A Bird in the Hand

Sometimes a bird by another name sings even more sweetly.

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds© SunnyS


Before this goes any further, I need to tell you something about my parents.

Even for a devoted husband, I always thought my father went too far with the hummingbird thing.  Until I was six, I didn’t realize that other people’s castles experienced the same weather as the lands around them.  My father’s wizards kept our grounds warm and sunny all year long, so these colorful flowers could survive.  I grew up in a fragrant forest of flowers, with hummingbirds whirling all around me, not realizing how unusual that was.

It pleased my mother.  That was all that mattered to him.

My parents made several trips to Hyneaera, my mother’s homeland, even as the war got worse.  They wouldn’t let me come.  Too dangerous.  Each time, they returned looking more grim.  They brought back other flowers, and more hummingbirds, which struck me as odd, since we had so many already.  After Mother started getting sick, they made one last trip.  They only brought back two birds that time.

She didn’t even seem sick, which made it harder for me to accept.  She’d be fine for a day, or two or three—totally recovered, I thought—then hide away in bed, sometimes for weeks.

Until one day, she died.  Father said I wasn’t allowed to see her.  Nobody was.  It was the custom of her people.  I cried and screamed, saying it was a stupid custom and I hated her people for having it.  My father just held me tighter.  He cried too, which helped, somehow.

I thought about her every day.  I mean, obviously I would—she’s my mother.  Still, I couldn’t help being reminded, with all her hummingbirds flitting around.  Father maintained the gardens and the weather, like before.  He sat outside watching the birds for hours.  Sometimes I heard him talking to the birds, like Mother used to.

There was one morning I missed her especially strongly, because…  Well, this is a little embarrassing, but I started my blood cycle for the first time.  It was… ugh.  Just trust me, a girl wants her mother then.  So I sat in the garden with her birds, imagining she was there.

One of the hummingbirds hovered in front of me.  It was so pretty, all iridescent blues and greens.  I said hello to it. It made that funny chirping noise and kept hovering, darting back and forth, but not flying away.  I had this notion to put my hand out for it to land on.  I don’t know why.  They’d never perched on me before, although I’d seen them land on my father.

As soon as I put my hand out, the bird landed.  It looked at me, tipped its head like a person, then touched me with its beak.  I felt a tiny tickle, like it had licked my palm.  Or kissed it.

The walls lurched around me.  I was spinning and collapsing.  Everything blurred.  Something soft and heavy fell on me and I struggled to get out from under it  When I looked at myself, well, I know this sounds insane, but I was a bird.  I spread my wings to admire them.  Somehow, it seemed completely normal.

You’ve probably already guessed that the bird was my mother.  She hadn’t died after all.  She just couldn’t turn back anymore.  So that was sad and wonderful and terrifying, all at once.  It was so great to see her again that I forgot to mention my blood cycle.  Later she told me she knew, because that’s when it first happens for girls.

My mother introduced me to some of her family, the ones they’d been able to smuggle out.  I’ll admit, it was hard to keep them straight.  I accidentally tried talking to real birds a few times.

With no warning, my guts wrenched, and I transformed back.  This time was worse.  I vomited a while before realizing I was naked, outside.  My father was there, holding my clothes out with his eyes turned away.

He and I had a lot to talk about, but first we sat and held each other a while.  Mother flew over and sat on his shoulder, and he stroked her feathers.

I realize this is hard to believe, but you needed to know the truth.  Because since I’ve inherited this bird thing from my mother, the same thing will happen to me someday.  Now, if you’re still serious about marrying me, there’s someone I want you to meet.

She’s waiting in the garden.

Submitted for Mutant 750 Writing Challenge #51.  The photo prompt is above, and the word prompt is “whirl.”

Word count: 749

23 thoughts on “A Bird in the Hand

  1. I was so immersed in reading that I totally forget that I had to make breakfast. I need to read this again and again. It’s captivating and it’s beautiful. I love it and perhaps these words won’t do justice to it but a great job here.
    Well Done!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating. I love the world-building here: a society where certain families have the inherited ability to turn into birds. I wonder how the guy she’s marrying will respond to that? Her father responded well, but will everyone? And I liked the part about her accidentally talking to real birds. I imagine that could get confusing, definitely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks — so glad you liked it! I’m finding that one of the great things about having a fictional world with big blank spots left in it is that I can see a photo of hummingbirds and decide, “Hm, what if some people turn into hummingbirds? Sure, I could do that.” Although I don’t think it’s a whole society — if I had to nail it down, I’d probably land on it being a family curse.

      The romantic in me hopes that this guy will still marry her. After all, she probably wouldn’t have told him if she wasn’t sure.

      And I especially liked the part about her talking to real birds too; thanks for noticing it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eric! These flash fiction challenges that force me to cut cut cut are a great exercise in making sure everything flows just as it should without any extra fluff. Pretty much every one of them starts long and I have to cut about 20-30%. Ouch.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Mutant 750: Winners of #51 & Birthday Prompts for #52 – Grammar Ghoul Press

  4. Oh wow, Joy! This is an absolutely brilliant piece of writing. Your imagination is fantastic – that it took you here for this prompt.
    I love the father’s tenderness and the daughter’s anger and the mother’s eccentricity.
    I’m laughing at the things one thinks a loved one should know about their family – in advance. “My mother finally just got tired of changing back and forth from human to hummingbird. She’s just a hummingbird now. I’m just a hummingbird when I get really really pissed or sad.”
    I loved this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thank you so much for the kind words, I’m touched! I’m glad the father’s tenderness came through, too. Most of the story is about the girl/young woman and her mother, but there’s this whole other thread about what it must be like for him, loving a woman who keeps turning into a bird, and one day can’t turn back.


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