Little Bird, Have You Got a Key? Short Story

A short journey with big meaning… Photography: D. Sharon Pruitt
A small journey with big meaning…
Photography: D. Sharon Pruitt

The white automatic doors swung open with a creak that gave her a fright. The fright lasted long enough to gasp briefly up her arms, all of her thin blond hairs joining in an upright salute. The fright moved quickly and disappeared neatly from sight but hid just underneath her skin, tucked away quietly near her pulse, in her neck. There it would sit waiting patiently for the next Mexican wave routine that it held full responsibility for starting.

Annie had been very nervous to come here today. She knew deep down she wanted to, but all the same it was frightening. She felt very small. She remembered her mother’s warm words of advice and let her mind relay them to her as a chant, as her mantra. She will be so happy to see you Annie. She will be so happy to see you Annie. She will be so happy to see you Annie. Around and around she let the words cycle, as she continued on her way carefully, slowly but with certainty.

Through the white doors she could hear a clock, a grand one it sounded like; strong and dignified. It struck seconds as if they were hours, each moment as important as the next, or the next, or all of the next’s added together. She went through the doors as if she had never heard or felt a fright in her entire life. Confident, head high. She will be so happy to see me.

She found herself walking in time to the clock, with a distinct comfort knowing her pace was synchronized to the rhythms of such an important and profound concept. It meant that she walked slowly, but she felt steady and composed.

When she got to the stairs she climbed them as if it were something she did daily, however she didn’t often have to climb stairs. Her day-to-day life was lived out on the ground floor. She enjoyed the knowledge that she was leaving the earth level and now lived in complete trust of a man-made level. One that hovered just above.


She couldn’t really tell if she said it out loud or just thought it and it didn’t really matter because either way the lady at the reception’s smile was absent and her eyes were glossy. The staff at reception had barely flinched when the doors had released.

I guess they must get used to it.

There were a few people about, visitors, residents and staff. The staff stood out from the residents and the visitors with their strong sense of direction and purpose. It was a certainty that felt like one of very few inside this place. Everyone here seemed adrift, loosely wandering with no clarification, no conviction. She could feel that same tide pull at her ankles, taking her also, and she knew it was an inevitable surrender. This helplessness stirred the fright to slide down the backs of her legs.

Room 141. Down the corridor, to the left, to the end and left again. Room 141.

A simple route. A complex feat.

The stillness mixed with the bustle, the loose with the tight. She had learnt not to count down the room numbers as she made her way towards Room 141. It dragged it out, made her nervous, over prepared. She had also decided not to look into the open doors as she passed. Head down, floor, feet, legs, horizon line, anything but left or right. And up would be too weird. So down it was. Down was a rule. She had decided this direction for her eyes in her mind but her eyes had refused to sign the contract. As if in abrupt rebellion, her eyes darted into every door she past, scanning each compartment/chamber/cell for signs of life, scanning for heartache.

Room 10, open, but empty, standard set up, television set off, bed neatly made, flowers in vase dusty, images on wall framed and distant.

Room 13, open. Occupied. Lady in bed, could only see her wrists. Thin like narrow streams during a drought. Television on.

Room 37, open. Occupied. Lady in bed, slightly upright. Her face is chalk and her skin looks the way rice paper does after being dunked in water for two minutes. Transparent and flimsy.

She held her breath and quickened her pace. Double time. Fuck the clock and its diligence. We are all prisoners of time, and this cold, sterile place was most certainly one of time’s worst punishments. A slow, cruel punishment with an insistently precise and relentless method.

Room 141, room 141, room141, room 141, room 60, open but empty, turn left, thank god. Room 68, open and occupied, lady in bed, quietly whimpering and shaking her head. Cup of tea beside the bed. TV on. Room 141, room 141 room 80, open, empty, room 83, open empty, room 87, open empty, room 88, open, occupied, man in bed, television on, glazed eyes deep inside their sockets. Room 104, open and occupied. Lady in bed with a visitor, also with grey hair, and a burgundy woollen cardigan. Room 120, open and empty. Room 121, open but she couldn’t tell if anyone was there. The bed was unmade and a slight raise in the blankets was notable but not prominent. Room 132, open, occupied, lady in bed. Lady visiting. Holding hands. Room 136, shut but ajar enough to see a slight figure wrapped in a blanket sitting in a chair, facing the door.

Almost there.

Room 137, 138, 139, 140.

She stopped briefly outside to clear her mind of the fits of adrenalin as she had made her way down the retirement village’s hospital unit corridor. An old man, assisted by two nurses, shuffled past, slower than she knew possible. She tried to return her heart to a steady pace, but all she could concentrate on was how to hide the tears that had now started gathering, from her grandma. She opened Room 141. Grandma lay in bed. Television on. Her eyes were closed and in her chest a faint beat vibrated. Her rice paper skin had fallen to hug her bones and made her heartbeat look like a tired but persistent trapped bird inside of a rib cage.

She noticed the smell. Of time and patience and slow disintegration. She felt for the first time a dislike for the human body to so cruelly waste away leaving our birds trapped inside, ignoring them as they constantly knock, asking to be let out. She noticed the sounds. Of dust and creases and a muffled orchestra of pain and loneliness. She felt for the first time a dislike for this cell they hold her grandma in, and all the other peoples’ grandmas and granddads. It felt stale and generic, and hopeless.

She sat next to her grandma and placed her hand on top of hers. Her hand felt fragile and understanding. She felt very aware of the different stages of life, and its different rhythms. She placed her hand at her own pulse on her neck just next to where the fright lay dormant and content.  She watched the comparison of her heart bird and her grandmas.  Although she knew it impossible, she felt a strong sense that they were talking to one another. From heart bird to heart bird. Through vibrations they communicated. Comforted one another. Reassured one another. There would be no bird, without its cage. There would be no grandma without her cell. There was no life without its death.

The building blocks of life. The blocks may have ceased building and commenced decaying however life remains, delicate and patient. Slowly and constantly unfolding.

The comfort she felt was the same comfort as she had found within the clocks pensive seconds. It was another reliable rhythm. Every beat, profound, as if it were the last.

Carolyn Guthrie

Carolyn Guthrie is a creative writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has a degree in Fine Arts and writes for her own small publication, Re-. Inspired by the likes of Miranda July and Sylvia Plath, Carolyn has a fascination with fiction that is painfully honest and honestly painful. To find out more about Carolyn's publication, click here.

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