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THE BIRD LADY
By DOLORES RICHARDSON
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Dolores Richardson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was Robin Anderson's fortieth birthday. 40! She was thinking of everything but being forty while driving to work that morning, November 8, 1994. At least, she was TRYING to think of other things such as her son, Jeffery Mark Anderson, age 18, a senior at Warner Robins High School. (How quickly THOSE years had passed!) She did NOT want to think about being the divorced wife of Georgia State Senator Mark David Anderson, THE most popular Georgia Senator in the whole State of Georgia. And everybody really was saying that, according to the news.
Of course, that reminded her of being a high school cheerleader and Senior Class President at Warner Robins High School at the time Mark had been a star football player and.... ah, but she did NOT want to think about that. However, it caused her to recall that they were engaged right after graduation from Mercer University in May 1974, and then married in July after he finished Mercer Law School. After that, Jeff was born in November that year. Robin had to smile about that. Those memories were still too sweet and far too special to have suddenly become a nightmare five years later in 1979 when he had asked for a divorce.
HOW had he explained it then? ("Sorry, dear girl, but I'm going into the love affair of my life, with politics.") She wrinkled her nose at that memory while wishing she'd thrown the pot roast she was removing from the stove at that time directly at him. Now she knew she could not have done that because she had always loved him ever since he'd swooped her up after a game winning pass one night and told her that she "had to love him all the days of her life." Indeed, she had loved him, and thought that he loved her during all their years at college.... then all through the wedding.... and even through the time of the divorce (which she just knew back then he would call off, but he did not), Robin was so sure she could NOT LOVE ANYBODY ELSE. As a matter of fact, she loved Mark still, and she probably always would (in her heart, in secret).
Here at this time Robin was five feet seven inches tall, shapely at 123 pounds, with nice legs, strawberry blond shoulder length hair, pale blue eyes, full lips, high cheek bones, often called "Pretty Awesome" by her own son. Yet, in the time since the divorce, she had not been on a date. It had been 14 years! (Oh, had it been that long?) Well, she had friends, but not "date" friends.
Very soon her son would be off to college. He was still deciding which scholarships to accept, and which college he really wanted to attend. She had kept her secret hope that he would go to Mercer University in nearby Macon. But, if not there, then certainly somewhere that was not so far away. Robin did not fancy being left all alone, and so, in order to fill the void, she had gone back to classes at Mercer working on her Masters in Sociology. At the present time, she was finishing her Social Work Internship at Clifford Nursing and Convalescent Home at 3600 Alberta Road in Warner Robins, Georgia.
About this time, Robin stopped reminiscing and she turned into the parking lot of Clifford. "Oh, well!" Robin murmured out loud. "Everybody has to turn forty whether they want to or not." She smiled as she heard the song, "ONE MORE TIME" blaring on her car radio. She sat still where she was parked and she listened to the song finish, and then with a smile, she turned off her car radio. She was thinking then that forty is surely better than a more elderly age like some of her clients there at Clifford.
As she walked up the steps, all she could see was a swarm of birds around a rocking chair. It did not appear that anyone was on the porch BUT the person hidden by the swarming, singing, chirping birds. Robin knew then it had to be Mrs. Smith in her wheelchair under that swarm of birds. Robin thought it was strange, though, that nobody else was there on the porch, that no other patient and no nurse or aide was watching after her.
It seemed to Robin that the birds seemed to flutter in a space very near the lady without touching her. They were humming and fluttering their wings gently in mid-air above her head, and humming very close to her shoulders and her arms and in her lap.
Robin hurried to clap her hands and swoosh the birds away, but they hardly moved at all. Of course, they never did pay attention to anyone but the Bird Lady, which is what everyone at the home called Mrs. Smith. Robin swooshed them and waved her hands again but still they did not move away.
Robin was about to open the front door to call for help, but the birds suddenly quieted their whistling and clicking sounds. At that moment, Robin heard the lady humming a lullabye. But, that was impossible! The lady could not speak and no one had heard her utter a sound since arriving in 1971. That was 23 years ago!
Robin had been in her internship at Clifford for over two months with about that long left to go, and she had not heard a word from Mrs. Smith during that time, much less her humming a melody! Robin had read her records, and she recalled that Mrs. Smith had been left at the local hospital by a relative on the way to Florida in 1971 because of "MASSIVE STROKE, APHASIA, PARALYSIS ON LEFT SIDE, PATIENT IS UNABLE TO SPEAK OR MAKE ANY VERBAL SOUNDS AT ALL." Her condition was presumed at that time to be permanent. Yet, here she was at the present time humming a lullabye!
Robin listened intently. Without missing a beat or being the slightest out of tune, Mrs. Smith was humming "Rock-A-Bye-Baby." And she was doing it with a jillion birds perched all over her! Robin wondered if these were the same birds that gathered at her window in the day or night unexpectedly. Perhaps they all were from close by the area and they just came around when Mrs. Smith was brought out onto the porch. Of course, the birds also made mysterious appearances at her window usually during the night. Yet never had Robin seen as many birds as were there this morning!
