The Lilac Bush
Flash fiction by mfptkd written as a birthday gift.
Now in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter
I know the meaning of the words “Ever after”
from Polka Dots and Moonbeams, Rick Zelle and Jay Hungerford
“Oh, Joy!” He sang. Relieved and excited, he exclaimed, “This is it. This is home!”
They had been circling his neighborhood territory for hours, looking for a place to build, when he suddenly swooped down into the sun stretching branches of an old lilac bush. She followed cautiously, settling on a stable stem.
“Aren’t I supposed to pick?” she asked, but there was a teasing note in her voice. The plant, brushing the brick on the front of the old ranch house, was well over six feet tall. The grandparents in residence trimmed it just enough to not obstruct the high bedroom windows. It was set directly left of the front door, so late spring and summer the entire house enjoyed the flowers’ scent. The leaves today, in early spring, were still new but plentiful.
“Yes, of course.” He allowed. “But wouldn’t this be ideal? The house will guard us from the north wind. In a few weeks the leaves will be full, providing cover and the flowers will bring us breakfast in bed.”
She chirped nervously at the suggestion and hopped from perch to perch. He was an odd bird, but she had followed him because of the that, rather than despite it. His territory wasn’t as large as some, but it was well plotted and easily defensible. There weren’t as many trees as others, but it was as if each yard was trying to outdo the next in the size and scope of shrubbery. The orange on his chest didn’t puff out as far as his competitors and he would sometimes lose his place mid-song but she had witnessed his unexpected swift fierceness in battle and felt his harmonies sincere. “All right, then.” She relented. “Go get me things to build with.”
“Oh, Joy!” He said as he flew off. She smiled to herself and wondered, while collecting the dry starter twigs that would support their nest, what made him so different from the other males. She thought fleetingly that perhaps she had changed upon their meeting but shook it off; now she was being fanciful and there was work to be done. “Oh, Joy, indeed!” She scolded herself.
But when he came back, again and always leading with joy, she was pleased with how much happiness he found in their small alcove of flowers.
“Oh, Joy! I’ve brought clay to patch in holes.”
“Oh, Joy! Look at the soft fur I found for lining.”
“Oh, Joy! Come see this ribbon I found to weave within the branches.”
After a few busy days the nest was complete. “Oh, Joy!” He said softly. “I was lucky to find the best nest maker in the county.”
The cool breezes of May translated into baleful June winds, storms strengthening with competing temperatures. She was content to sit and warm the three tiny blue eggs that also arrived with summer. He was a flurry of activity, always on guard, patching the nest or gathering food, so she could concentrate on the babies. When the weather kept them both at home he would sing softly, “Oh, Joy. Do you see how wonderfully the leaves keep us dry?” And over the long hours waiting, he would tell her tales of past migrations, high altitude escapades and fellow travelers. She noted however, that the ‘joy’ was reserved for only when he spoke of their hideaway.
The eggs hatched in July and their combined energy was focused on feeding and teaching. Following their parents positive example, the little birds learned quickly. He was a proud father but still honored their habitat as if it were a castle. When a mean tempered cat failed to break through the bushes obstacles, he sang triumphantly. “Oh, Joy! We could not ask for a better shelter!”
Birds are generally sensible so there was no sadness or loss after the young found their wings, only pride in a life’s work well accomplished. They returned their attention to the outside world and discovered commotion all around the house. Strangers going in and out of the front door carrying boxes. There was a busy woman directing the activity.
And every time she walked past their nest and those bright perfumed flowers, she sneezed.
They both set out a warm late summer morning to visit feeders and maybe find some materials to spruce up the nest. Although outside of the norm, she thought they would return next year and if all was ready, they might have time for two broods. She worked hard and happily, tuning out the rumble of mowers and machines. But by mid-afternoon she noticed the other birds and animals were regarding her strangely.
“What is it?” She finally asked a passing squirrel.
“We’re sorry for you, that’s all…for birds you were such a nice couple…”
She did not let him finish his thought and flew back, racing towards home.
There was a monstrous hole next to the house where the lilacs had been. The roots were being chopped apart and tossed to the side. The new home-owners unknowingly bagged up their sanctuary, taking their bed, roof and walls. She was overcome with sadness. In her mind, she did not doubt they could find another place, but her heart burst for what she knew he loved. She found him watching from the neighbor’s roof.
“I’m so sorry.” She cried. “They’ve taken your Joy.”
He looked at her surprised and said gently, “Oh no, my dear they didn’t. You are my joy!”