She awakens from her long nap to find an old and very odd cell phone under the pillow.
| A Host of Sparrows
Lambent moonlight illuminates yards of lace I've draped across the window behind the sofa where I lie, spent from a long, curious dream. Shadowy patterns tattoo my bare arms. I rise, stretching toward the ceiling fan spinning above me. My watch displays 11:22. I'm still wearing my old jeans and flannel shirt. Why did I go to bed here, in my darkened den?
Probably passed out from exhaustion. The fall cleaning I began last month metamorphosed into a monster remodeling job. I never know when to quit.
Light intensifies, streaming through sparkling glass. I squint at my watch again. Good Lord. It isn't time to go to bed, it's 11:22 in the morning.
What a power nap! Lazy wench.
My new couch cushion whirs. Sounds exactly like a June bug, but it's October. I carefully slide my hands beneath the pillow and pull out a strange silver cell phone. An antique from another decade, it sprouts a tiny antenna.
Vibration stops. The screen dims.
Where did this come from? Maybe one of the furniture deliverymen dropped it when they carried in the new sofa. But that was weeks ago. My ex visited recently. Can't be his, he's a techie and wouldn't be caught dead with this relic.
Figuring the owner will eventually call for it, I slip the phone into my pocket and wander through the quiet house.
A full carafe of cold coffee sits on the kitchen counter. No wonder I couldn't stay awake.
Radiant sunbeams checker the floor. I push through the screen door and step over my sleeping collie.
"Hey boy, gettin' hungry?"
He snores on, unaware of my presence. Ah, we've both come down with narcolepsy.
I try again,"Wanna walk to the mailbox with me?" The only response is a slight flutter of his flaccid lips.
At that moment, I spot the mailman's Jeep. He brakes in a flurry of dust down by the mailbox, so I head in that direction. The sun seems neon bright. The air is redolent with the peppery, pungency of autumn. All is quiet. Golden leaves, as beautiful and brittle as moth wings, spin down through lifeless branches. Birds are silent.
I remember Mother. She loved birds and hated fall. "Everything dies," she'd say.
But to me, autumn is a shining new season full of promise. I feel reborn.
The long nap must have done me good. Instead of rushing right back to work, I linger by the roadside, trying to embed this beautiful day in my memory. Cloudless cerulean sky, rolling meadows carpeted with bright leaves. A watercolor of the perfect rural landscape.
The Jeep returns from the neighbors' lane. I wave, but he blows by.
How does he drive from the right side of the seat and sort mail at the same time? I'm so clumsy, I'd end up crumpled in a culvert.
I nearly jump out of my skin when the cell phone rings. No, it doesn't ring. It sings, like a song sparrow. The small screen is white, blank.
"Hello?" I say, expecting to hear the relieved voice of the phone's owner.
Static, then a woman's voice, "You say she was painting the ceiling?"
"What?" I say. "Pardon me, but I just found this phone and I have no idea...."
Another voice interrupts, "Yes, the ceiling." The backlight fades.
What in blazes was that? Crossed signals? Malfunctioning cell towers?
I'm back inside the house when I realize my dog's gone. I peer out one pristine window after another until I find myself by a window in the room I've been remodeling. I spot the old boy meandering around the back yard as if he's lost. I lift my hand to rap on the glass.
The phone's ringtone thrums like a katydid.
I press the green talk key. "Yes!"
A male voice says,"...and you're sure? She certainly doesn't think she's finished."
Another voice, "Yes. That's so like her."
I shut my eyes and struggle to place these familiar voices. Abruptly, the call ends.
I face a stepladder that's set up near the wormy chestnut armoire, which is enshrouded in a paint--spattered sheet. The ladder's shelf holds an open paint can. Down by my bare feet, a roller leaches sage green into the carpet.
Church bells peal from the phone. Text spells out: Climb the ladder! ASAP.
Jamming the phone into my shirt pocket, I step over a heap of rags. I climb onto the first ladder rung, then the second, and third. I look up. What's that? Limned in light, something flutters above my head.
The phone whistles, pulses against my chest.
"Keep going, kiddo. You're almost finished," says Aunt Marge, who's been dead for seven years.
I stand on the next to last rung, but haven't reached the ceiling.
I stretch one trembling hand up toward whirling lights that dance across the glistening expanse.
"Catch her, here she comes," calls a sparrow. I hear a rush of wings, feel a silken breeze.
Now I see the cell phone descend from this high place, twirling down toward the woman on the floor. She lies in a pile of rags- perfect and still, snug against the armoire, asleep in a pool of sage green streaked with blood red.
I stare, transfixed by a deep, ageless understanding.
The dead woman is me.
I look up into the whirling funnel of sparrows and abandon myself to their winged embrace.