FICTION November 1, 2013

Little Miss Bird-in-Hand

Shira Whiteeagle remembers

Dusty light leaks in through the front window and runs down the walls of Shira Whiteeagle’s sitting room. It is mid afternoon on a hot July day. The chirr of cicadas competes with a nearby lawnmower. Ice pops in a glass on the coffee table. Shira leans against her walker.

“Ms. Whiteeagle, I think we’ll have the best light if you sit on your couch, here,” says the man setting up the camera in the center of the room. He offers Shira his hand and together they walk to her couch. She sits.

“How’s this?” she asks.

“Looks great,” says the woman from the news network. She attaches a microphone clip to her collar. “All right, if you don’t mind, I think we’re ready to get started, Ms. Whiteeagle. Ready, Dan?” She nods at cameraman. He nods back.

“Ready, Jessica,” he says. Dan steps behind the camera and puts his hand up for a moment. Jessica waits for the sign. Dan’s hand drops. She turns to the camera and smiles.

“Jessica Enlow here for WVIT News Channel 7. We’re here with you today for a very special occasion. We’re in the home of Shira Whiteeagle on the day that marks her 105th birthday, making her the oldest citizen in both Bird-In-Hand County and the greater tri-state area. But, of course, the youngest at heart!” Jessica places her hand on Shira’s thigh and squeezes. Her rings catch the daylight.

“Ms. Whiteeagle also happens to share her birthday with our fair county! And she has lived in Bird-in-Hand all her life. She attended Bird-in-Hand public schools, then went on to major in anthropology at the state research university right here in Bird-in-Hand. Right out of college she got a job with the Bird-in-Hand Historical Society, and she’s worked with them ever since. Ms. Whiteeagle, first of all, happy birthday!”

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Jessica. And happy birthday to Bird-in-Hand,” says Shira. Jessica chuckles briefly, then continues.

“So I’d like to start off by asking you: what do you love the most about Bird-in-Hand?” Shira sits back in her seat a moment.

“I suppose, the people. The people of Bird-in-Hand are some of the best.”

“I understand you’ve struck up some life-long friendships here.”

“Of course, of course. I’ve known many of my friends since I was a young girl. Many of them have passed on, but there are some of us still kicking around,” Shira laughs and wrings her trembling hands.

“So Ms. Whiteeagle, what are some of your fondest memories of Bird-in-Hand?”

“I suppose I’d consider my time at the historical society the most memorable. We preserve history there after all.” Jessica raises her thin eyebrows just slightly.

“Anything else?”

“I suppose this moment.”

“This moment?”

“This interview, this day.”

“How so?”

“Well, I’m here. I’m 105, and I’m here.” Jessica laughs again.

“Well, you’re quite a role model, Ms. Whiteeagle. You really are, and on behalf of WVIT Channel 7 News, I wish you and Bird-in-Hand County a very happy birthday, and many more!”

Dan puts his hand up again.

“And, that’s a wrap!” he says, lowering his arm. Jessica gets up.

“How was that lighting on that one, Dan?” she asks.

“Looked good.”

“So we don’t need another take?” she says. She unclips her mike.

“No, I think that should do her.”

“All right, well, we need to get over to the studio. I need to get my change of clothes before we go to the Charter Day festival.”

“Just let me break this down, and we’re good to go.”

Jessica turns to Shira, still sitting on the couch.

“Bathroom?” she says.

“Down the hall there,” says Shira.

Dan kneels down and packs his camera into a case. He clips the case shut and pushes to his feet again.

“Ms. Whiteeagle?” he says.

“Yes?” says Shira.

“I did a little research for this interview, and I found some newspaper clippings from a while back. They said you were a contestant in the Little Miss Bird-in-Hand Pageant the year of the, um, the accident.”

Shira looks out her window. It’s a cloudless day. There are kids running through a sprinkler across the street. The water sprays out like the strings of an aquatic harp. One of the girls steps daintily onto the sprinkler and stops up the flow with his toes. When she pulls his foot away, the water shoots heavenward. The kids all laugh and dodge the spray.

“Ms. Whiteeagle?”

“Yes. Yes, I was there.”



“Is it true? I mean, is it real, what happened?”

Shira glances out the window again. The girl across the street has slipped on the slick grass and fallen on her back. She gets up and wipes soggy grass clippings from her legs, transferring the green mess from her thighs to her wet hands. She wriggles her grassy fingers at the other kids and throws her head back in laughter. Her mouth is open like she’s swallowing great gasps of air, like she’s experiencing glorious oxygen for the very first time.

The sprinkler tilts back in her direction. Ropey beams of water shoot up into the sky, then fall. The girl shakes her sopping head and stomps her foot on the ground like she’s a filly. She kicks up grass, readying herself. She runs through the spray again, sundrenched and arms akimbo like she’s fully alive, a perfectly human girl.

Annie Bilancini writes and teaches in Cleveland. She has been published in A cappella Zoo, matchbook, and Kinfolk Magazine.