My father visited me in a dream a couple weeks ago. We went searching for a fountain in a business park because I found a penny next to a bench. It must have fallen out of someone’s pocket while they ate their lunch. Instead of a fountain, we came upon a wishing well and he told me to make a wish. I don’t know why but I handed him the penny. He smiled and tossed it in.
“What did you wish for?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Well, the wish won’t come true.”
We sat in his car waiting for my mother. I could feel the breeze through an open window. I must have been young and he was young, too. He told me a story about something that happened to him when he was younger, probably the same age I was in the dream. He talked as he looked forward as he was prone to do.
I was anxious and petulant as we waited for my mother. I’m not sure what she was doing, probably running errands as mothers do. But my father was calm as he told me about a trip he took with my grandparents and uncle to see the big sequoias up near Yosemite. His words always had a way of settling me. I watched his mouth trying to get a glimpse of his white teeth.
“My legs were weak because I was young and not used to walking up those trails. Your uncle was just a few years older but strong enough to keep up with the adults, so your grandma and grandpa took turns giving me piggyback rides for the latter half of the hike. When we reached the General Sherman Tree we stopped to have lunch. Your grandma packed sticky rice, drumsticks and beef jerky. All things you can eat with your hands. It was one of the best meals of my life.
You wouldn’t believe how big those trees are. We took pictures of me with my arms spread out in front of the tree and got scolded for walking on the ground near the tree’s roots. The ground was softer than you’d expect. Those pictures are gone now. Lost in that house fire years ago before you were born. A lot of things were lost in that fire.
Some people say big trees never die of natural causes. They get struck by lightning, get caught in a fire, get chopped down. Sometimes they get so big the ground just gives and they uproot themselves. I guess that was why I got scolded.
After eating we played around the area, throwing rocks but mostly looking up at the treetops. Then I found a little sparrow who had fallen from its nest. It wasn’t big enough to fly yet. Just a chubby little thing hobbling around unsteadily. I called your grandpa over to take a look as I cupped it in my hands. We tried to find its nest, but your grandma said it was probably a bad idea to put it back. She was worried the little bird would get pushed out again because it had my scent on it. I didn’t quite understand but I knew I couldn’t just leave it. After much pleading, I convinced your grandpa and grandma to let me bring it home. During the drive home I watched him hop around in a carton from a case of soda. They warned me not to touch it too much for fear of getting it sick. I giggled as it jumped skittishly each time we hit a bump on the road.
That night I slept on the ground in the living room next to the sparrow in its soda carton. Your grandma helped me dig for worms in her garden, and I watched that little bird peck at its meal of rice and worms. Every hour or so, your grandma would come pat me on the head and remind me not to touch the bird. That’s all I remember. Sleeping next to it and feeding it.
A few days later the bird got sick and died. I would learn much later in life it was probably my fault for overfeeding it, but at the time your grandma and grandpa assured me it wasn’t because of anything I did. Regardless, I was inconsolable.
We buried that little sparrow in the backyard near where we found the worms.
After a few days of my moping, your grandma promised to get me some pet birds. That Saturday we went to the flea market and found a vendor with two parakeets, a blue and yellow one in a white cage. I chose them because they weren’t much bigger than the sparrow. They were beautiful. I don’t remember giving them names, but after school each day I would watch them jump and fly around their cage from the lower bar to the upper bar and back. They took turns chasing each other and ate from the same feeder even though they each had their own.
I tried teaching them how to talk. I asked them questions about their parents and any siblings they may have been separated from. They chirped back in their own language and I mimicked their responses.
Some months later I woke one morning to see that the blue one was gone. The twisty tie keeping the cage door closed was on the ground below the cage. We had moved them outdoors when the weather warmed. I remember twisting that tie the night before after filling their feeders so I was convinced someone had snuck into the backyard and taken him, but your uncle heard him chirping in the tree. He wasn’t too far up and your uncle was sure he could catch him and bring him home. Keep in mind, your uncle was a climber. When we were even younger he used to climb this chestnut tree to shake the nuts onto the ground. He would get so high he looked smaller than the chestnuts dropping from the sky. That gave me hope. I thought he would be able to catch him as well, but that blue bird would just fly to a higher branch each time your uncle got close. Eventually, your uncle was so far up the branches bent with each of his movements, and your grandpa and grandma talked him back down when they heard a branch crack. Once he got down, the blue bird flew to the low branch where we first saw him.
I watched that blue parakeet the rest of the day sitting on that branch chirping with the yellow one. When your grandma made me go to bed that night those birds were still chirping away.
The next morning the yellow one was gone as well. The twisty tie on the ground. I was baffled until they chirped at me. I turned to see them in the tree and then they flew off. Those damned parakeets. Maybe I just wasn’t very good at taking care of them. No one believed me when I told them the story, but it’s the truth and you know I would never lie to you, son.”
Then my mother appeared in the distance. She was young again and smiled as she walked toward the car with my brother in hand.
So when I woke up as the dream ended I knew I didn’t have to check her room to know she was gone.