I found out in my mother’s letters that she wrote to my father in 1957 that this bird was actually ours. We could not take it to Alaska so we gave it to my grandmother.
All these words, poised behind me as I raise my foot to take this first step out onto the stage to entertain you, poised words in a line behind me, like tiny dancers themselves, each one intent on following my lead. Or so they tell me, so they want me to believe. But I am the wiser one and I can guess their intention. Once out there before you they will take off on their own tiny merry way, thrilling you, filling you with awe as you glimpse the shimmery trails their passage leaves behind them in your minds.
While I stand in the center of this stage first in shock, then in utter humiliation, head lowered I gaze downwards at my hands as my fingers clasp themselves together first one way and then another, curling and uncurling, finally looking like “Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.” I look further down at my shoes, and see that my toes point towards one another, nearly touching. And below them this hard wooden floor, wide planks with rough edges worn splintery in places and so smooth in some others from years and years of use as a platform from which we all first attempt to tell you our stories.
I dare not look up to see into your eyes, all the way back to the distant shadows of this room, what will you all be thinking of me? I wanted to be the centerfold girl, and yes, of a decent sort of magazine from the start. I did NOT want to disappear so completely into the crease of the fold at the center of this story that you would have to look too hard to see me.
But these words! All these words, are more directly connected to the memories that linger in all this folded and convoluted matter that lies at the center of my own skull than I am. They know the story inside and outwards, forwards and backwards. They were more there when the story was lived than I was, or ever will be. This story is so old it started way back there before I even knew that words had been born.
So what do I do now? Curtsey as if this is what I planned to do in front of you all along, and walk with my head held high, right off of this stage? Let them take over? They speak to me now as they flit around me like tiny shiny dust motes dancing in the sunbeams of my grandmother’s house, high above me, high above the massive dusty dictionary on its age darkened oak stand in front of one of her guest bedroom windows, frayed golden ribbon hanging over the edge above me like a tongue sticking out. I was five then, nearly six, and we spent the night at her house before it was time to get on the airplane to go to Alaska where my daddy was waiting for us.
I had just joined the others in watching from the hallway as my mother and grandmother yelled and shouted their way around my grandmother’s living room, climbing up on the couches and chairs, waving dish towels over their heads like wildly flailing banners or flags, finally swinging one up high enough to capture in its folds the tiny blue parakeet that was flapping its way across the high rods of draperies that dimmed all the light out of that big room we were not allowed to enter. I had never seen either of these women act this way. It surprised me.
That little bird is in its cage now, and I am here watching as tiny dust motes sail around up there in the light where nobody ever thinks of catching THEM. Yet I also at the same time stand here now before you on this stage knowing that I can’t catch them either. They will do what they want to only now they have words in their tiny mouths as first one and then another one peeps open and I watch their words pop out. All those words.
What choice do I have? They are the know-it-alls. They have all the words. I suppose they always could take them out of that dictionary and fly around with them and then put them back when nobody was looking. Magic, like all the characters in my mother’s old Raggedy Ann and Andy book who perked up and moved around as soon as the humans shut the nursery room doors. In secret they carried on, living their lives without anyone knowing what they were up to, either.
If I could only be just like them now. You would blink your eyes, all of you, at exactly the same instant, and in the beat of that sudden flash, I would vanish like I was never even here in the first place. And when you opened your eyes you would see only them, these tiny flashing dancing words. I would be gone and you wouldn’t even miss me.
So I guess I will say goodbye before I ever say hello, and let them get on with telling this story. We will all like it much better that way in the end. Which of course, we all know, we can’t get to until we all start at the very same beginning.