Alice Hale Adams
By the time Josephine was three, she refused to answer to any name other than Wren. On her sixth birthday, she started to draw small birds on recycled scrap paper. She spat on the ends of the watercolor pencils in her collection to soften and blend the colors. Her birds always had pale blue eyes. The bird’s wings were alive with intricate detail, little black and brown dots peeping through the layers of feathers, three-toed feet sticking out from under the nutty-colored breast of each bird.
Wren watched the birds that nested in the forked branches of the tree outside the only window in the room that served as her bedroom. The opposite wall had a faded rectangular shape on the wallpaper since the sun both rose and sat through this window. This did not happen to the other windows in the house. The sun followed Wren and she was always in her bedroom at sunrise and sunset. Wren’s mother never planned a meal at this time nor did her father entertain the idea of leaving the house.
The newest bird pictures were spread across the dining room table while the older ones were displayed throughout the house. Wren’s earliest pictures were pinned to the hallway ceiling using pins with round yellow heads. Orange pins held the next to the oldest bird pictures on the walls leading to the living room. Only Wren could remember the sequence of the colors of the pins. The pictures on the table would be hung with purple ones.
"Wren preferred to eat yellow food, such as squash
or bananas. If green food appeared
on the table, she would not take a bite."
Wren would not eat if the pictures were disturbed. She also refused to talk while eating. She did not want to talk or hear talking before breakfast. Wren preferred to eat yellow food, such as squash or bananas. If green food appeared on the table, she would not take a bite. Wren’s mother loved broccoli but Wren would not eat if she saw it in the kitchen. Even though cheese was yellow, Wren would not allow it to touch her plate. Just looking at cheese made her choke and gag so her mother never bought it, although her father longed to have it on his sandwiches.
Wren wore flannel pajamas during the day when she was inside the house. If she had to go outside, she wore tattered jeans over pink panties and a lace blouse over a push-up bra. Her sparkly, feather clip-on earrings had to be long enough to brush her shoulders. Her mother made them from feathers Wren found in the yard.
She longed to have birds tattooed on her skin but her mother told her the needle would hurt and they would be there forever. So, Wren drew birds on her arms and legs with different colors of ink, blue, green, purple, and red. As she moved, the birds seemed to flutter their wings.
As soon as the sun sat and supper was over, Wren put on her sleeping clothes, long-sleeved dresses that buttoned up the front, collars that turned up on the back of her neck, hems that hit her just above the ankle. She used tiny, golden safety pins to attach bird feathers to the fabric, causing the dresses to shimmer and float. Wren had not slept in pajamas since she was a baby and she was content in her sleeping dress.
Wren read when she wasn’t drawing birds. She read the books that her parents had collected. She was relieved to not have to worry about finding books to read. Wren had been alarmed when she learned that some houses were not full of books.
"When Wren began to read a new book,
she always read the last page first. . . . This
disturbed her mother but her father understood."
When Wren began to read a new book, she always read the last page first. Usually, she kept reading and read the whole book from back to front. This disturbed her mother but her father understood. Wren’s mother couldn’t stay in the room with them while they read backwards. Wren and her father spent hours speculating about the beginning of the books.
Every night before Wren went to sleep she read one verse of scripture. On the wall behind her door, she kept lists. Using blue ink, she recorded the titles and authors of the books she read, in black, she wrote the book, chapter, and verse of her Bible reading. Some nights, she felt led to a deeper study of scripture giving her a more satisfied feeling in the Word. Exegesis, Wren’s favorite word and one she wrote over and over, was important since she wanted to understand and treasure each word she hid in her heart. Magenta ink kept track of where she found the feathers she used for earrings and pinning on her sleeping dresses.
After completing her lists on the wall, she played one game of solitaire, cheating until she won, and then she went to sleep.
Being the olive-skinned son of two albinos, Wren’s father was often shielded from the light. Until his first day of school, he thought everybody wore long sleeves and carried umrellas. He thought all parents were albinos. He was shocked to see so many different colors of skin and thick, dark hair.
Before Wren was born, her father worried she would be an albino. He thought it would be hard for an albino child to be the subject of whispered conversations and sideways glances, although his parents never seemed to mind. They would just smile, swipe a hand through the air and dissolve in laughter. Wren’s father never found any humor in this, not that he was ashamed, he just didn’t like the attention it brought to him. He felt like other people thought he wasn’t the child of his parents and sometimes he wondered, too.
Wren’s father gained his joy of literature from his parents and learned to love the poems of Dylan Thomas. With a little prodding, he would stand and recite for hours, never repeating a poem. He secretly learned to speak Welsh and wrote a few poems. When he was in the house by himself, he pretended to be Dylan Thomas.
While Wren’s father went about his reading and reciting, her mother was busy in the kitchen. Wren had never seen her mother without an apron tied at her waist or pearls about her neck, even while doing housework. Leftovers were never served yet Wren’s mother never threw away food. Wren often wondered what became of all the food her mother prepared. The house was always free of dust and clutter although it was not unusual to find feathers fluttering through the air or settled in odd places through the house.
Wren’s mother often talked to herself, which caused Wren and her father to hold their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing out loud. Wren’s mother could not pronounce short vowel sounds so everything she said sounded foreign or alien. Sometimes, they tried to mimic her speech but they could not and ended up dissolved in tears of mirth.
“'My heart has been in my head all day.'”
On the night that changed everything, Wren’s mother sat down at the kitchen table, where Wren was finishing her cake, leaned her head on her hand, and said, “My heart has been in my head all day.”
Her elbow gave way and she fell across the table, dead. Wren did not move. Her father came into the room, having heard an unusual noise. He stood beside his wife, but did not touch her. Wren looked at her father’s face and knew things would never be the same. Wren felt a breeze that lifted her arms from the table.
After the body was taken away, Wren’s father retreated into the back yard and she knew he would not return. Wren went upstairs to her bedroom. She put on her feather-covered sleeping dress, raised her arms to the moon, and lifted herself to the top of the tree outside her window.
Wren sat there all night. When morning came, the little golden pins twinkled in the sun. Wren’s feathers spread wide. She flew away.
Alice Hale Adams is a mixed media artist, fiction writer, poet, and photographer living in Fordsville, Kentucky. She is a regular contributor to FOLK Magazine and was the featured artist at the 2012 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. Her work has appeared in Kudzu and in the anthologies Crossing Troublesome (Wind Publications) and Motif 2: Come What May (MotesBooks). This is Alice’s second appearance in Still: The Journal.
Alice Hale Adams on writing "Translating Wren":
"This story was birthed on sermon note sheets during Saturday night church services. Each week, after the music and communion, I engaged myself in a page of Zentangling (a Zen-like way of creating images through repetitive patterns and shapes). Among the intricate lines, lists about Wren and her parents took shape, the words of the sermon feeding the story amongst the lines."