The Viking Voice

North Shore Middle School's Student-Run Newspaper

The Viking Voice

The Viking Voice

Yankees Offseason Update
Yankees Offseason Update
February 8, 2024
February Pet of the Month
February Pet of the Month
February 8, 2024
In A Flash
In A Flash
February 8, 2024

The Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove

There was a mourning dove on the ground.

It really was beautiful, with a gray plumage and smudges of purple and blue on the fringes of its wings and eyelids. 

It was lying on the floor, in our garden.

 

But now Grandma was lying, just like the mourning dove, on a white bed surrounded by white walls in a white building. 

In the hospital.

I carefully peered at the dove again. It didn’t move. I scooped up a stick from the ground and gently poked the dove’s body. It didn’t move. 

“Mama!” I called over my shoulder to the house. “Come here! I want to show you something!”

I heard footsteps come and turned my head back to the bird. 

“Yes, Liv?” My beautiful mother appeared at my side, face weathered down by worry and age, brown eyes crinkling at the corners. She spotted the dove. 

“Oh.” She said carefully. “Is it okay?”

“I think it’s dead.” I said, voice cracking. 

Mama flinched.

And it disgusted me. 

It seemed, Mama was just like the nurses. The nurses with their calm smiles and reassuring demeanors, with white suits and purple lipstick. The clack clack clack of their high heels as they prepared to walk toward me with the news that would change my life. The nurses that feared the word that it seemed Mama feared as well: dead. As if avoiding the word would make me feel better. As if avoiding the word would somehow save Grandma. As if avoiding the word would somehow stop the Bomb and save everyone. To save me. Instead, they used formal, primitive words like “terminal”, or “end”, and threw them all like stones at my feet. I had always thought that they used those words to escape the burden. Now, I wondered: What burden? The burden of splaying the truth out to me and the burden of everyone blaming you.

I thought saying dead was being brave. 

The problem was that I was far from brave. I wasn’t even close.

But I was trying. 

“No, Liv, I don’t think it is.” Mama said sternly. She slid her slim fingers under the bird and held it in her arms.

Only now could I see the faint rise and fall of the bird’s delicate chest.  I stared at it, marveling at the soft indication of life.

“Is it going to be okay?” I whispered, eyes fixed on the dove’s, wishing for them to be open. 

“I don’t know,” Mama said, a troubled look on her face. “We don’t have much time to care for it, because…” she trailed off, and I finished her sentence in my head, even though I knew that wasn’t what she was about to say. 

Because the Bomb is coming.

The Bomb was inevitable, and it was coming fast. And I could do nothing about it. All I could do was wait quietly in my own little safety bubble like a good little girl and hope that it wouldn’t come. But it will.

It always will.

But I can slow it down. I can’t make the Bomb stop coming but I can make it come slower.

Or seem slower.

And most of all, I couldn’t let this little bird die.

“I will,” I said, straightening. “I will care for it. I promise.”

I carefully took the bird from my mother. It was freezing, the cold seeped into my arms and numbed my bones. I unraveled the bright red scarf from my neck and wrapped it around the bird, tucking its little wings under the frayed fabric. It looked so peaceful, snug under all those thick layers.

Quietly, in my mind, where nobody could hear, I wondered if that was what grandma would look like…

I shook my head a little to clear it, and brought it indoors, my breath steaming in the cold. I could feel my mother’s presence behind me, could feel her eyes fixed on me.

Once I got inside, the warmth enveloped me and I brushed ebony hair behind my ear. Gently, I lay the bird on our faded purple couch and sat beside it, the couch sinking under my weight and down, down, down.

I released the tension of my knotted limbs, my cheek touching the coarse fabric of the couch as I observed the bird.

Now, its breaths were stronger, more sure, more certain. I sat there for a long time, just simply looking at the rise and fall of its chest and the small, slight curve of its beak. I didn’t know how long I sat there, and didn’t care. The world felt so small, then, just me and my bird, huddled up there. Safe from all the horrors and traumas of the world, at least for a little while.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I felt was my mom gently shaking me awake, murmuring, “Liv, Olivia, wake up” again and again under her breath. 

I slowly peeled my eyelids open, groggily gripping around me at the couch I was on as my mom slowly came into focus.

I glanced beside me and saw the bird, very much alive, standing up now, the remains of the scarf unraveled around him like a pool of roses.

Relieved, I stared into those deep mahogany eyes and felt them look back, cautiously.

Liv,” my mother’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Liv, we’re going to go visit your grandmother. I want to check how she’s doing.”

Those words seemed to freeze in my mind, my consciousness battering away at the sentences, trying to make sense of them. Right. Visit my grandma. See how she’s doing.

They were such normal words. Simple words.

So why was I so afraid?

Be brave, Liv, I told myself firmly. Say yes.

