My aunt and the bluejay visited with each other nearly every summer day. I don’t know what drew the bird to my aunt–she never gave it seeds or nuts or anything. She’d just sit on the porch, rocking gently in her chair, while smoking cigarette after cigarette. And the bluejay watched and chirped and listened to my aunt tell it stories.
“The last time I had vodka,” I heard her say once, “was while I was back in the girls’ college. Mixed it with vanilla Coke–eugh.” She took a drag. “Vanilla Coke still tastes like puke to me. But you can’t taste the alcohol when it’s mixed like that. What a fool I was. I drank and drank and drank, boy, let me tell you. I woke up in my bed–somehow–and there was an earthquake in my head and I was so thirsty I grabbed the flower vase next to my bed, threw the flowers–don’t remember what they were–threw ’em across the room, and drank the water in the vase. Didn’t care how it tasted–my mouth was still fuzzy with Coke. Don’t remember a damn about the night before, but I’ll always remember drinking that flower water.”
And the bird listened. It bobbed and twitched its head side to side, sang a song, hopped a bit on the porch railing, but it didn’t leave until my aunt finished her pack and went back inside. She always said goodbye, and hello to the bird. It didn’t have a name that I knew of. When I was a kid I called it Sonic, like the hedgehog, but eventually it was simply called Auntie’s Bird. As a joke, we bought her a Toronto Bluejays jersey, but she never wore it. “Baseball’s an American sport,” she’d say. “And they can keep it.”
I would go outside sometimes, when visiting my aunt, and hope to see the bird, that the bird would visit me and listen to my own stories. It didn’t, even if I stole a cigarette and smoked it. Even if I brought seeds or nuts. It only appeared when my aunt did. It just liked her stories better. I did too. I needed better stories. I needed to earn the bluejay’s approval. Before I started writing in earnest, I wanted to collect stories, for the approval of a bird of all things. Try to tell that to a publisher. “Who do you see as your target audience? Who are you writing this for?” “A bluejay that visits my aunt all the time.”
But it was true. There was a magic in my aunt’s stories. A language that transcended nature. If I could find that, I will have my voice. Increasingly, I’ve become worried that writing and storytelling are separate. That if my aunt were a writer, she’d have no listeners. Birds or people.
I had to know. I asked my aunt one day, “How do you get that bluejay to listen to you?”
She said, “It’s not listening to me. We’re having a conversation. All it cares about is what it has to say. Like anyone else.”
“You’re listening to it?”
“I’m hearing it. And it’s hearing me. But we’re listening to ourselves. It’s important to be able to do that. People don’t want to listen to others. They want to be listened to. So the bird and me, we talk, and we don’t pressure each other to listen. We learn from ourselves, in the presence of one another.”
I thought my aunt was rambling. “You’re not making sense.”
She smiled with her eyes, her lips around a cigarette. She looked out the window, and the bluejay was there, tapping quietly on the glass with its beak.
“My gentleman caller,” said my aunt. “I must visit.”
And she carried her pack with her outside.
Day 192’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Chainsmoking,” “Birds,” and, “The fool.”
I want a bluejay friend…