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Song of the Mockingbird

Song of the Mockingbird

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Song of the Mockingbird

305 pages
4 hours
Apr 11, 2013


SONG OF THE MOCKINGBIRD is the story of a mature woman's self-discovery. Five years widowed but still bound to the man to whom she was married for thirty years, Doris gradually comes to discover her life not only is not over but is just beginning in ways she had never imagined possible. In the process, she also discovers a good deal about her marriage that contradicts the ideal image of it she has nurtured all her adult life.

Meanwhile, her daughter's own marriage is breaking up. After her father's death Evelyn willingly took over his role as her mother's guardian. Strong-willed by nature, she is nevertheless at a loss when she is no longer able to control her husband's will. Alone with a small child, she comes to discover that the mother she has treated almost as a second child is a source of strength where she had least expected one.

Doris's odyssey includes close friendships with two women who despise each other, a love affair which awakens her to a sense of her own sexuality she had never thought possible, and a new relationship with the daughter she has previously seen as merely a female clone of her late husband.

Apr 11, 2013

Tentang penulis

Thomas J. Hubschman (thomasjhubschman@gmail.com) is the author of Look at Me Now, Billy Boy, Song of the Mockingbird, My Bess, Father Walther's Temptation and The Jew's Wife & Other Stories (Savvy Press) and three science fiction novels. His work has appeared in New York Press, The Antigonish Review, Eclectica, The Blue Moon Review and many other publications. Two of his short stories were broadcast on the BBC World Service. He has also edited two anthologies of new writing from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, which remains his chief inspiration

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Song of the Mockingbird - Thomas J. Hubschman

Song of the Mockingbird

By Thomas J. Hubschman

Copyright © 2013 Thomas J. Hubschman

Published by Savvy Press at Smashwords

All rights reserved.

All the characters in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Savvy Press PO Box 63

Salem, NY 12865


ISBN : 978-1-939113-0-09

Other Books by Thomas J. Hubschman

Available at Smashwords

Look at Me Now (Novel)

My Bess (Novel)

Father Walther's Temptation (Novel)

Billy Boy (Novel)

The Jew's Wife & Other Stories


He sang (she had read somewhere that only male birds sang) all day and night. For a full week he had been regaling the neighborhood with a repertoire that put the local birds to shame. He trilled, warbled and whistled. And he did it all non-stop. He was going strong when she went to bed after the eleven o’clock news and was still at it when she awoke a few hours later for a cup of Postum. He was singing in the morning when she got up for good, and continued singing throughout the long hot afternoon. He was a marathon virtuoso, a Caruso of the treetops.

Mother, I’m sure it’s wonderful having such an exotic creature in the neighborhood. But did you call Dr. Reinhardt?

Doris had only spotted the bird that morning. Until then it had been impossible to tell where that endless chain of melody was coming from. She had not even been sure it was just one bird she was hearing. Given the fact that he seemed to pay no attention to the time of day (she heard some of the old biddies in her building discussing a petition to put a stop to the incessant song; to whom would they present such a document?) she had come to assume there were at least two birds, singing in shifts. But there he suddenly was this morning: a small gray object on top the television aerial three stories above her apartment. He was about the size of a blue jay but so unremarkable to the eye that she was shocked such a torrent of exquisite music could flow from so drab a creature.

Promise me you’ll call the doctor this morning.

Her daughter would not be badgering her if Harry were still alive. The girl and her father were two of a kind, strong-willed types who thought they knew better than she what was best for her. Well, it was one thing putting up with nagging from the man you loved, but if Evelyn thought she could up where Harry left off she was mistaken.

Three years after his death she could still not fully accept a world devoid of his presence. Nothing looked the same, not the spring crocus he used to report on after his early-morning walks as enthusiastically as if he had spotted some UFOs; not the fall leaves that he drove her a hundred miles to see; not even the taste of morning coffee, though she brewed it exactly as she did before his death. He seemed to have taken all of that with him—not the things themselves—the crocus still bloomed as purple as ever and the autumn leaves still turned blood-red. What was missing was the quality that had made them seem special when he was alive and which she had since come to realize had never been inherently their own.

I’ll call back in an hour to find out when your appointment is for.

Not once throughout the livelong night. Not once did the damn thing let up, Gerty Miller was complaining as she took her place on line in the dining hall. The building’s self-appointed fire marshal, a few weeks back she smelled gas in the laundry room and the fire department ended up evacuating all twelve floors for the better part of a morning. It was still cold weather then, but Gerty had stood on the frigid sidewalk with a couple dozen other shivering old ladies confident she was performing a life-saving service. The firemen never found any gas.

Doris, you sleep as light as I do. Wasn’t it awful?

What’s awful, Gerty?

That damn bird! It’s a public nuisance is what it is.