“Yes,” The word formed automatically in my mouth, not even realizing it, but by then it was too late to take it back, for my mother had already formed a small smile. It would be cruel to take that smile back. Smiles were such a precious thing, a sign of happiness and hope. I didn’t ever want to take that back.

“I’ll wait for you in the car,” my mother said, turning her back on me.

I stared at the bird again. Rising, I walked quietly to the kitchen, the soft padding of my socks barely making any noise, and pulled out a large brown cardboard box. Pulling it back to the living room, the box made squeaking noises as it scratched along the floor. Wincing, I carefully picked the bird up again, and placed it in the center of the box, and waited for a reaction. 

The dove poked curiously around the box, timid and a little afraid. But I didn’t have time to wait for it to get used to it. I fumbled in the cabinet, searching for the tiny packet of bird seeds my mom had purchased a couple of weeks back. My hand closed around the thin plastic and I ripped it open, losing a few seeds in the process. Grabbing a dish, I shook out some seeds and placed it in front of the bird, as well as another dish of water.

I took a last quick glance at the bird. It looked quietly back at me, eyes boring into mine, intense and flecked with black and gold. 

I turned away and closed the door behind me, climbing into the car.

“Ready?” My mother timidly asked, hands clenching the wheel so tightly I could see the nail marks on the leather.

“Yeah, sure,” I muttered. I knew I wasn’t, but I had better start.

 

_______________

 

I shivered, the pungent  smell of alcohol and wipes overpowering my nose as we stepped into the hospital. Together. My shoes clacked loudly against the polished marble floor, goosebumps popping up against my skin. Both anticipation and dread sent my heart pounding against my chest, so loud I knew the whole room could hear.

“Hi,” The receptionist said, with a wide smile stretching the skin on her face. Those pearly white teeth gleamed mockingly at me. “How may I help you today?”

“Hi,” my mom said, tugging uncomfortably at her jacket. “We’re here to see Eliza. Eliza Goldstein.”

“Ah, yes, it says she’s in room number 134, to the left,” The receptionist smiled her sickly smile. “Next!”

My mother grasped my hand in hers and we walked to the room, together, shoulders rubbing side by side. My mind raced, as though through a stop-motion video, flashing through all the possibilities and “What if”s or “might”s and sent my stomach in a panic. What would she look like? Would she be okay?

My hands perspired, damp with cold sweat. I wiped them on my leggings and felt the coolness seep into my skin. At last, we came in front of a door.

The door.

I stared at the mahogany door, counting each swirl and knot that blanketed the wood. Was I ready?

No, I wasn’t, I decided, but I’m going to try.

My mother pushed open the door before me, braver than me. Of course she was braver than me. I would never be as tall, or as strong as her. But I will try.

Try, it seemed, was the key word. I would try to do everything because I couldn’t. Because I was too weak.

I made to open the door, then hesitated. Pulling out my phone, I clicked on “Voice Memos” and tapped on the bright red recording button.

I would have to relish every moment now.

Finally, I closed my fingers around the ice-cold doorknob and pushed.

White, blinding light overpowered my eyes as I stood there for a second, letting my eyes adjust to the brightness. 

There was a big, fluffy hospital bed, where my beautiful grandmother lay. She looked okay, peaceful and emmitting light, as always. My mom stood, her poise relaxed, and I let out a relieved breath.

Rushing to her side, I saw my grandmother’s lips curl gently and part. “Hello, Olivia.”

A giant wave of emotions crashed over me, leaving me shaking. Relief, happiness, disbelief, a little fear, and a little shock.

“Hi, Grandma.” I whispered, reaching out my trembling hand to touch her face.

I gazed longingly into her deep blue eyes, filled with wisdom and experience. Her gray hair streaked with white spilled across the pristine white pillows. Wrinkles covered her face, an ancient map of her life. “How are you doing, Grandma? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she answered steadily, staring straight into my eyes. “You know I’m strong, right? I can fight through anything.”

A lump appeared suddenly in my throat and suddenly my eyes grew hot. I swallowed hard, trying to push that lump down. “Yes, I know,” I was proud that I kept my voice from trembling, even though I still felt a tear drip slowly down my face, tasting it in my mouth. “I know, Grandma, I know.”

Her eyes softened, “Oh, Olivia. It’s all going to be okay.”

But I’m tired, I wanted to shout. I’m tired of everything being okay. I’m tired of everyone telling me that everything is okay. Because it’s not. It’s never going to be okay. The Bomb is coming and none of you can stop it.

Instead, I nodded numbly, curling a finger around hers, her warmth seeping into my cold hands. “Yes. I know.”

“Do you know when they will let you out?” 

I jumped. I had almost forgotten my mom was there.

My grandma shook her head, worry clouding her face. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

A deafening, heavy silence dropped between us, and I sucked in air through my mouth. My stomach swooped unpleasantly, and I knotted my fingers behind my back, picking at the skin until they bled.

“We should go,” I said, my voice so loud in the silence.

