At the kitchen sink, Julia felt the warm, moist spring breeze blowing in through the open window brush her cheeks. She ran her tongue across her lips, certain she could taste the honeysuckle that perfumed the air. Her hands were in a dishpan of lemon scented sudsy water. She wiggled her fingers, sending ripples across the water’s surface, creating more suds. Using a sponge she wiped a plate that was in the pan and then rinsed it off and placed it in the dish drainer with the other plate. They were the last plates of a set given to her by her mother when she got married. The rim of the plate was decorated with miniature bouquets of lilacs tied together with bright red ribbons. Next she washed a frying pan that turned the water greasy. As she lifted it out of the pan, she glanced up at the window. A hummingbird with bright red, purple and blue feathers on its neck was stationary in mid-air, its tiny wings a blur as they flapped. It was looking straight at her with one eye.
“Henry, there’s the first hummingbird of the season,” she said. “It’s so small it could fit in the palm of my hand.”
Seated at the kitchen table, Henry flipped the page of a magazine and without looking up, said, “What did you say?”
The hummingbird turned its body and stared at her with the other eye.
“A hummingbird is right outside the window,” she said. “It’s looking at me in a very strange way.”
Henry turned the page and gazed longingly at an advertisement for a set of gulf clubs. “A hummingbird is staring at you? Are you crazy? Why would it do that?”
Julia turned from the window, and said, “I’m not crazy. I have no idea why it’s looking at me. See for yourself.”
Henry looked up at the window. The hummingbird was gone.
“I don’t see a hummingbird,” he said.
Julia turned back to the window. “It flew away. Hummingbirds are incredibly fast. But it was looking directly at me, watching me.”
Henry flipped a page and stared at a picture of a beautiful girl in a bikini lying on the bow of a yacht. “Sure, it was.”
Julia sat in the window seat in her bedroom sewing a button onto one of Henry’s shirts. The breeze flowing in through the open window tousled her bobbed, gray-streaked brown hair. She enjoyed watching how nimbly her long, slender fingers pulled the needle and thread through the button holes; Henry had once said her fingers were beautiful, but that was many years ago. She could hear him down in the living room shouting at the television while watching a football game. Finished with the button, she snipped the thread and laid the shirt in her lap. She looked out the window. Streaks of pink and purple were fanned out across the twilight sky. The cry of a loon from the nearby lake reverberated across the pine woods.
The same hummingbird as before suddenly appeared outside the window. It was close enough that Julia could hear the humming of its wings. It stared at her.
Startled, Julia jumped up and took several steps back from the window while clutching Henry’s shirt to her breast. “What do you want?” she said to the bird.
The hummingbird remained stationary for a moment and then flew into the room. It eyed the yellow roses printed on the wallpaper and then flew up to one. It tapped the flower several times with its pencil-like beak and then flew to within inches of Julia’s face where it hovered, looking at her.
Feeling on her face the breeze created by the bird’s rapidly moving wings, Julia dropped the shirt onto the floor and put her fingertips to her cheek. She felt as if she were being kissed ever-so-gently.
“What are you doing?” Henry said, standing in the bedroom doorway. He was grasping a lottery ticket in his calloused, meaty hand.
Julia turned. “The hummingbird.”
Julia turned and saw that the bird was gone. She ran to the window and looked out. The sky was a smokey gray. Dusk had begun to blanket the woods. A hawk’s screech sounded from the nearby trees.
“The hummingbird I saw after dinner was here, in this room, just a few minutes ago,” she said.
Henry looked down at his shirt. “Why is my shirt on the floor?”
“I . . . the hummingbird . . . I’m sorry,” she said, and then rushed over and picked it up.
Henry entered the room and sat down on the edge of the bed. The springs beneath the mattress squeaked under his weight.
“I almost won a million dollars,” he said, holding up the ticket. “I was only two numbers off.”
Putting the shirt on a hanger, Julia said, “There really was a hummingbird in here.”
“Imagine what we could do with a million bucks,” he said as he opened the drawer in the bedside stand and tossed the ticket in with a pile of other tickets. He closed the drawer and then bent down and took off his boots. He threw them into a corner, causing the caked-on mud to crumble off.
Julia put the shirt in the closet. “There’s something strange about that hummingbird,” she said as she returned to the window seat and sat down. She looked out the window and inhaled the aromas of pine and cedar. Pin pricks of sparkling stars dotted the black sky. A glowing, white crescent moon cast its light across the landscape.
“Just once I wish I could bet on the winning team in a game,” Henry said as he began to unbutton his shirt. The third button down popped off and landed near his shoes.
Rays of moonlight filled Julia’s bedroom. Hearing the hum of the hummingbird she awoke with a start. The bird was inches from her face. She looked over at Henry. He was on his back, sound asleep, snoring loudly and exhaling stale breath. The bird tapped her nose with its beak.
“What do you want?” she said to it in a whisper.
The bird went to the open window and hung in the air, staring at her.
