The first time she noticed the sparrow he was on the edge of her porch, his tiny forked toes posing on the wooden rail like those of a resting ballet dancer. His head flicked in angled movements, taking her in, sizing her up through the dirty frosted window. She held her breath, afraid that he would fly away if her shoulders even twitched.
Eventually, though, the days lapsed into each other and they both relaxed, having passed a silent truce of camaraderie. The layers of white powder on the trees changed to frozen pellets of rain, and even though they soon left for distant lands, the little bird did not.
Nan had been inside all winter, huddled by the fire the neighbor would build her every morning. The district nurse would get her up and set her up by the window, and then return in the afternoon to put her back in the confines of her bed. She never stopped to chat, no, not once. Today was different, though, not because the nurse had said a word to her, but because today the nurse had set her up on the back porch.
She wasn’t separated from the outside world anymore. Life deliberately crept up Nan’s whole body while her eyes surveyed her secret garden—secret because it was as wild as the one Mary Lennox found. She and Mary—they had a lot in common. She scooped up the whispering breeze and laid it on her heart.
A tiny ball of flying feathers flew toward her but stopped on the grass. He knew. There was no wall of glass between them this time. They inspected each other. The bird lifted a foot onto the cement of the porch and checked her out again. He hopped, tentatively, up to her paralyzed side.
A small confused laugh dribbled out one side of her mouth. Nothing that fragile had ever been safe in her presence before. Now she was the fragile one, an oxymoron to the nth degree. Surely God was mocking her now. And then, just like the first day of spring in her secret garden, she allowed one tear to track down her cheek. Years of regret in that single drop? Another tear followed the curve of her cheek to the blanket.
A sparrow hopped up onto the rail of the porch when the nurse marched up to Nan’s body late that afternoon only to find her slumped to one side in her chair, still somewhat warm from the over-blanket of sunlight on her scrawny arms. He watched her while she called the morgue and Nan’s living relatives and then flew into the cherry tree.
Within hours Nan’s body was washed and clothed and ready for the viewing no one wanted to come to. There was one thing, however, that the mortician did not have to do. He didn’t have to set a smile on her face, because one was already there.