Gerty turned to repeat her complaint to the next available face, which happened to be Marge Sadowski’s. If Marge had been in the building the day Gerty smelled gas, no fire department would have been called and nobody would have been forced to stand out in the cold for two hours. Gerty passed on to the next person in the line.

Got another bee in her bonnet, Marge said as she and Doris headed toward the steam trays. Doris usually made lunch in her apartment, but after her daughter’s call she felt a need for company. Old busybody. Doesn’t know what to do with herself. Marge pointed to a slab of meatloaf which a young Hispanic dislodged and dropped on her plate. Doris knew one bite of it would give her indigestion for a week. If she had her way she’d exterminate all the birds and squirrels in creation.

Why squirrels? Doris said, settling for the overcooked fish.

Says they’re just rats with bushy tails. Claims one got into her son’s carriage. I don’t believe a word of it. I left my kids out in the yard for hours at a stretch. And that was in the Middle West where you get squirrels by the bushel. Leave it to Gerty Miller to go and find trouble. Is this table alright or would you rather sit closer to the window?

Doris said this spot was fine. The windows were too high up to see through, anyway. The dining hall was located in the building’s basement and doubled as a recreation room—arts and crafts, pinochle and canasta, exercise classes three times a week—a regular day camp for the superannuated. She never bothered with anything but the aerobics class, and attended that only irregularly, since she had an exercycle in her apartment.

Well, Saturday’s the big day, Marge said, salting her slab of meatloaf and heavily-gravied mashed potatoes. Our big chance to meet Mr. Wonderful.

Wonderful for what? Stepping all over our toes with his big feet?

Marge laughed. Jake Epstein stood—though not quite straight up because of his rheumatoid spine—as the building's self-appointed meeter and greeter at his post in the lobby where he and the few other male residents watched the female tenants pass in and out like teenage boys on a street corner.

There would be a cold buffet and the same little man or his clone who always sang at these affairs, accompanying himself on electric organ—Shine on, Harvest Moon—that sort of stuff. The crooner was so in love with his voice you couldn’t hear yourself think for the din. And it was depressing to watch all those old women vying for the attention of the few males present. It would be different if Harry were alive. He would make it seem comical, and she wouldn’t mind the noise or the bad potato salad or the gaps in the crowd caused by those who had died since the last affair.

God knows there ain’t much else to do around this place, Doris. We’ll sit together and protect each other from Jake and his cronies.

Doris knew it wasn’t good for her to mope in her apartment for weeks on end with no social activity but her weekly visit to her daughter’s. The worst that could happen if she attended this affair was that she would waste yet another evening, but at least she would have some company doing it.

Alright. Why not.

That’s the spirit, Doris. I’ll bring a flask of vodka. We’ll pour it into that lame punch they serve and make a spectacle of ourselves.

Doris laughed.

That’s it, Doris. Laugh and the world laughs with you.

It was only after Marge left that Doris remembered Marge was chairwoman of the dance committee. The woman had talked her into attending what amounted to her own affair, pretending the event was just as distasteful to her as it was to Doris. But Marge was no fool. She could also see her friend was suffering from widow’s syndrome, the building’s most common malady, when all was said and done. Besides, Marge was as good as her word: she would not abandon her to the loud music or the confusing sea of faces. And if the situation became unbearable she could always slip back to her apartment and read a book. In the meantime, she had better see if she had anything suitable to wear.

Doctors were not in short supply in the sprawling complex of town houses and modest highrises where Doris lived. She was able to get an appointment the very next day.

Two years, she replied to the internist’s question about when she last had a physical. Almost three, actually.

He wrote down the information mechanically. She had the feeling that if she were to add, Or was it four years...on Mars? Or was it Venus? he would take down the words verbatim. She even suspected that what he was writing in her folder—a brand new one, with sheets of white, unruled paper inside—was totally unrelated to what she was saying. He had yet to make eye contact with her since he had begun asking the usual questions about her family medical history and childhood illnesses. When their eyes, as if by accident, did meet he immediately looked away. He was a far cry from old Doctor Peterson who chatted you up and even flirted in a harmless way to put you at your ease. It was hard to imagine this fellow flirting with his own wife.

Finally he sat back and joined his hands precisely on his small paunch. He was not a bad-looking man, but he seemed so ill-at-ease she wondered why he would choose a profession that involved so much personal contact—or should have. Surely he would have been happier in a laboratory or the back of a pharmacy.

What can I do for you?

She summoned up her sweetest old-lady smile. I’m afraid I have trouble moving my bowels.

He blinked slowly and smiled as if he, and no one else, would be the judge of her intestinal motility. He asked some more questions, but this time didn’t bother writing down the answers. She suspected he didn’t record her responses because he had not brought up the subject himself and therefore had only a passing interest. Then he invited her into his examining room and told her to undress.

