A Flutter of Wings

By Victor DiGenti

My father made his living arguing cases in court, standing up for the rights of his clients. I once watched him deliver a closing statement that left several jurors in tears, but when my mother left he couldn’t find the words to explain her actions.

It was difficult for a seven-year-old boy to understand how a mother could leave behind her only child. Of course, I was too young to understand the invisible rip tides that controlled adults, hauling them out beyond their depth, inexorably pulling them below the surface until they tired of fighting, releasing them to let hope seep into their aching lungs, then cruelly dragging them down again.

For months after she walked out, I would wake in the night, drawn from the depths of whatever dream world I inhabited, to find myself alone in that huge room. I’d sit up and stare expectantly into the shadows waiting to hear the front door open, for the sound of her feet on the stairs, for the touch of her lips on my forehead.

It never happened.

But Nadine Carruthers was my mother. Even when she packed her bags and walked out the door of our Savannah house on Oglethorpe Avenue leaving me and my father alone, she was still my mother.

I had stashed those early memories away in some seldom-used grotto of my brain, and shrouded them with more joyous images of a perfectly traditional life. That shield remained firm most of the time, but on occasion some insignificant incident forced the memories to bubble to the surface like an underground spring.

This was one of those times. Holding that cast-off feather from my bird feeder in my hand, watching the sun coruscating across the blue and white vane in pinpoints of light that caused me to blink, brought pictures of Nadine Carruthers floating across my mind like a newsreel from another era.

I waved the fern-like feather slowly in front of me like a maestro with a baton, imagining the air flowing around the wings, the pressure forcing the bird to rise, wingtips tracing a graceful figure eight through the air. If there was one thing I knew, it was birds.

I could thank Nadine for that.

One night, more than a year after she left us, my father came to my bedroom and asked if I wanted to visit her. I stared at him as though he had asked if I wanted to ride on the next Apollo rocket.

“Do you know where she is?” I asked him. For some reason, I had a picture of her riding in a bus painted the color of a ripe peach with dozens of other missing adults. All of their belongings were tied to the roof of the bus, and this band of rootless, adventurous souls drove from one foreign country to the next, never stopping for long. Leaving no reminder of where they had been or where they were going.

I remember I was wearing an old Georgia Tech tee shirt my father had bought me when he took me to a football game in Atlanta. I nervously wrapped the hem around a finger and twisted it tightly while I waited for his answer.

“She’s not very far away, Ira. She’s on Tybee Island. That’s where she’s been since she left home.” His eyes slid off mine and stared out the window. His smooth, handsome face, which always reflected a natural confidence and an in-born sense of entitlement, looked suddenly bewildered and embarrassed. He seemed to be studying the night sky for some sign that would grant him permission to tell me what I had waited to hear for the last eighteen months. Or maybe he was making a mental note to chastise the maid about the dirty windows.

“She called and asked if you’d like to visit her,” he said without looking at me.

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