“There’s a bird in there.”
Something about the way she says it – the rising lilt in her voice – makes him look. “Where?”
“In those bushes. See? It’s right inside.”
He looks again. “What bushes?”
“The ones by that tree. They’re thick. A thicket – isn’t that what you’d call it?”
He wouldn’t call anything a thicket, but there are some bushes around the big tree on the other side of the lawn. He doesn’t know what kind of bushes; they’re just winter-bare twigs. And he can’t see any bird.
“It wasn’t there before,” she says. “Half an hour ago. Just before you came. I was watching.”
She’d been watching for him. And he hadn’t even been late. “Are you sure about that bird?”
“Of course the light was different then,” she says. “It changes all the time. Sometimes I sit and watch it change.”
“You should get involved in some of the activities they have here, mix with the other folks, get out a bit. Don’t you think that would be more fun than just sitting?”
“It’s prettiest in the morning, just before the sun comes up.” Her face has a dreamy look and it’s like she’s talking to the view outside the window. “Some days the sky’s all pink. And at sunset there are orange clouds, only in no time they turn grey… But in the middle it’s just ordinary. Flat.”
“You’re paying good money for those extras. You should – ”
“Look, it moved!”
“What? I was thinking – ”
“The bird, it moved. Hopped from one twig to another.”
“If you say so. I was just thinking, how about if we go out for lunch? We could do that, if you like.” Anything to get out of this place. It would mean an extra hour, but at least they’d be out and moving around. An hour, then he’d bring her back and leave. All done ‘til next week.
“Oh, I don’t think I can. Go out. It’s too… You go ahead.”
“Well…” I’d love to, but I’d be cutting you short. “Okay then, we’ll just stay here. At least the view isn’t bad.” For an institution.
“I want to keep an eye on that bird. Sometimes you can tell what they are when they fly away. Any second it might be gone.”
Lucky bird. He looks at the bushes again. He still can’t see it. Okay, there’s a dark shape in among the twigs, but it doesn’t look like a bird. More like an old dead leaf.
Her eyes are bright and fixed on the outside scene. A little smile curves her lips. He wishes there really was a bird, that it would turn bright red and fly out of the bushes, singing. That would make her day and give them something to talk about beside the weather, the food, their daily routines.
“Maybe it’s sleeping,” she says. “Do you think it could be sleeping?”
“Could be,” he agrees. “You never know.”
“Lots of people here sleep in the daytime.”
“I know.” I would too, if I was one of them. “Do you ever do that? Take naps?”
“Not if I can help it. Well, sometimes… Wait – I think it’s awake. It moved again, just a bit.”
The wind probably moved it – the dead leaf. “Did it?”
No answer. Her face is turned to the window again. The sun is starting to go down; soon the tree and lawn will be in shadow. “Well, I guess I’d better get going.”
She doesn’t turn around until he’s in the doorway. “Oh, you’re going already?” But she doesn’t sound too upset. Not like when she still knew who he was.
“Okay then, see you next week.” He smiles and waves, a silly bye-bye wave. Then he turns and walks down the hall and out. Out.
He needs a laugh. Maybe he’ll go and pick up a movie – something funny. And a pizza. And a case of beer. Or he’ll phone Dave. Dave always has a joke handy. Sure, and what are you going to tell him in exchange – that you’re bummed out from visiting your Mom? That she doesn’t recognize you and spends her days watching invisible birds? It’s a real joke, the way life turns out.
On the way to the parking lot he passes the tree and the bushes where the bird wasn’t. He stops and looks, just to make sure. What could be there that made her see a bird? A dead leaf, most likely.
There’s nothing. No bird, no leaf. The twigs are bare and empty. Maybe this isn’t the right bush. He turns around. There’s her window. Is she still there, watching, even now that her bird has flown? Maybe she’s waiting for it to come back.
All he can see is a mirror-like reflection from the windows – himself standing there with the tree and bushes behind him. He raises his arm and waves.