From the moment we’re born, we all change. Usually, the changes are slow and measured, almost unnoticeable from day to day. But sometimes, as in this story, the experiences that form us are more abrupt, more...Kafkaesque.
Please accept this piece as my entry into the Identity competition.
Mother Only Wants the Best for You
by George Bronner
Mrs. Wren tipped the pot, filled her cup and lifted a spoon, all in one well-rehearsed ballet of breakfast. She loved the first meal of the day. Yes, the estate-canned preserves and rustic bran buns enthused her mornings, but this was not the main reason for the woman’s devotion.
No, Mrs. Augustin Wren awoke like a thunderclap each day before the cock of the crow with but one purpose--to make her family winners. To support them. To guide them in all ways. Her approach was simplicity itself: Chocolates, when earned. Vinegar, when necessary.
Many Rembrandts worry oils back and forth or bend clay to make the angels weep, but Mrs. Wren worked in more rarified hues--full contact manipulation, grasping the slimmest of silver linings and turning defeatist frowns upside down.
She oozed success and happiness and considered it her greatest work that her children go on to grow the empire, adding exponentially to the family pile.
Mrs. Wren planned ahead. “Don’t slouch,” she’d say. And, “Stop picking at that.”
Her husband beamed. “Your mother has such a fine speaking voice, don’t you think, children?”
“She always has our best interests at heart,” said the eldest, John.
“I love you, Mama,” said Marcie.
“We all do, Mama. Forever,” added the littlest, sugar-sweet Becca.
“Good,” Mother Wren replied. “Try not to disappoint me.”
As she pivoted in her seat to receive her family’s warmest embraces and fondest farewells before the start of the day, a flutter of feathers wafted from Mrs. Wren’s silken sleeve and dropped to the veranda floor. “Well,” she said, “doesn’t that feel better.”
Becca marched up.
“You’re better than popsicle sticks,” said Mrs. Wren. “Wait for the glue to dry.”
Becca hugged Mrs. Wren and Marcie stepped forward.
“Marcie, dear, boys are dumb, that’s why. Make them chase you for a change.”
Marcie sidestepped to the right and John took her place.
Mrs. Wren cast an eagle eye upon young John, inspecting him for lint and odors. “Today’s all about building consensus,” she said. “Right, Mr. Class President?”
“I pledge to let a smile be my umbrella,” said John.
“Always Be Closing. Way to go, suck-up.”
Finally, Mr. Wren stood before his wife, hat in hand.
“It’s only a board meeting,” she said. “Order the turkey...and sell it.”
“Your wish is my command,” said Mr. Wren.
The day slid by and everyone reported sunny updates during the dinner grilling.
Becca began on schedule. “Suspension bridge, check,” she said. “You’re the best, Mom.”
John technically jumped ahead, but he had big news. “Sent to the office for harassment, but managed to talk my way out. I consider that a win-win.”
“Nice job,” said Mrs. Wren.
“Way to go,” said Father.
Mrs. Wren turned her attention to her middling child. “Marcie?” she said.
“Split a cookie with Kevin; not sure of his intentions.”
“The cookie? One of his or one of yours?” Mrs. Wren asked.
Mrs. Wren popped her napkin and allowed it float upon her lap. “Better late than never,” she said.
“Sandwiches, big hit. I got the kind with toast. They thought it was clubbish.”
“That’ll have to do,” said Mrs. Wren, looking at her brood. “It seems you’ve managed to avoid catastrophe for another cycle of the sun, so I think we can consider today a success.”
The next morning, however, Mrs. Wren lost all thought of minor victories and advancements, as she awoke to discover the unfortunate legs of what appeared to be a chicken protruding from her knees. When she tried to push away the illusion she realized wings sprouted from her shoulders.
Understandably, she squawked and threw a mighty tantrum.
In her pique she flapped and flayed this way and that, beating the drapes and lamps into submission and unstuffing the matching bergeres and duvet. Her talons quite effectively striped the armoire and put a hurt on the parquet. The beloved Regency phone was the first to go.
The room appeared as if several dinosaurs fought with steak knives and then, for some reason, a goose exploded.
The doctor stood over Mrs. Wren, taking her pulse from a still-throbbing wingtip. “As I suspected, she’s turning into a bird,” said the Doctor. “Not a roasting fowl, a song bird I should think. Bit of good news.” He chuckled. “Cranberries out of season and all. Oh, and I believe she’s molting.”
“What can we do?” asked Father.
“Sell the cat...and lay in a supply of bloodworms,” said the Doctor. “The molting will take care of itself. Perfectly natural.”
The family asked if there was anything else he’d recommend.
The Doctor stroked his chin and returned his stethoscope to his bag. “Watch for mites...and support her emotionally, I should think.” He ran their Visa card and flew out the door.
