by a contributor
Dear Ms. Bradigan,
It’s not that your efforts went unnoticed—the “private” journal only you would read, the soulful “Are-you-okays,” the invitations to visit the school counselor.
It’s that I was ten, or not quite, and my mother had just died, and I felt flayed open, peeled flesh exposed to stinging wind, and even before that, before I was half-orphaned, I was an introverted child.
When you insisted I see the counselor—because swallowed sadness hurts, you said—I talked about my yellow parakeet, who would later get cancer and be put to sleep by my older brother with a pillowcase and an exhaust pipe, which is not at all how my mother died, and for which I was at least prepared, though I loved the bird too, a little, which is why when that tumor grew on his face and he could no longer eat, I said “Do it” without stuttering or regretting the words.
I did not talk to the counselor about the parakeet as a substitute mother, or of you as a substitute mother, or whatever you had hoped I’d say. I did not call myself the parakeet’s mother, or it my baby, because, Ms. Bradigan, it was a parakeet, and because I didn’t understand, I could not measure, I’d not yet tossed a stone into the yawning black hole my dead mother left; I did not know that for the rest of my life I would throw parakeets and miniskirts and seven-dollar bottles of wine into it, never to hear anything bounce off a damp-sounding rock face or hit hard on a silty bottom.
I was not ungrateful then because I didn’t understand gratitude, but would not have thanked you if I did, or not sincerely, because sometimes when you see a potato bug curled into a ball you should just leave it there, let it take comfort in its protective roundness, or, if you must interfere, Ms. Bradigan, pull a curtain of lush green grass away from a stone step and drop the gray ball into the deep, loamy recess where it will be safe from crushing boot heels and predators’ beaks and too many questions about its feelings, which, at that point, Ms. Bradigan, it had not known how to articulate.
All my sincerity,
Rebecca Schwab writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Fringe and The Future Fire, and is forthcoming in Brevity and Slipstream. She serves as acquisitions editor for Leapfrog Press and Crossborder: A Journal of Fiction (Leapfrog Press and Guernica Editions, Canada); teaches creative writing at SUNY Fredonia; and contributes regularly to The Observer.