and paper, memory and dream.
A bird woman is a woman with hazel eyes. If you approach her, she flies. She builds her nest in the trees. She does not fit inside her skin. She is too expansive or too thin. She is more or less than her boundaries. She is impossible to catch.
I became a fan of bird watching, though I never saw another bird woman; still, memories of how I imagined we could have been would come to me unbidden on cold nights alone.
“What does a bird say,” I would have whispered. “How does a bird fly.”
And I would sigh and wonder who I was; if I was a bird woman, too, or something different altogether.
I put up a dream catcher, because my dreams would not stick. It was an imitation spider web with imitation dewdrops in the form of clear crystal beads.
Perhaps it was with that that I caught my man.
I met him at a bar. Playing darts. Winning.
I liked the fact that he was good at it, though he didn’t look like the type. But he was the handsomest of the group and he hit a bull’s-eye and then he caught my eye. Perhaps that was all the magic that was needed: the thrill of the win, and me seeing him.
We were wed, had two children, had full lives—full of things, activities and each other.
In busyness, it is easy to forget.
But time has a way of catching up.
In silences, maybe, in gaps, the distance we’ve crossed from there to here snaps, and that is what happened to me—
Suddenly I was as a mere girl again. Unwed. And lonely.
I still had my bird books. I remembered all their names. I watched them in the garden and scattered seeds and on the finest spring day of the new year of my new old life a perfect little bluebird landed right at my feet, and all I could think was:
Are you bird or woman? Woman or bird?
And I held my breath, not caring which, but hoping she’d stay.
Dalena Storm holds a BA in Asian Studies from Williams College and an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington. Her short fiction has appeared in PANK and The Scores. Her first novel, The Hungry Ghost, will be published in Spring 2019 by Black Spot Books. Learn more at dalenastorm.com.