She threw aside her covers and quietly climbed out of bed. Bare footed and in her pale blue nightgown she crossed the bedroom and stepped up onto the window seat, and then climbed onto the bird’s back, straddling it. She clutched the feathers on the sides of its neck.
The bird turned and carried Julia away. It descended to the garden where it darted from flower to flower, sucking the nectar from white crocus’s, yellow daffodils, pink tulips and honeysuckle. It then flew into the woods, dodging the tree branches loaded with pine needles. Coming out of the woods, it then crossed over the lake, passing dragonflies, clouds of gnats and flew over croaking toads on lily pads and turtles riding atop floating tree branches. On the far shore the hummingbird entered a small, moonlit meadow where deer feasted on the fresh sprouts of grass and butterflies flitted from one wildflower to the next. It stopped amidst a patch of purple larkspur where Julia climbed off the bird’s back.
“I can’t stay here for very long,” she said. “If Henry wakes up he’ll wonder where I’ve gone.”
The bird gazed at her with one eye, and then with the other eye. It then flew to a cluster of light blue forget-me-nots and began to drink the nectar.
Julia wandered around he meadow, examining the petals of the flowers and letting butterflies alight on her outstretched fingers. As the first rays of dawn sunlight appeared above the treetops, and feeling drowsy, Julia laid down in a bed of clover. With her face illuminated by the moonlight, she closed her eyes and breathed in the aromas of the meadow.
“Are you going to sleep all day?” It was Henry.
Julia opened her eyes.
He was standing next to the bed and was tightly grasping her arm. A splotch of shaving cream was in his left nostril. As always he had on too much aftershave and its pungent odor wafted from him like slow moving fog. “Are you going to fix my breakfast, or what?” he said.
She sat up, and excitedly said, “Henry, I had the most incredible experience during the night. I rode on the back of the hummingbird to a meadow on the other side of the lake. It was so beautiful.”
He walked to the doorway and before going out, said, “I don’t have time to listen to your wacky dreams. Are you going to fix my breakfast or not?”
Julia sat on the edge of the bed and wiped bits of clover from her feet, and then got up and dressed. She glanced at the window several times in hopes of seeing the hummingbird. Before leaving the bedroom she knelt on the window seat and scanned the yard in search of the bird.
In the kitchen Henry was seated at the table. His fishing pole and tackle box were on the floor next to his chair. He was tying a hook onto the end of the fishing line. “I should have left earlier, but I thought I’d go down to the lake and see if I can finally catch that monster catfish. There’s a hundred dollars being given by Karl’s barber shop to anyone who does.”
Julia put the coffee on the stove. At the sink, she opened the window and waited several minutes before she took the two plates from the dish drainer along with forks and knives to the table. She placed one setting in front of Henry and was about to sit the other plate where she sat but noticed for the first time that several of the lilac bouquets were faded, almost to the point of being invisible.
“I didn’t dream it,” she said, sitting the plate down hard on the table.
Henry looked up. “Didn’t dream what?”
“About riding on the hummingbird’s back to the meadow,” she said.
“No one could ride on the back of a hummingbird. It’s too small.”
She put the utensils next to her plate, got the frying pan, spatula, eggs and bacon and went to the stove and made breakfast.
“That catfish nibbled on my bait. I’m sure of it,” Henry said. Next time I’m sure to get him.” He sat on the edge of the bed and took off his boots and tossed them in the corner. “I did catch six smaller ones. I filled the sink with water and put them in it. You can clean them in the morning. Some catfish, biscuits and eggs would be great for breakfast.”
Sitting on the window seat, Julia leaned on the window sill and stared up at the glowing moon. A chorus of crickets and the hooting of an owl rose out of the darkness of the woods.
“What did you do today?” he said as he took off his shirt.
“Puttered around in the garden,” she said watching a moth fly near the window and then flit away. She sighed.
With his shirt in his lap, he said, “There’s a football pool going on at work. I need to decide tomorrow what I’m going to choose.” He pulled on a loose button, detaching it from the shirt. He tossed the button in the corner with his shoes and then waded up the shirt and tossed it on top of his boots.
Julia left the window and went to her vanity dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and ran her fingertips over the crows feet around the corners of her eyes.
“I’m getting old,” she said.
She turned and saw that Henry was in bed. She shut off the light, kicked off her slippers and got into bed. Henry smelled like sweat and fish. His eyes were closed. She rolled on her side and stared at the window until Henry began to snore, and then she rolled onto her back and closed her eyes.
The tapping on her nose woke her. The hummingbird was in front of her face. It looked into her left eye and then her right eye. It then flew to the window and remained there, its wings humming.
Julia tossed the covers aside and got out of bed. At the vanity dresser she took off her wedding ring and placed it on top of her black lacquered jewelry box. She removed her pink nightgown and laid it across the vanity dresser bench. Before stepping up onto the window seat she blew a kiss to Henry. From the window seat she crawled onto the hummingbird’s back and flew away.
Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 200 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. He has two collections of short stories that have been published; Sand, published by Clarendon House Publications, and Heat, published by Czykmate Productions. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.