It was early April, and the day was soon to die when we found the baby bird.
My siblings and I had been playing after dinner by the lake a short walk from our house. We spent almost every day there in the spring, stretching our legs and breathing the fresh air after having been cooped up for all of winter. Evenings were our favorite time to be outside. There was a light on the horizon that reflected like magic in the water, and the cool air eased our
breath and stopped our sweat like the day itself was begging us to play longer and longer. We barely noticed the passage of time those nights when the daylight steadily grew longer. It wasn’t until our mother appeared on the hill, calling our names, that we ventured back home, our heads filled with a weariness brought on by fantastic adventures.
That evening we had been playing hide and seek, which was always more fun as the shadows became more abundant, when my sister revealed her hiding place.
I stopped counting and opened my eyes.
“Do you hear that?” Emily said.
“Hear what?” David, my brother, called from his hiding place up in a tree. He only seemed a little annoyed that his effort was now wasted.
“Just listen.” Emily’s head poked up from the Cattails by the shore.
I closed my eyes again and focused. I heard the spring chorus of peepers and crickets, I heard creaks and cracks from the woods close by, I could hear cars in the distance, maybe a door open and shut and I was about to scold Emily for ruining the game when I heard a soft chirping.
“It sounds like a bird, is all,” said David, lowering himself from the tree.
“It sounds sad,” said Emily. Pushing around the tall plants, carefully looking before each step she took. “Help me look.”
There was still sunlight when we found it. The air was warm where its rays reached us, but as I picked up the baby Robin I only felt a cold breeze from across the lake. A chill that felt like winter had crept into me. David and Emily stood beside me. I think they felt it too.
Emily gently stroked the bird in my outstretched hand. “Is he okay?”
“I think his wing is broken,” said David. He didn’t try to touch the bird.
I was still young then, and I didn’t know much about anything, but with the bird in my hand and the sun setting behind us, I could feel its little heart drifting. And I knew then, like you know facts in dreams, that the Robin was dying.
“What should we do?” Emily asked. “Shouldn’t we try to help him?”
I wondered what happened to the bird’s mother. Did she leave her baby behind? Or perhaps our Robin’s injury had something to do with the mother’s absence. Perhaps there had been a fight with some predator and something terrible had happened. Somehow, the thought of the Mother being dead was easier for me than believing she abandoned her baby.
“Get Mom,” I said. “She’ll know what to do.”
Emily ran, leaving me, David, and the bird alone by the lake. He remained silent and never took his eyes off the little Robin. He was older than me by two years but, bathed in soft light, he looked so much younger than I felt. My arm started to ache from holding it in the same position, but I didn’t dare move.
The sun had set completely when our mother and Emily came running over the hill. She smiled sadly when she saw David and I, and without a word put a gentle finger over the bird’s heart.
“I’m afraid it won’t survive now without its mom,” she said. She put a hand around my shoulder. “Nature has a way of knowing when it’s time. We can wait, if you guys want.”
We didn’t answer, but none of us moved, so we stood and waited, by the lake, in early April, until the Robin’s feathered chest ceased to rise. I had never experienced death before, and now I held it, fragile, soft, and so very still, in my hand.
Our mother knelt by the water, and used her hands to dig a small hole in the grass. She took the bird from my hand and buried it with as much care as she tucks us into bed each night. Emily found a flower nearby, maybe it was the first flower of spring, or maybe not. The world is a very big place, so it was hard to say for sure. She laid it across the grave.
“A Color stands abroad, On Solitary Fields, That Science cannot overtake, But Human Nature feels.” Our mother spoke the words while holding us close to her. Her voice was as smooth as the lake, a perfect reflection of the all the beauty around it.
“What is that?” I asked.
“It’s from a poem about spring,” she answered.
“What does it mean?” David spoke for the first time in a while. His voice sounded strained.
“It means… that there’s a light to this time of year that no one can truly explain, but we all feel in our hearts. It’s like when you care so deeply for a Robin, that you’ve only just met.”
We stood by the lake in silence. I’m not sure for how long. Eventually we followed our mother, like ducklings, away from the lake, up the hill, and to the lit windows of our home silhouetted against a purple and pink sky.
For a little while, it was hard to play by the lake like we always had, but that summer a small flower bloomed over the grave, and each April the flower reappeared bigger and more colorful. Even when we grew older, and no longer wasted the hours away with games and make-believe, we still checked on the flower every spring. The little Robin had added such color to the world that it was hard to feel sad.
This story was written by Hannah Peterson. Hannah is a Theatre artist, producer, and aspiring writer based in the greater NYC area. She loves telling stories, and hopes to make a career of doing so.
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