Once inside that narrow white cell he seemed to forget about her, concerned with some business in another patient’s folder. Meanwhile, she stood just a couple feet away, still fully clothed, not so much as loosening the top button of her blouse. It wasn’t until he had finished with the other patient’s record and began tearing off the old paper from the examining table that he noticed she was still dressed. She smiled sweetly at him, and he turned quite red, hurriedly got rid of his medical trash and exited.

She had planned her day so as to make the most of her doctor’s visit, having to depend on shuttle buses to ferry her from her apartment to the mall downtown—a sprawling complex of department stores and a few nearby highrises where the offices of some local industries and a few medical practitioners were located. Few of the residents in her building owned cars, depending on their children for transportation anyplace other than the mall. Some never left the building, not because they were disabled but because they had no desire to do so, spending their entire days in front of their TVs.

The mall was just a short walk from the medical arts building across the parking lot of a popular singles restaurant and an approach road connected to the Interstate. She could walk to the mall in ten minutes, although no one else was doing so, as if there were trolls lying in wait for those who defied the wisdom of city planners who did not see fit to provide even a sidewalk.

She liked having lunch in a restaurant on the mall’s upper level. It didn’t look like much from outside, just another doorless storefront among rows of shoe stores, ice cream outlets and homemade-pottery shops. But, inside, it reminded her of the eateries she used to find in the better department stores of her younger days—a menu of wholesome hot lunches, clean silverware and mature waitresses instead of impatient teenagers. The clientele in those places had all been women shoppers. No one forbid entry to the opposite sex, but it was as if the nature of the place, like the door of a woman’s lavatory, might set off an alarm bell in any male who ventured near. Even her genial husband had only accompanied her there once, not because he felt ill-at-ease—the more women around the better, as far as Harry was concerned—but because he said he felt like he was violating a temple of the Vestals.

She hadn’t thought to wear a hat. The thin blue kerchief tied around her head seemed to give no protection against the fierce midday sun which, following her long fast since breakfast, was making her feel a bit lightheaded. She tried to think what Harry would say if he were with her. Steady as she goes, old girl. I spy an oasis yonder, if it’s not just another mirage. But his words, even though imagined in the precise intonation of B-grade movie he would bring to them, was not the same as feeling his strong grip on her arm. She struggled up the first embankment bordering the mall’s approach road, shading her eyes against the glare and regretting she had left her sunglasses home along with her sun hat. The sun’s powerful rays seemed to turn grass, buildings and sky, into a single colorless miasma. It wouldn’t do to collapse in this brilliant no-man’s-land. She could lie baking for hours before anyone found her. Why hadn’t she stuck to the sidewalk like other women her age instead of trying to take this shortcut like some intrepid teenager?

Suddenly the air was laced with a barrage of notes she assumed must be coming from a radio. But there was no one nearby, and even as she squinted through the oppressive brilliance she realized who the author of those trills and warbles must be. Had he followed her here? His melody rose and fell as if riding the same heat waves blurring the outlines of the distant mall. He sang oblivious to the heat, just as he had all week, no more mindful of temperature than if he were not made of flesh and blood but were something from an other order of existence entirely. She was neither religious nor, with few exceptions, superstitious, but what she was hearing seemed so utterly otherworldly that the back of her scalp contracted with apprehension and delight.

Do you think it’s possible, Marge? Do you think it could have been the same bird?

Anything’s possible, honey. Maybe he’s got a crush on you.

They were sitting in the large yard behind their building. An early-evening breeze fluttered the young leaves in the trees above them. In a nearby bocci court, rows of lettuce, squash and tomatoes were being doused by an automatic sprinkler system. The building’s architect had been told the project’s population would be elderly Italians. When the Italians failed to materialize in any number, someone got the idea to turn the bocci courts into big window boxes and grow vegetables and flowers. When the building manager was informed the soil might contain heavy metals, new soil had to be imported, several truckloads of it. Fertilizer had to be added, which meant hiring a professional gardener who had to be kept on to do the planting because none of the residents were up to turning over the soil, even with a gas-powered tiller. Besides, what insurance carrier would pay for a strained back or worse under those circumstances? In the end, the gardener handled the entire operation from planting to harvest, and the residents for whom the garden was supposed to provide light exercise and meaningful activity (Birth, Death, Regeneration) ignored it.

You didn’t happen to notice if the bird absented himself from the premises for a couple hours at midday?

No, honey, I didn’t. I been running my tail off getting ready for this fool event on Saturday. Old people are worse than children. You have to mind you don’t show any favoritism or you have the rest all squawking at you. How did you make out at the doctor’s?

Oh, I’m fit as a fiddle...and ready for love.

Your daughter must be glad to hear that.