"Amazing!" Robin said quietly, and then to herself. What in the world would cause birds to be attracted like bees on a honeycomb to this frail elderly woman? Robin quietly closed the screen door and then turned and walked over to pull up a chair to sit near Mrs. Smith.
Leaning back and watching, Robin waited until the lullaby was finished and the birds began chirping again, each making its own particular sound, singing its own particular notes. Then, suddenly, without warning, the birds began to lift up and fly away.
Mrs. Smith was left without a mark on her, not even the usual droppings that birds often left where they gathered. Robin saw Mrs. Smith's eyes turn and look at her and Robin could have sworn she smiled! She had never spoken or smiled before!
"Mrs. Smith," Robin grinned, "I have never seen anything like that before! Are you alright?"
The elderly woman's eyes blinked! She looked toward Robin as if she was going to answer her, but then just as suddenly, she turned away and resumed her usual vacant stare as if she could not hear or understand Robin.
Robin was disappointed! She had hoped that the woman was coming out of her long silence. She hoped that some sort of breakthrough was happening, and Robin would have been happy to credit the birds for it. But, alas, she appeared to be as she always was when anyone had tried to communicate with her. Robin was not going to leave her alone just yet though.
"Mrs. Smith," Robin began slowly, "If you understand what I am saying, please blink your eyes once."
Mrs. Smith blinked her eyes one time!
Robin continued, "Please blink once for YES and twice for NO. Do you understand what I am saying?"
The lady blinked once.
Robin realized she was pushing her luck, but she had to continue. "Do you like the birds being close to you like that?"
The lady blinked once.
"Are you cold or uncomfortable in any way?" Roin asked.
The lady blinked twice.
"Do you want the birds to come back?" Robin kept asking questions.
The lady blinked once. And then without warning, tears began to stream from her eyes. She began blinking her eyes over and over again. She was getting agitated and Robin was sorry she had kept on with asking questions.
Robin patted her arm softly and said, "Oh, let me take you inside now. You must be getting tired. I'm so sorry, I don't want you to get upset. Here I am giving you the third degree and I don't even know how long you've been out here all alone. Please forgive me!" Robin was trying to push the wheelchair and take her inside, but she forgot to release the brake and the chair would not move! Mrs. Smith was bouncing around and almost fell out of the chair! Robin mentally kicked herself for forgetting the brake, and she released it at once and began pushing Mrs. Smith toward the door where Nurse Terrie stood watching. Robin blushed in embarrassment. What a fine impression to make on the only Registered Nurse in the place! Robin sighed and felt like it was going to be a long day.
Instead of reacting, Nurse Terrie just held the door open and said, "Come on in, Mrs. Smith." She winked at Robin, "My, my, we are wide awake today, aren't we?" She continued on and on as if Mrs. Smith was a child. "Miss Robin made all those nasty birds go away, but then she made a little boo-boo and got us all nervous and scared. Now, now! Everything is alright. Let's go take our nap now."
Robin could have sworn Mrs. Smith looked up at Nurse Terrie as if she were the most ridiculous person she'd ever seen or heard. However, Robin knew the lady could not use her facial muscles or that she had not been able to for eleven years. As a matter of fact, no one had ever seen Mrs. Smith change her facial expression at all, certainly not like that! Robin was beginning to wonder if it wasn't true that real life is stranger than fiction.
"I wonder.... I just wonder if...." Robin was thinking to herself. What could have possibly happened in 1971 (that was 23 years ago) that caused Mrs. Smith's nephew to suddenly stop and leave her in the Houston Medical Center Hospital? Of course, she was ultimately transferred to Clifford for recovery. The nephew must have gone on to Florida or wherever he was heading. According to what Robin had been told, Mrs. Smith could not do what she was doing this morning, or at least she had not been able to for over two decades! That meant no one but Robin had seen her change facial expressions! Except Nurse Terrie who now had seen her do it also.
Nurse Terrie continued to push Mrs. Smith down the hall toward her room. Robin, however, decided that as soon as she made her rounds with the other patients that she would get busy seriously trying to find a relative of Mrs. Smith's. There had to e someone who visited the lady even though several of the aides had said that nobody ever did. There had to be someone besides the birds!
Later, Robin couldn't think of anyone who had worked as long as Mrs. Smith had been there at the nursing home. She asked every nurse's aide, every attendant, every clerk in the office who had been working the longest at Clifford. The only name that came up was Ann Sinclair. She had, however, retired on disability from her nurse's job at Clifford two years earlier in 1992. One of the clerks in the office told Robin that Mrs. Sinclair often dropped by the see Mrs. Smith even after she retired. Robin knew then that she had to try to locate Ann Sinclair and find out what she knew about Mrs. Smith. The clerk had said then that "It will not be easy to find her because Mrs. Sinclair has moved three times in the past two years. The last move was in with her daughter in Perry." Robin then got that address and phone number from the secretary.
