Pulling the faded green sweater closer around my thin shoulders I shivered slightly. The office was cold. Perhaps Dr. Burgess had turned down the thermostat, hoping the cold would somehow distract me from the words he was saying. He was still talking, but my mind wandered away from him. Away from the cold office to another time. Another place.
"Did I ever tell you the story about the Sparrow, Dr. Burgess?"
"Ms. Caroll. . .no. No, you didn't."
I smiled at him across the desk top as my thoughts continued to wander back seventy two years.
# # #
Mother's voice was shrill and the use of both names told me I was in deep trouble.
"What'd you do, Mary?" Jimmy Lee whispered, his eyes growing huge as only a six year old's can. Like me, he knew both names meant mom was really mad. Not just stand you in the corner mad, but really mad.
Standing outside my bedroom door I listened to mom mumbling to herself. "This child is going to be the death of me."
"Oh, no." I whispered glancing sideways at Jimmy Lee. "Bobber."
Opening the door I stepped inside, my gaze going to the shoe box in the middle of my bed. Mom stood on the opposite side of the room, hands on her hips, eyes glaring as her nostrils flared. Her flaming red hair, much like my own, seemed to stand on edge. Another indication her Irish temper was flaring out of control. Picking up the box I glanced at the tiny brown bird inside. His head was still bobbing up and down. He was still alive.
"He flew into the window." I stated, my own temper starting to flare. "We named him Bobber, because his head keeps bobbing up and down. See?"
I held the box out so she could look inside, believing that the sight of Bobber's little head going up and down would melt her heart, like it had melted mine.
"You know birds have lice and they carry disease. Now you take that bird outside right this minute and you bury it."
"Mom, he isn't dead yet!"
She sighed, jerking the bedspread from my rumpled bed. "Well, he's almost dead. Or at the very least he's dying. It'd be a kind thing for you to do, Mary Carroll."
"Would you bury me if I wasn't dead, mommy?" Jimmy Lee stared at her, eyes huge, face pale.
"Of course not, honey, but you're not a bird."
"God made the birds too, mom." I whispered, horrified that my own mother would contemplate such a thing. I watched as emotions flittered across her face. Anger, frustration, and finally acceptance. I knew I had her. She couldn't argue with God.
"Okay, but get it out of your room."
Grabbing Jimmy by the hand I took the box outside and placed drops of water along Bobber's tiny beak. He managed to swallow a few drops.
"Can we take him to the vet, Mary?"
"I don't think so, Jimmy. I don't have enough money."
"How much does it cost?"
"More than two dollars, and that's all I've got."
Jimmy glanced into the box, a huge tear clinging to the edge of his eyelashes. "Gosh, that's a lot."
The tiny head continued to bob up and down as if he had pounding headache. I could tell he was suffering.
"Mom's right, you know. I should probably go ahead and kill him." My voice quivered as hot tears ran down my face.
"If I were a man I'd do it for you."
Jimmy wiped at his own tears and I hugged him. "I know you would."
Forgetting about the lice and diseases I picked Bobber up in my hand and his head stopped bobbing. My closeness seemed to comfort him.
"You know the sparrow was the bird that stayed around Jesus when he was on the cross." I smiled at Jimmy as I sat down crossed legged on the grass.
"Really?" Jimmy asked, joining me in the grass.
"Yep. This is a very special bird."
Jimmy scooted closer and placed an arm around my shoulder. "He likes it when you hold him."
"Yeah, it seems to make him feel better. He knows he's not alone. " Sighing I stroked the small head. "Well, little bird it's up to you and God now. You have to choose. No one has the right to make that choice for you."
I held him until he stopped breathing. Jimmy and I buried him under the old oak tree in the front yard. We both felt good. Bobber didn't die alone, and he made the decision, not us. That moment set the pace for the next 72 years of my life. I'd learned a lot from that little sparrow.
# # #
Coming back to the present I reached across the desk and squeezed Dr. Burgess' hand gently. He was such a nice young man. Seemed like as I got older the doctors kept getting younger. And he seemed to be taking this so personally. Almost as if somehow my illness was his fault.
"Ms. Carroll, did you hear what I said?"
"Yes. Yes, I did."
Dr. Burgess sighed, standing up and coming around the desk. "Is there someone with you?"
"Why, yes. My granddaughter is in the waiting room."
"Would you mind waiting here just a minute? I'd like to talk with her."
I listened as they whispered outside the door. He was afraid I hadn't understood. I understood just fine. I was old, not senile. My cancer was growing at a rapid rate. Maybe six months, no longer.
"Grandma, are you ready to go home now?" Mary Carol, my namesake, looked at me through teary eyes.
"Yes, I'd like that." Grabbing my walker I stood up and started the slow process of making it from the office out the front door to the car.
Mary Carol was quiet all the way to the car and the short ride home. I knew she was hurting. Thinking about my death. My funeral. Well, I wasn't dead yet.
"How's art school?" I asked to break the silence.
"Oh, I don't know, Grandma. I was thinking of dropping out and coming home. Maybe it was all just a dream. I mean, there are too many great artists out there already."
"Did I ever tell you the story about the sparrow?"
Mary Carol grinned. "Yes, Grandma, you did. About a hundred times."
"Well, Mary Carol, you remember it. Don't you go burying things before they're dead. Not dreams and not people. Life is everlasting. People die and babies are born every day. Dreams never die. Unless you let them."
She looked at me thoughtfully. I knew for the first time the true meaning of the story had come out for her. Pulling into the driveway she parked the car and hugged me. "I won't forget, Grandma."
The old house looked comfortable. In my eighty years I'd lived many dreams there. The sparrow had taught me never to bury anything before it died. Not dreams, not people, not things. I snorted remembering the doctor's words. Six months, no longer. Made up my mind right then and there I'd live at least eight just to show him I could.
My gaze drifted to the ancient oak in the front yard. "Look, Mary Carol, the sparrows are nesting. We'll have babies soon."