Fledgling – Erin Calabria

I know even before the eggs hatch that one of them will be you. I can’t tell how. But I know.

At first in the evenings, two birds perch in the tree outside the living room window, breasts rising every now and then in deep, throaty burbles. Sometimes they stare at me through the glass, heads tilted, swiveling, though I’m never doing much, just cradling a bowl of Milchreis, sifting through the underlined passages in your paperbacks while the sky ebbs into darkness.

I know I probably should’ve moved by now. If not back to my country, then at least to a different apartment, a different part of the city. Somewhere that doesn’t still hold the shape of you. Your bent knees as you read on the couch every weekend. Your long hands leaning on the radiator to keep warm. The whole of you dancing with me in the empty kitchen before the cabinets arrived and just after I had, jet lagged and foggy but laughing, laughing, tripping all over your toes.

My friend Sinem says you would want so much for me. What I want for me isn’t possible. So I just stay here. And watch the birds.

Soon I see them passing twigs to one another. Small gifts. Promises. They start to weave their nest in a crook of branches, and I think of how, when I first moved here, you would bring me things to teach me about this place. Wild garlic picked fresh from the woods. Strong black tea laced with a cloud of cream. A pocket guide to all the birds flickering through the courtyard gardens.

That’s how I learn what these birds are called: Ringeltauben. In Latin, Columba palumbus—diving pigeons. Though they aren’t sea birds at all, and they only seem to be diving through the air before their wings catch them again.

I have to close the book after that. Sinem tells me there’s a bicycle on the corner of the intersection now, a Geisterrad painted white, but I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to picture that flight.

Instead I watch the nest, the two eggs now bundled there. Both birds take turns shielding them with their bodies, and within a few weeks, you and your nestmate hatch, stringy and small, covered in slick, yellow down. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at how strange you look, so I do both. Meanwhile your bird parents feed you well from their crops, and you grow every day, your down puffing out in a soft, grey cloud, your dark eyes opening.

For a time, Sinem had insisted on sleeping on the couch and keeping me fed. Each morning, she would scramble eggs and boil coffee so strong it made my ears tingle. In the afternoons, she would bring back a basket of groceries, enchanting them later into juicy köfte, stuffed eggplant, buttery pilaf.

Eat, she would say in the language we both speak with accents. You have to eat.

I try to talk to you now, but I don’t know which language you speak anymore. Look, I whisper from behind the window pane, look at me, and you do. But then you look at the leaves, at the street, at the cars and buses rumbling below.

I try to tell you about the other day when Sinem came over for tea, how I made it just the way you taught me, and then afterward we tiptoed up to the window so I could show her the nest.

See? I said, pointing. Then, before I could stop, That one’s Lukas.

You mean… Oh. Her hand flashed up to her mouth. You named one of them after… After him?

I paused then. Yes, I said finally, yes, because I knew there was nothing else she would understand, and she held me then, thinking she did.

Soon you and your nestmate start exploring beyond the nest, hopping sideways along twigs, shaking stubby wings. Sometimes it’s hard to find you now among the leaves. Your eyes are changing too—not yet gold like your parents, but blue like the sky that is calling you. Abandoned, the nest begins to list to one side, untwining itself in the wind.

And then one day it happens. I press my nose to the glass. I look and look and look, but there is only green swishing back and forth, no bird shadow among them, no fan of feathers, no shining eyes.

I sit on the sill all day. The sky goes black like it always does. But you do not return.

I never did tell you how I’d thought of leaving once. It was around our first Christmas here, and I wasn’t used to this place, to this northern latitude and the drizzly march of short, grey days. All I wanted was sunlight, my native tongue, home.

But then you had shown me all the things you loved about that dark time of year: marzipan and glowing wine, a candle arch for every window, and warm-spiced biscuits—even we don’t know if their name comes from loaf, body, or life, you’d said. That’s when I could see the boy in you, a glimmer of childhood superimposed, brightening your face as you remembered.

And so now I can’t help but wonder—if that boy could also become a bird, does he then appear, even just for a moment, in me when I remember him?

This morning I sit by the window and look up. In a little while, Sinem will come by, ring the bell, and together we’ll leave this street and walk slow along the river, swallows overhead, wind in our hair.

Until then, I’ll just try to imagine the trace of me that is also in you, arcing over rooftops and trees, skimming across blue sky. Both of us winging towards something we still can’t see. Something we can only become.

Erin Calabria

Erin Calabria grew up in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, which publishes writing about home, place, and memory. You can read more of her work in Milk Candy ReviewLongleaf ReviewPithead Chapel, and other places.

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