The Wood Thrush

I followed Sissy up a path where the oak leaves had left their green handprints in the mud. I never recognized any of the forks and byways she took me down. It was as if the birds had sung her a secret map.

“Did you know a wood thrush has been following us this whole time?” Sissy said. I looked around at the tops of the trees, but I didn't know what a wood thrush looked like.

We ducked under some low branches, and Sissy grabbed her head. “I think there's something in my hair,” she said, her voice high. Her hair flew up over her head like wings, and then I saw it really was wings, small brown wings flapping madly in her thick curls. “Keep it away from my eyes!” she shouted. I could see a strand of hair knotted around the bird's tiny foot. “Just be quiet,” I said. “I'll try to free it.” The bird's wings brushed my hands as I worked at the knot, and the bird jerked and jerked its foot, pulling the knot tighter, so in the end I just yanked Sissy's hair out and she screamed.

The wood thrush sat in the upper branches and stared at Sissy, her hair dangling from its foot. “Stupid damn bird,” she said. “Its song is pretty, though. Listen.” The bird sang three notes, cleared its throat, and sang three more, repeating its song in every key, known and unknown. At night Sissy would leave hair clippings on our bedroom windowsill, and when we woke in the morning, we would find bottle caps, paperclips, bobby pins, sewing needles, foil candy wrappers, skeleton keys, and other gifts lined up on the sill. Once even a silver dollar.