You would have thought they were mute, were it not for their public exchange of vows. Marge and Tom went by the axiom « Silence is golden » and revelled in each other’s quiet company. Their lives settled, devoid of sound. They communicated through exchanged glances, and gentle touches. They laughed a lot, thinking their own thoughts. They were well-liked, not ones to spread gossip but always extending a hand for those in need. They wrote down detailed instructions when that would save time and just left each other notes. It was like a prolonged courtship.

They really did nothing extraordinary, except keep quiet. They went to parties where they both played the fiddle, in perfect counterpoint, one assisting the other, responding with speed and an uncanny sense of beauty. People loved being around them, pouring their hearts out to these willing receptacles. They were thought very wise, with the twinkle in their eyes, and everybody enjoyed their silent company.

They were of even character, and not prone to outbursts. They had reserved one hour a week where they actually spoke to each other. The rarity of the occurrence made it that more much precious. They realized that the things that had made them mad during the week were often trivial and not worth mentioning, just a surge of emotion with no real foundation. They thought deeply on what they wanted to share orally in this limited time. They rarely found a reason to go back to something in the week to clarify, or ahead, for that matter. They had no inclination for idle chatter. They played music together, or cards in the evening. They read in companionable silence, leaving bookmarks or annotations for each other. They would exchange witticisms in the margins – their library was enriched by their joie de vivre.

One week, Marge proposed they get themselves a songbird. She had been reading about it and was enamoured with the idea. She floated the idea, full of hope, but did not press her point. She was ready to wait for his answer, as their schedule was paced weekly. Of course, Tom gave it serious consideration. Anything that was brought up in that hour gave them food for thought for the week ahead. He had time to research it, think things through, answer his own objections. He also observed his wife and saw that she was not anxious, nor pressing him in any way.

Unfortunately, his father fell very sick. Tom’s mom had already passed away and there were no surviving siblings. Father was uncaring and mean, but he was still his father. No neighbour wanted to care for him, and so the couple took him in. The songbird discussion was put on the back burner as they did their best to salvage the mean man. He was loud and obnoxious, and the strain showed on the couple. When Marge would come to tend to him, he sometimes hollered “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” Being quiet was no longer a joy but a necessity, as they found themselves riding on negative emotions.

Their weekly hour was all the more sacred. They would leave the house and walk together, unable to avoid talking about the man who had invaded their intimacy. He was weighing them down, robbing them of their joy, of the quiet. Madge asked about the songbird, Tom acquiesced, desperate to atone for the presence of his father. “Do you want me to buy it for you next time I go in town?” They could no longer drive in town together. There must be someone at all times with the father. She agreed. They hoped that the bird would cheer them up and make this difficult period more bearable.

Tom prepared himself for the trip to town. Lists were made, edited, thought about. Getting the bird was a little luxury. They felt they owed it to themselves to take steps to lighten their mood. Their house was small. Father’s bed was near the kitchen stove to warm his brittle bones. Still he coughed and complained. Cats roamed at will, coming in the house for a change of scenery. They had made themselves scarce since the old man moved in.

Finally, Tom came back with a magnificent lyrebird. It was an odd choice, but the bird man had convinced him that the exotic bird would be a perfect companion. It could sing better than any other bird alive. This particular one was a youngster, still listening more than whistling, but if the couple was unhappy with the bird, they could return it, no questions asked. They made him a place with the chickens, and he roamed as he pleased with them during the day, feeding on small insects and the occasional frog. He learned to cluck like his fellow mates and was a joy to behold with his gorgeous tail. He liked Marge’s company and would hang around the kitchen window, sometimes following a fly into the house and eating it.

After a long agony, Father finally passed away. They lived in a small community. They laid him to rest in a casket in the front parlour, where their friends came to pay their respects. The whole town gathered and there was much noise, but a deathly silence fell when his voice was heard “Get out! I want my son in here with me!” The lyrebird had chosen this time to display his talents.


He was the kid who climbed onto low roofs and jumped off, a blanket for a cape or makeshift wings at the ready. He thought Icarus died too young, and vowed to himself to be more careful. He talked with birds, asking them to share their secrets, adopting the wounded ones and nursing them until they flew away. He cried over his many failures, and learned better ways to help when he volunteered at the local bird care centre, where he befriended the wounded who thrived under his care. He studied them so, that naturally he became an ornithologist. There was a lot of nonsense written about his friends. He set about correcting the exaggerations and aberrations that were accepted as truth. Studying birds, he studied their environments. He ended up on the canopy of trees watching the rare insects and birds that lived in that special ecosystem. Those were thrilling years — he did everything but fly.

He was not mechanically inclined and swore off airplanes as artificial means of transportation. They polluted the air, killed birds, disrupted migrations, and generally made a pest of themselves. They were not birds, not even mechanical ones. They were noisy and graceless — indeed a very poor approximation of birds, devoid of feeling and ingenuity, reduced to an object of flight.

He had vivid flying dreams. They felt more like astral projections. He would wake up from them at peace with the world, happy to have spent time with his own kind. He wished he could grow feathers but could never figure out how. He was always surrounded by birds, who seemed as happy as he was for them to be together. He had a small bird cemetery, for the unfortunates who were hit by cars and left to die. They were grouped according to their classes, much as people of different faiths inhabit different corners of large cemeteries. He kept detailed records of the area where he found them. In a separate book, he gave them each a name and a story, to honour them posthumously. He had grown very fond of his cemetery which was full of trees and bird feeders.

When he retired, he opened it up to the enthusiasts who had heard of his project through the grapevine. Entry fees allowed him to expand and create a public space for visitors who wished to bring the body of their pet birds to be properly interred. Some would tell their story, which was added to the very large ledger, so they would be remembered. Monuments were erected, with large falcons, owls or more modest parakeets. He was given all manner of trees by grateful patrons to house the living. He had made special arrangements to be buried on-site. When the time came, the trees were full of songbirds who gave him a magnificent send-off. An unofficial truce was reached and honoured on that day so that birds of all feathers could flock together.

He was finally able to fly.

Graduation Day

Today started like any other day. Mom left early. After a while, the whole brood started calling her back. She puked breakfast. We slept soundly, dreaming big dreams. I woke up feeling uneasy. Robert had disappeared; mother looked stern. She pushed Anita out of the nest. Anita did not make a sound as she frantically flapped her wings. Mother was methodical, cold. I was her favourite and I was next. There was to be no exception. She did not hesitate as she heaved me over the rim. And pushed.

Time slowed – I saw my life stream past me – family dinners, communal sleep, then itchy wings and discomfort as feathers grew. And now this. Before realizing it, I was frantically flapping my wings and uneasily stopping my fall. I landed on a low branch from where I could see Robert and Anita, both visibly shaken but safe. We looked up as a terrified Olivia seemed to bomb down toward us, only to stabilize as she flapped her wings like she was possessed. She landed a few branches away, shaken not stirred. I leaped to her rescue flapping like a madman and almost knocked her off her perch. We huddled and looked up. Mom was staring down at us.

“You left quite a mess,” she said, a satisfied note in her tone. She started cleaning out our home, throwing all our stuff overboard. A lucky pebble, my Elvis stamp. “I guess it’s graduation day,” shouted Robert. With outstretched wings, he flew away.

Graduation Day