Sparrows by Kat Heckenbach
Originally published in The Wordsmith Journal, November 2012
“You’re angry with me.” Jesse sounded too calm. It was irritating.
“Well, you’re never around.” I kept my back to him. “Not when I need you. I have a right to be mad.” I’d been standing by the window, staring at the sparrow couple in our back yard for twenty minutes. How beautiful they were, and so lucky. They wanted for nothing, never worried about tomorrow. Food abounded for them because Jesse scattered seeds in our back yard every day.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.
I shrugged. Why should I tell him? He should know what’s bothering me. Isn’t that what marriage is about? Two becoming one. He should know.
I turned and stalked past Jesse into the kitchen. I fixed a bowl of ice cream and returned to the living room. Jesse was gone. Typical. He did that every time I left the room. If I didn’t give him my undivided attention he just up and disappeared.
“Fine, be that way!” I yelled to the empty room. “You’re never here when I need you!”
“I’m right here.”
Jesse’s voice startled me. There he sat, on the couch. Hadn’t I just looked there?
“When did you come back in?” I sat in the recliner, heart pounding. My hand trembled slightly as I lifted a spoon of ice cream to my mouth.
Jesse smiled sweetly. “I never left.”
“I didn’t see you.”
His smile dropped. “I know.”
I stared, not quite sure what to say. I was tired of this. We didn’t communicate anymore. I dropped my gaze and took another bite, thinking again about the sparrow. Why couldn’t I be like that bird? Free to do what I chose, all my daily needs met…never feeling lonely and abandoned.
“Why did you yell out like that?” he asked, the couch creaking as he shifted his position. Even though I was looking intently at the chocolate chips wedged in my ice cream, I felt the heat of his gaze.
“I can’t take it. I can’t take the silence.’
“My silence or yours?”
I raised my eyes to meet his. I couldn’t read the look on his face. “Yours,” I said, and then shook my head. “No, both. We’re both too silent. We don’t talk anymore.”
“I don’t like it either.” Something about the way he said that chilled me.
“I want to talk,” I said. “But you just don’t seem to hear me. I feel like I need to scream to get you to notice me.”
“What? You want me to yell at you?”
“It’s better than nothing.”
Maybe he had a point. I was always so afraid our conversations wouldn’t go the way I wanted them to. The words I’d choked down over the years were turning sour inside me. I looked at the slurry of ice cream in the bottom of my bowl. I hadn’t realized I’d eaten the whole thing. My stomach lurched and I set the bowl on the end table.
“I’m angry,” I said, my eyes burning. Tears began to flow as I recounted all the things I’d kept to myself for so long. Jesse sat perfectly still and listened. I lashed out about unfulfilled promises and lifelong dreams I had been forced to forget. I droned on and on about the sacrifices I had made for our marriage, all the things I had wanted but never had the opportunity to pursue. All the times I’d asked for his assistance and found him working on his own projects, unmindful ofmy goals.
When I was done, Jesse crossed the room. He knelt on the floor in front of me, wiped the tears from my cheeks and kissed my forehead.
I was surprised the next day to see the sparrow pair perched in the bush outside my kitchen window. They rarely ventured from their nest behind our living room. Still, I delighted in the male’s song and whistled along as I chopped veggies for a salad.
Without thinking, I sliced down on a tomato with the knife that had needed sharpening for months. I expected to end up with tomato paste, but the knife passed through with ease. Jesse must have sharpened it. But when?
I opened the drawer to get the salad tongs, and for the first time in ages the drawer didn’t catch halfway out. Jesse again? Intrigued now, I marched over to the sink and flipped on the garbage disposal. No clunking. And the light over the counter wasn’t flickering. How long had it been fixed?
Something buzzed, and after pulling my dumbfounded gaze from the smoothly burning fluorescent bulb, I realized the phone was ringing.
“Just checking on you, babe. You were pretty upset last night. You doing okay?”
“Yeah…yeah, I’m fine.” I shifted the phone to my other ear. “Um, when did you fix the light in the kitchen?”
“Weeks ago. Why? Is it acting up again?”
“No, it’s fine. I just…I just hadn’t noticed.” I stepped from the kitchen into the living room. The walls were painted that soft taupe I’d been wanting. There was no way….
“Jesse, the living room…you painted it!”
He laughed. “Last month. The same weekend you picked the color. You don’t remember?”
I felt a tear trail down my cheek. I did remember. Vaguely.
“I’m sorry.” My throat tightened. “I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice any of it. You’ve done so much work around here, and all I’ve done is complain.” The sparrow’s song cut through, and I smiled. Then a small laugh snuck its way out. “You know, I’ve actually been jealous of the sparrows lately. You take such good care of them…”
His voice drifted through the phone, soothing away my tears. “It’s okay, babe. And don’t be jealous. I love the sparrows, but I love you more.”
“I know.” Now.