The sun had been up for an hour, hidden above the clouds that brought rain to their Sunday morning. She made oatmeal with honey and two percent milk. He made the coffee and toast. They sat across from each other at the oak table at the end of the kitchen. The bay window admitted a view of the gathering storm. He had the comics section, culled from the Sunday paper, folded beside his plate. She had nothing to read, and stared out the window at the back garden while she ate.
“Everything is like a flock of birds,” she said, taking a last sip of her coffee. A little more remained but it had gone tepid and bitter. She set the cup down and pushed it away.
“They settled here a while and ate seeds and bathed in the fountain, she said.” “Then one by one flittered up and flew away.”
“Everything is?” he said, but did not look up from the comic strip that was making him smile.
He stirred the coffee in his cup and finally looked up at her. “You said everything is like birds. You can’t mean this house is like a flock of birds, or this table, or me. You can’t say everything is like anything because some things are not. Some things are like other things or nothing makes any sense. So what do you mean by everything?”
“I mean life. Life as I thought life was and would be. Life got startled and flew away. Nothing is quite right anymore, and I don’t understand.”
“I see,” he said. “The birds are an existential metaphor; at breakfast, no less.”
“If you insist.”
“I do.” He held the newspaper in front of him and snapped it like a great pair of wings and folded it to see the next page. “Life saw the great cosmic cat in the yard and scattered, took to the trees.”
“You’re mocking me.”
“No, no. Yes. Teasing a bit. So what kind of birds?”
“What kind of birds flew away and left nothing but memories?”
“Not real birds.”
“I know,” he said. “But since you’re imagining them, what kind of birds do you see?”
“Little ones. Sparrows.”
“Hungry, nervous little things. No mockingbirds, no hawks or gulls? Nothing more formidable?”
“Just the little birds, like I said. They’re gone and it makes me sad.”
“Well, it’s not quite spring yet, and pretty soon …”
“I realize they come and go and I might blink and see them all returned, or just a few, or many more than ever. I’m talking about how I feel. They’re gone forever, every one of them.”
“And took away the waters of the birdbath, the withered petals and the yellow leaves? I think you need another cup of coffee, Dear.”
“Maybe so. I’m still tired. But it threatens to sour my stomach.”
“I never digest anything well anymore,” he said.
She ignored this, remembering the day when she was four or five and her mother took her to the pond. They had half a loaf of stale bread, to feed the ducks. The large, demanding goose frightened her, and she wept.
“We still have the summer, the memories of it. And it was wonderful. I should be grateful to God for my memories.”
“I understand. And then, you also still have me,” he said.
He pushed away from the table, picked up his bowl and cup and took them to the sink. He started the hot water flowing and went back for her cup and bowl, and the small plate on which they shared the toast. He washed everything in lemony soap while she sat at the table by the window and watched the cold rain fall.