As Robin set up the visitor's annex for the usual Friday morning exercise video for the patients, she could not get Mrs. Smith off her mind. She placed her mat on the floor, lined up ten chairs in a semi circle, and pulled out the exercise balls and the light hand weights. When she had everything in place like she wanted, she popped in the Marshall Stretch Exercise video and then picked up the house phone and dialed 111, the Office number, to let Nurse Terrie know they could bring in the patients for exercise.
As usual, there were only six frail, elderly women and one man, George Plunkett. She helped them all get seated. The women's faces usually changed from Friday to Friday as different patients would be brought in and led to the chairs. However, Mr. Plunkett was younger and in better shape, it seemed, and he always walked himself in, usually whistling, and he chose where he wanted to sit. He was a bossy fellow but Robin found him likeable. He had a positive attitude otherwise, and a good sense of humor!
"Here's our own Jane Fonda," Mr. Plunkett was singing. "Are you going to sing us a one and a two this morning, Miss Robin?" He rolled his eyes in mock surprise.
"Of course!" Robin joined his banter. "One and a two," she sang and then bowed. They repeated the gentle exercises that Robin showed them. They were intended to loosen the joints and keep good range of motion in their limbs. As she led them through the gentle arm stretches and then the leg stretches, she noticed everyone was really trying this morning. Mr. Plunkett, as usual, was doing all the exercises without any trouble at all. He was even helping the lady, Ida, who was sitting next to him by gently holding her arm as she tried to lift it. When the video was finished about 15 minutes later, Robin led them through a short visualization. Afterwards, Mr. Plunkett thanked her for the exercise and the visualization.
"I particularly liked the mental exercise this morning, Miss Robin," he complimented her. "Especially the part where we connect with our God Source." He kept on talking but she was suddenly wondering just how old he really was! And she was wondering if he was living at Clifford when Mrs. Smith came in. Just wondering.
"Excuse me, Mr. Plunkett," Robin interrupted, "How long did you say you have been here at Clifford?"
He smiled. She rarely asked personal questions. He had liked that about her. "Now and then I wonder about that myself." He grinned at her.
"Come on, now, how long REALLY?" Robin grinned. "You are very young looking, but I'm not good at guessing ages. You hedged around that issue our initial interview. I really cannot guess by looking at you."
"I'm old enough," he teased her, "And how about you, Robin, how old are you, and how long are you going to be working here with us old coots?"
He had the nicest steel gray eyes that reminded her somewhat of her own Grandfather Paul. Even the way he parried her questions with one or two of his own questions or comments also reminded her of the way Grandfather Paul had done.
"Well," she said, "I was wondering if you were here in 1979 by any chance?" Robin continued.
"79 huh?" He pretended he was trying to remember. "Nope, I was dumped here in 84. This little old town did not even have alcoholic rehab back then, so Clifford got lucky. I didn't show up until 1987."
Robin blushed. She had not meant to bring up any unpleasant memories for him. She tried to move him away from the subject. She wished she had not asked him anything, but that was obviously too late!
"84," he continued, "Damned year that one. I lost my business that same year. My wife died, I almost burned my house down trying to make toast in the oven, and my son decided I was drinking too much." He continued. "I could not live with him and his wife; in fact, they moved away to Atlanta the following year. The fact is, I did not have anyplace to go, and I couldn't stop drinking on my own. I had a heart attack, and all that landed me up right here at Clifford." He paused and then added, "Of course, it was called Happy Haven back then." Then he laughed. "Yessir, Happy Haven! Well now, and how old are you, Miss Robin?"
Robin laughed with him. "I am 39 going on 16 forever, Mr. Plunkett, don't you know how women feel about telling their age?" She turned to help the ladies but Mr. Plunkett grabbed her arm.
"I am, or rather I was, a private detective in my day, and a darn good one, Robin. Mr. Plunkett was looking her in the eye. "Whatever it is you're looking for back in 1971, I can almost guarantee you that I know something about it."
She looked back at him. He was a sly one alright. She thought she had been very discreet with her questions about the home earlier to the staff but maybe she was not as clever as she thought she was after all.
"This is, like I said, a very small town." He continued. "I've worked with the Police and the Sheriff's Department here on a lot of cases. What exactly are you looking for?" He was serious.
"Nothing, really, Mr. Plunkett," Robin said in an equally serious tone. "I was just interested in when various patients came in to Clifford and what brought them here. It's just history and part of my internship." She was trying to explain in a way he might believe her.
Excerpted from THE BIRD LADY by DOLORES RICHARDSON Copyright © 2012 by Dolores Richardson. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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