My daughter, Doris said, thinks she’s become my mother. But I had a perfectly adequate mother—and father—thank you.

Still, she must be happy to hear the good news.

She’s hedging her bets until all the test results are in.

A real optimist you’ve raised there, Doris. Still, at least she takes an interest. There are plenty here don’t hear from their children from one end of the year to the next.

Doris looked up toward the building’s water tower, but there was no sign of her bird, although she thought she had heard him briefly when she was fixing a chicken breast earlier in the evening. Still, he couldn’t be expected to remain on top of that tower all the time. He had to eat and, presumably, sleep.

These old bones can use a hot bath, Marge said, getting to her feet with difficulty.

Are you alright?

A touch of arthritis. Runs in the family.

You have something for it?

The quack I go to wanted to prescribe one of those fancy new drugs, but I wouldn’t hear of it. Friend of mine was on one of them and it ate up her kidneys. I’ll stick with good old aspirin.

Doris wasn’t sure if Marge Sadowski was older or younger than her, but whatever her age, that vigorous woman was the last person she expected to see stricken with an infirmity of the elderly. She looked down at her hands, bent them into a fist and relaxed them again. There was no stiffness. Even so, sometimes when she was washing dishes a plate or cup would slip from her grasp.

Wasn’t that Marge I saw hobbling away? asked Gerty Miller, massive in a purple-and red-muu-muu.

She has a little stiffness in her knee.

Is that right? She’d better have it looked after. Penny up in 8B had her knee go on the blink like that. Had arthroscopic surgery. In and out the same day. She felt brand new for a couple years. But it came back.

Gerty sat down with a sigh that was like the exhalation of a huge seat cushion.

Did she have another operation?

Hell, no. By then her heart gave out. She died a year ago. Gerty turned her thick neck toward the building’s top floors. Sounds like it’s moved on. Maybe we’ll get a little peace and quiet. She picked up the hem of her tentlike dress and fluttered it against her thighs. Damn nuisance, is what I say.

You’re not a bird fancier?

Gerty hunched her shoulders and considered the narrow rows of lettuce and squash as if they were acres of ripe corn. Can’t say I am. Not of the kind that don’t know light from dark, at least. That little twerp had me awake half the night. Good riddance is what I say.

Ever since Doris moved into the building, Gerty had periodically solicited her support for one cause or another. She tried to get up a petition to keep blacks out when there was a rumor an interracial couple would be moving in (the rumor was unfounded; the building was still lily-white). She also opposed the formation of a Gray Panthers chapter on the grounds it was a front organization for the Communist Party. And then there had been that bone-chilling evacuation in early spring.

Do you remember Pat Bauer, used to live in 6D on your floor?

She must have been before my time.

How long you been here, Doris? Three years?

Two, come this autumn.

Only two? Well, then, of course you wouldn’t remember Pat. She moved out, oh, three-four years ago. Went to one of those retirement villages in the Southwest. I got a letter from her today.

Is that so?

Gerty nodded emphatically, as if the woman’s relocation had been her idea.

Said she couldn’t be happier. They have everything you could possibly want—movies, live entertainment, dances. Plus, no children allowed. They have their own security force doesn’t allow them past the gate.

Even for a visit?

Right. Plus, every unit is equipped with a medical emergency system. You push one button for the fire department, another for the coronary-care unit.

It sounds wonderful, Doris teased. Do they have a button to summon a male escort?

Gerty regarded Doris with a strangely wounded look, her great jowels aquiver. A rash of perspiration beaded her brow. Doris tried to read the meaning of the hurt in those tiny eyes and tight rosebud mouth but couldn’t decide if she was looking at anger, grief or just a case of high blood pressure.

Doris, she’s no better off than she was right here in Jersey ++. The few men they got there want to be treated like princes. And they don’t just expect you to put out, she said, laying a clammy but remarkably small hand on her neighbor’s arm. They want a full-course meal and a floor show. And then they fall asleep over dessert!

Doris tried not to laugh, but the image of a geriatric Don Juan dozing off into his Jello Surprise was irresistible.

It’s true, Doris!

Later, during the evening news, she wondered what it took for a woman to descend to the level of the residents in the retirement village Gerty had described. Doris had seen a number of her building’s residents make fools of themselves just to attract a little male attention—a silly tiff that broke out between two women who had danced with the same man during one of those semi-annual socials; a hair-pulling match in the dining room over a photograph—but until she glimpsed the pool of loneliness just below the surface of Gerty Miller’s gruff obesity she had found such antics merely comical. She couldn’t imagine any man inciting that kind of reaction in her, at least none but her dead husband. Yet those women had husbands once. And those spouses, now dead like her own, had not been proof against the pathetic behavior their wives eventually succumbed to.

Her TV showed victims of a capsized ferry in the Far East bobbing up and down in the water like

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