Read All the Dancing Birds Online

Authors: Auburn McCanta

All the Dancing Birds





a novel

Auburn McCanta

Marcanti Clarke Literary Press

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© Copyright 2012 Auburn McCanta. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Digital Edition

Marcanti Clarke Literary Press

P.O. Box 10353, Glendale, AZ 85318.

For more information about this book, visit

Edition ISBNs

Trade Paperback 978-0-9850700-0-7

Hardcover 978-0-9850700-1-4

E-book 978-0-9850700-2-1

First Edition 2012

This edition was prepared by The Editorial Department

7650 E. Broadway, #308, Tucson, Arizona 85710

Cover design by Carol Ruzicka

To Dan, the love of my life

For Mom and Pop and Dad

And for all my little ladies and gentlemen

It Took so Long

In days of debris,

We sifted for angels.

Now we know:

It’s futile to search for solid joy.

Happiness is a vapor, powerful

As wind, but just as shifty.

We do not hold

Keys or answers

But vision,

Memory, hands.

Mine in yours, every

Squeeze says

I am I am I am

‌—‌Drew Myron

“The mind in its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

‌—‌John Milton

Paradise Lost
, 1:254-255)

Chapter One

ow here I am, a small flickering light, sputtering softly in my chair, shifting, winking on and off. I’ve been trying to think my way out of this paper bag of a morning, but so far, I’ve only come up with the notion that, somehow, my mind is structured slightly differently than it was yesterday.

I’ve turned oddly forgetful.

I’m consumed with the thought that insects‌—‌scurrying black ants‌—‌are busy chewing the log of my brain into sawdust, grinding tunnels into blind passageways. Maybe these little buggies are making holes where all my thoughts are falling, tumbling, down and down. Of course, I tell no one about my bugs, or that I’m chronically consumed with half-baked daily riddles. Today’s perplexity is this: where did I place my little wallet with its ring and clip that holds my keys? I need them and they’re gone. Vanished!

I’m going to be late for dinner at my daughter’s house and here I am.


Certainly, I can’t talk with anyone about this new mysterious life. Not now. Maybe never. Of course, I should call my daughter to explain why I’m late, but what could I say?

Just approaching my mid-fifties (with only a few gray hairs, I might note), a mother doesn’t just casually mention she’s suddenly and forevermore deteriorated into a frightful and incorrigible dunderhead. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to startle my children by blurting out,
there’s nothing to worry about… your mother’s just losing it, but that’s not a problem,
. Indeed, how could I explain that their mother has recently turned into a mess of sodden, tearful forgetfulness?

Of course, the day had started kindly, as they often do‌—‌cloudless and just sharp enough to outline the faint edge of my breath during the short walk down the drive to retrieve the morning newspaper. It was nice then: coffee, the
Sacramento Bee
and no cares other than the day’s miserable headlines.

Then one after another, clouds rolled in overhead as if to call attention to the sudden, frantic search for my keys: drawers yanked open and pawed through, only to be left hanging open like mouths in mid-sentence, chair cushions flipped and left upended, even covers on the bed torn down, only to be left all higgledy-piggledy across the floor.

After two hours, I abandoned the hunt, still without finding what I most desperately needed.

My little wallet and my car keys are gone!

Now, as early afternoon overtakes me, I realize I’ve been sulking deep into the folds of my chair for the better part of the day, curled into the shape of a despondent question mark, grateful there was no one to witness my fretful search, my wild-eyed rummaging through every nook and cranny of the house.

Have you noticed how odd Lillie Claire has become
? Such a question would certainly be appropriate, given this morning’s cursing and crying.

, the obvious response would be.
Odd. Very odd. That’s the only proper word for it‌—‌odd.

Only now do I realize how cleverly I’ve insulated myself from such hurtful comments and questions. It’s been at least six months since I’ve laced up my tennies, thrown my purse strap across my shoulder, and wandered the six blocks to our neighborhood coffee shop with its deep, cozy chairs arranged like conversation nooks in a home. Once I relished strolling along Sacramento’s tree-lined Midtown streets, popping into its eclectic shops or meeting friends for empanadas at
Tapa the World
, or even going a few blocks north on J Street for a plateful of spicy fries at
Hamburger Patty’s
, but I’ve taken now to embracing the solitude of my own company. After spending an entire lunch with the name of a long-known friend bounding away from my grasp, leaving me terrified all through our meal that I might need to introduce her to someone, I decided to simply stay home.

From that day on, I answered every lovely invitation with an equally lovely declination.
I’d love to, but I promised my daughter… I think I’m coming down with something and I’d hate for you to catch it… My son’s coming into town, you remember Bryan don’t you?
Each excuse was layered with a smile and a promise for a rain check…
very soon, I promise.

After a while, the phone gladly stopped ringing and (except for occasional outings with my children whose names are seared into my bones) I’ve simply stayed inside like a recluse, grateful to never again spend two hours with a dear friend’s name rolling around like a worry stone in my mouth.

With effort, I pull myself up and shuffle toward the kitchen. Maybe a nice sandwich will mend this recent and persistent
I seem to have caught.

The cool of the refrigerator seems to snap me from today’s funk. I pull out sliced luncheon ham, a bottle of dark, spicy mustard, half a loaf of bread, a tomato gone all soft in the head (much like me) and lettuce that should have been tossed days ago.

