By José Sotolongo
The birdhouse was a Christmas gift from her sister, Jenny, the one out in Wyoming she didn’t talk to much. It was an elaborate, oversized thing, an ostentatious mansion in miniature, with little windows where the birds could fly in and out of. Beatrice didn’t know what to do with it. There was no pole with it, and it was way too big and heavy to attach to a tree.
“It’s beautiful,” Beatrice told her sister on the phone. “Thank you.”
She waited to see if Jenny thanked her for the gift she had sent, a crystal picture frame. Jenny liked to display photos of herself and the dogs. She had never married, which was true for all three sisters. But, of course, no thanks came from Jenny.
“Did you get my gift?” Beatrice asked nevertheless.
“Yes. It got here just fine.”
Afterwards, Beatrice scowled at the birdhouse and took it outside. She propped it up in the dividing trunk of a crabapple near the garage. It sat a little crooked, but it was steady enough, and she didn’t think the birds would care it wasn’t level.
Months later, in the spring, she got a call from her other sister, Maura who, at sixty, was the youngest of the three and lived just an hour away in Pennsylvania.
“They found a lump in my breast,” Maura said. “I’m having surgery next week.”
“Oh, my God, Maura. Do they think it’s cancer?”
“They won’t know until it’s out. But I’m not worried. Que sera, sera.”
“Well, good luck. I should get myself checked out, too.” It was April. She was way overdue for her physical. “Did you tell Jenny?”
“Yes. But she couldn’t talk much. Busy with her dogs.”
By June, Maura had finished her chemotherapy, a temporizing measure, because the cancer would not be cured, and Beatrice drove to visit her. On her way to the garage the morning of her trip, she saw that the fancy birdhouse was falling apart. Winter had ruined the white enamel on the wood, and part of the roof was missing. She looked inside and saw that it was devoid of twigs and pine needles. No birds had used it to nest in. It was about to fall off the tree, so she repositioned it before she got in the car.
When she got to Maura’s, she made lunch. As she cleaned up and got ready to drive back home, Maura said, “Have you heard from Jenny?”
Beatrice knew this meant Jenny hadn’t called Maura despite the cancer. “No, not since Christmas. And you?” Beatrice said.
“Not since I called her to let her know about the chemo several weeks ago.”
After a minute, Beatrice said, “Middle sister. Always angry. I’ll bet she’s got a good heart in there someplace.”
“I know. I just wish she showed it a little more, the bitch.”
Beatrice remembered the generosity of the expensive birdhouse, and regretted leaving it out over the winter. Like purposeful neglect. Then she looked at her younger sister, always the spirited child, now with cancer. She went to where Maura was sitting and hugged her good-bye.
On the drive back, Beatrice told herself she had to call her doctor for a checkup. She still hadn’t done it, and she wasn’t sure there wasn’t something different about her right breast, deep inside, behind the nipple.
When she got home, she put the car in the garage and saw that the birdhouse had fallen from the tree and broken apart into many pieces, the unpainted pine exposed. She started walking towards her front door, then turned around, looked at the debris again, and shook her head.
Beatrice went inside and called the doctor for an appointment. She wanted to be around for a few more winters, to be there for whichever sister needed her next.