ON BROKEN WINGS

There’s a feeling you get when a relationship is about to end. It sort of sneaks up on you like ivy climbing up a tree trunk. You see it starting but it’s nothing terribly worrisome; then it slowly starts working its way up the trunk until it overtakes the tree. It’s got a strangle-hold on that poor tree, suffocating it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mighty oak or a frail mimosa; the ivy will win out every time.

That’s the feeling I now had for Jeremy and I don’t know why. I just knew it was time to break things off. That was clear; what wasn’t clear was how I was going to tell him.

It’s not as though we started off like a couple of teenagers on a hormone rush. Ours was a gradual connection much like our disconnection. We had chemistry. We could make each other laugh. We liked the same music, the same food, the same movies. We could talk at length or enjoy a quiet, lazy Sunday afternoon. We had incredible sex and a lot of it.

Jeremy gave me a braided love knot bracelet; I accepted it because it was pretty and didn’t feel as permanent as a ring.

We talked about moving in together but it never happened. Now I’m glad we didn’t; that would have made things so much harder. It was good to come and go as we pleased; now I found we were doing that less and less. I don’t believe it was deliberate; we just started drifting apart. Everything gradually slowed down and cooled off. I realized at some point I had finally exhaled and I was no longer suffocating.

We spent a cool Spring afternoon sitting on a bench at the beach. Watching the waves rolling in and falling back, I knew the time had come. Quietly I told Jeremy what I was feeling and he slowly nodded in agreement. I think he was glad the pressure was off him. I started to remove my bracelet but Jeremy refused to take it back. 

I slowly walked away and took the long route home through the park. It had begun to drizzle. I stared down at the pavement as I walked. Just then I came upon a dead bird at my feet. I stood there staring at the poor little finch; he must have fallen out of his nest. I took a few tissues from my pocket, wrapped them around the bird and carefully picked him up; he was still warm, his tiny body limp.

I carried the lifeless bird home and retrieved a small spade from my gardening tools on the back porch. It began raining a little heavier as I dug a deep hole beneath the tidy row of boxwoods; there I buried the bird. Before filling his grave with dirt, I took off Jeremy’s bracelet and placed it across the broken wings.

My face was wet; I couldn’t tell if it was the rain or my tears.

NAR © 2022

DOWNTRODDEN

Betsy (middle) and the cotton mill girls
Georgia, 1909
Photograph by Lewis W Hine

Carry myself with pride, as my mama taught me. My name is Elizabeth but everyone calls me Betsy. I am sixteen, pretty and full of life. This is day one of my very first paying job – working in the cotton mills. I’m lucky and oh so grateful.

Mama is home doing chores and caring for my seven little brothers and sisters. Daddy left one day and never came back.

In my lunch sack is bread, an orange and a chuck of cheese; a plain lunch but it keeps me going. During my break I’ll sit by the banks of the Conasauga River and splash my scorched face. Life is good.

Carry myself with stooped shoulders. I’ve been in the mill for eight months. It’s hotter inside than the blazing Georgia sun. Humid, too, to keep the thread from breaking. Boiled potatoes, cabbage and river water for lunch. I’m sixteen. Maybe I’ll meet a husband here.

Carry myself on leaden feet. I work six days a week, twelve hours a day. I earn $1.00 each week. The air is thick with cotton dust. Nobody talks anymore; we keep our mouths covered but that doesn’t stop the coughing. I have no time or energy for anything else. I’m sixteen and feel like I’m sixty.

Carry myself with doom. I’m coughing up blood now and see nothing in my future except dying in the mill. I think I’ll just walk into the river and never come out.

Carry my dead body to the graveyard. I was only sixteen and my name was Betsy.

NAR © 2021

Reposted for Fandango’s One-Word Challenge #FOWCplain