And there‌—‌beneath that wilted lettuce and alongside a watery cucumber left over from last Wednesday’s riata dish‌—‌sit my little purse and keys, now all cold and slimy.

My wallet! My keys!

YOU LAUGH. You laugh when you find your wallet in the refrigerator. In the refrigerator crisper drawer, of all places. Your laughter is not so much funny-ha-ha laughter, but more like when a sound escapes in the cool of the kitchen and hangs in the air, illuminated by the refrigerator light. You’ve spent the morning frantically tearing the house apart, moving from room to room, frightening yourself with images of thieves in the night, gremlins under the bed. But it turns out you are the thief and the evidence rests cold and leathery damp in your small and grateful hand. Mystery solved.

I check inside the folds of my wallet for damage: I pull out my driver’s license, a couple of credit cards, my library card, my medical ID and a few old dog-eared photos of my children, mugging and grinning for the camera. Although a bit cool, everything seems in order. Still attached to the outside is the removable clip that holds my car keys. I’ve got no idea‌—‌not one single thought‌—‌how I could have considered tucking my wallet and keys into the vegetable bin, under a well-wilted lettuce and half a decaying cucumber, instead of into my purse. Not a clue.

Here in the quiet of the kitchen, I’m struck with a roughened whirlwind of worry that ties my stomach into knots. Somehow I know that this growing forgetfulness‌—‌this heart-squeezing, gut-prickling, fearsome knowledge that yesterday I knew things and today I don’t‌—‌is something I’d best keep hidden.

The phone rings. I absently answer. “Hah!” I say, picking at a small piece of slithery lettuce stubbornly stuck tight to a notch on my keys.

“Mom? Are you laughing? What’s… what the hell’s going on over there?”

Ah, my Allison. My daughter’s voice is comfort food, like mashed potatoes drizzled over with cream gravy and crumbled sausage. She always manages to settle me by saying something very simple like, say,
, or
oolong tea.
She makes me soft in the knees, the way she lingers over each vowel with her lips pursed into a kiss, while consonants tap against her teeth and throw themselves toward the back of her throat like the sound of someone skipping down a hallway.

I modulate my voice. “Oh, no.
. I’m sorry, honey, oh… of course not. I was just thinking about something else and the phone apparently caught me mid-thought.”

“You were thinking of something else? Apparently? You were supposed to be here an hour ago and… well, hell… we were getting worried.” My daughter sighs and recalibrates. “You realize dinner will be totally ruined because of you now.”

“You should be nice to your mother,” I say, carefully working my mouth to continue its level tone. “I represent your inheritance.”

I smile at my small triumph.

A defensive pose is obviously rudimentary, but still seems more dignified than flapping about between my current moments of blustery panic and the more flat-lined despondency of this day.

“Be nice?” Allison retorts. “For all we knew you could have had an accident or… or something.” I picture my daughter and how she’s likely managed to make her lips look like little wavelets of concern, all the while causing me to suffer over those delicious vowels that continue to swirl and slide from her pouty mouth.

She bedevils me like that.

“You are coming, aren’t you?”

“Of course,” I say. Then I toss out a mere half-truth, hoping it’s at least something good enough to turn the conversation around. “I know… I should have called. But my wallet and keys turned up missing this morning. Not to worry, though, sweetie. I just now found them and… wouldn’t you know they were in the bottom of my purse all the time? I’m just on my way out the door now.” My mouth puckers with the acerbity of the lie.

“Go ahead and open the wine, if you haven’t already,” I say. “And I hope you have my favorite red this time.”

I look out the kitchen window in time to see a robin flutter into a small Chinese pistache tree. The spindly tree, planted only last spring, barely managed to gasp and struggle its way through its first Sacramento summer‌—‌and it had been a hot one. Now it defiantly prances in the day’s stiff breeze, its leaves turned red and stubborn against the cold as if it were fully grown and thick in the trunk. Its crimson leaves look like flying embers hot enough to burn the feathers of any bird foolish to rattle into its branches. I think of that robin, now swallowed up into the tree’s center and, for the merest moment, my throat catches. Overhead, clouds are now forming into giant sculptures of dragons and angels, with fire-spitting dragons winning the day.

I am very, very close to bursting into tears.

“I’ve got red
white,” Allison says, her round voice again pulling my clotted thoughts back into a threadbare semblance of normalcy. “Try to hurry, Mom. Seriously, dinner’s almost ready.”

Her voice becomes a papery whisper; she’s cupped her hand around the phone. “I should warn you that Bryan’s a bit grumpy, so be prepared.” Then louder, she says, “So, I hope you get here before everything is totally overcooked.”

In spite of her warning, I look forward to an evening with my children. Our conversations are always fierce and bombastic, punctuated here and there with squeals of brilliant laughter. Allison especially relishes egging things on toward heightened velocity, complete disruption. I preside over it all with a mother’s presumed calm.

“I’m already out the door, dear. And don’t worry,” I say, raking my fingers like a comb through my hair. “I’ll help when I get there.” I think of my daughter hovering with uncertainty over a steaming pot of pasta, urging the water along, now and then poking a fork into a clump of swirling noodles.

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