“No one’s ever been a bird, before, have they, family? Your mother’s so excited,” said Mrs. Wren.
“We’re excited for you,” said Marcie.
“You should be. You’re bird kids. Don’t flub it.”
“Thank you for thinking of us, Mother,” cooed John.
“We’re nothing without your encouragement,” added Father.
“We love, love, love you, Mommy,” said tediously sweet Becca.
Mrs. Wren flapped a wing over the linens. “Look at my feathers,” she said. “They’re fabulous.”
Marcie beamed. “You’ll be the best bird mom ever.”
Mr. Wren puffed his chest. He felt like crowing. A bird. For a wife. “What a nice beak. Don’t you think, kids?”
Mrs. Wren slumbered through an entire afternoon and found herself perched atop a curtain rod when she awoke. Good thing, too, as the cat had taken a professional interest.
Mr. Wren waltzed in and sized things up. “This won’t do,” he said. “You need a change. C’mon, Mr. Boots.”
Mrs. Wren lit on her husband’s forefinger and he carried her into the breakfast nook, Mr. Boots hanging like a deflated duster from his other hand.
“Oh, a golden cage, just like the girls in the myths,” said Mrs. Wren as they turned the corner. “This is such an opportunity,” she warbled.
“We’ll keep you near the kitchen table so you can advise us every morning,” said Father.
John saluted. “Our fair captain, strong of eye and sure of course.”
“You’ll be our guide through thick and thin,” beamed Marcie.
“We’ll be good listeners, Mama,” assured little Becca.
Mrs. Wren spotted a large reflecting glass stuck to one side of the enclosure. “I can’t wait,” she said.
She flew into the cage. “Of course, I’ll be the famous bird mother, leading her flock from a golden cage near the toaster. You’ll be rich; I’ll get a cracker.”
The Wren family heard Mrs. Wren’s lovely song and marveled at their mother’s natural abilities. “Not even a day and she’s got the whole thing down,” pointed out Father. “That sounded like birdie Beethoven.”
“Oh, yes, Mother, think of how blessed you are,” said Marcie.
“If you can’t sell this, you’re schmucks,” Mrs. Wren called.
Father looked at his fledglings, surrounding the cage. “That was a whole new song,” he said. “Mother, you’re a gem.”
Mrs. Wren sang again. And again. And again. She studied her family and they studied her back. It didn’t matter what she said, all they discussed was her wonderful singing.
Mrs. Wren gave up. She could tell from their reactions they didn’t understand a word. She hopped over to a food tray and eyeballed a worm.
After a while her family opened the cage and encouraged her to exit, thinking it might return her voice, but she declined. She knew in her bones who she was. Mrs. Beatrice Wren was now Bertie the budgie and that was that. Unless she sprouted arms and grew back into her old self at some point, she could look forward to a life of preening by the spice rack and catching a new Style section on Sundays. C’est la vie.
This setback did not, of course, alter her assault, nor sway Mrs. Wren from her long-term goals. A tiger does not lose its stripes overnight.
The next morning, she started on the family the moment they walked though the door. “Marcie, it’s supposed to be a hair-do, not a hair-don’t. Becca, spend a little time on the treadmill. John, try to seem alive when you shake people’s hands. And Augustin. Clothing and salad dressing. Always a bad mix for you. Endeavor, shall we? You can all try, can’t you?”
Father beamed. “You know kids, I realize this was a sudden change, but I’ve never heard Mother sound better. Happier.”
“She’s so encouraging,” said Marcie.
“I can hear her urging me on,” added John.
“She sings so pretty. I bet she’s queen bird some day,” said that scene-stealing Becca.
“I can tell she loves her new position in the family,” said Father.
Mrs. Wren sang out. “Becca, put the butter knife away. Leave that bread alone.”
“It’s like our very own opera star,” said Marcie.
“She’s wonderful,” said John.
“I like her feathers,” giggled Becca.
“Not bacon, Augustin. It’s for the children. Becca, try to act your age. John, un-slit your eyes. There’s a good boy.”
“And you know what I just noticed, children. She’s still a chatterbox,” said Father. “She’s still Mom.”
Augustin raised his juice glass to the corner where the dead ivy wrapped around the cable line and Mr. Boots slept during the day, to the three-tiered home of Mrs. June Wren.
“Way to go, June. A great bird and a great wife. To Mom, kids.”
They all raised their fresh-squeezed orange juice. “Hear, hear,” they said.
“Pretty bird. Pretty bird,” added Becca.
Father turned to the family around the table. “Becca,” he said, “allow me to butter you a couple of nice, hot rolls. And Marci, after school, let’s pick out a new color for your hair. I’m sure Mom will approve one-hundred percent. Right, Mom?”
Hopping from foot to foot, Mrs. Wren belted out an enthusiastic approval.