My mother shook her head, as though to clear it. “Yes, I have things to do. See you later, Mom.”

It seemed strange that my mom had a mom, even though the proof was right there in front of my face. It pained me to think that my mom loved grandma just as much as I loved her, and I tried to imagine what she could be going through right now. My mom’s warm hand enveloped mine, and I looked up. 

Her eyes were unusually bright, and I looked away as grandma said, “Hey, everything’s going to be fine.”

My mom dragged a hand over her face and sniffed, squeezing my hand tighter. I squeezed back as hard as I could, trying to channel whatever strength I had left. She needed me. I needed her.

As we arrived home, my mom dropped her keys on the table, the loud sound causing a series of high pitched chirps coming from the cardboard box.

“The dove!” I exclaimed, rushing to the box. To my pleasure, the bird seemed to have recovered a bit, not fully, but I could see its eyes had a sharper, brighter glint and now it was scratching the side of the box excitedly. 

Turning back to my mom, I gave her a tentative smile. Her lips quirked upward. Not a smile, but close. And it was enough. I walked to her, steadily, surely, and wrapped my arms around her and squeezed.

We were just two people in a lonely world. Together.

 

_______________

 

I tapped my pencil impatiently against my desk, counting down the seconds until the bell.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

“Can you stop?

My friend Bella whispered, annoyed. 

Glaring at her, I shoot back, “No, Bella, I can’t stop.”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, she leaned forward. “Why not? All day you’ve been fidgety, not paying attention to what I was saying and stuff. Actually, I take that back. All week. What’s up with you?”

So, basically, my grandma just got cancer and my mom’s really sad, so all day I’ve been thinking about how I could possibly sneak into the hospital to visit her every day, and you just don’t understand anything! Who do you think you are?!

“Nothing,” I muttered.

She let out an audible groan just as the bell rang.

I leapt up and quickly gathered up all my stuff and stalked toward my locker, shoulder knocking into her’s.

“Doesn’t understand anything,” I fumed under my breath, roughly pushing past other students.

“Hey,” Bella tapped my shoulder. “What’s up? You aren’t usually like this.”

“Yeah,” I said, annoyance still coursing through me. “I know.”

“Wanna go and watch a movie together? Just the two of us?”

The offer sounded wonderful, and I dreamed of it. Stubbornly I squashed the thought and said, “Nah. I’ve got better things to do.”

I would never forget the moment as Bella’s face fell as she rushed past me without turning back.

I stood there for a moment, wondering if I had done the right thing refusing her. Yes, I thought savagely. Yes, it was. Grandma needs you.

As I walked out of the building, cool air blasted me, ruffling my hair, sending me trembling. I made to take the normal route home, then hesitated. Rummaging through my backpack, I pulled out my phone and hastily texted my mom:

 

Gonna go to

Hesitating, I bit my lip and sighed. I had never been much of a liar. But this was for the best.

 

Gonna go to Bella’s house for a bit. She needs help with hw. See u later.

 

Stowing the phone into my pocket, I blew hair out of my eyes and watched the soft tendrils dance in the wind before they settled on my face again. Not sure I had made the right decision, I started walking.

But not to my house.

 

_______________

 

As I walked through the familiar doors of the hospital, cold air blasted me from the air conditioners inside. I nervously fingered the fringe of my sweatshirt, swept hair over my shoulders, and put on a confident smile.

“Hi,” I said, cringing at how loud my voice sounded in the hollow room. 

The same receptionist was there. She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow and asked, “Um, what are you doing here?”

I clenched my hands, my nails digging into the flesh. “I’m here to see Eliza Goldstein.”

She stared at me, tilting her head as a small smile played across her lips. It wasn’t happiness, like my mother’s smiles. No, this was a sneer.

And I didn’t like it one bit.

I cleared my throat and repeated, “I want to see my grandmother, Eliza Goldstein.” The words were clear and didn’t waver, and I was proud of it.

“134.” The receptionist said, folding her hands across her chest, cold black eyes penetrating me. As if this wasn’t what she was expecting.

But I was tired of being what people expected. Tired of hiding in the corner and tired of not making my own moves. This would change today.

“Thank you.” I stalked into the depths of the hospital, ignoring the scandalized expression on the receptionist’s face as her eyes followed me.

Pulling out my phone again, I didn’t hesitate before punching the “record” button and opening the door.

“Hey, Grandma,” I said gently, rushing to her side.

Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled softly. “Hello, Olivia. Where is your mother?”

And that was the question I had been dreading. Knotting my fingers behind my back, I said, “She’s in the car.”

A sort of shock settled over me. How dare I lie to my grandmother? She was the sweetest, most honest person ever. I gnawed at the inside of my lip until the metallic taste of blood flooded my mouth.

“Okay…” she said, but I could sense uncertainty lacing her voice. “Well, it sure is nice to see you.” Her voice broke off and she closed her eyes to take a deep breath before saying, “Yes, nice to see you. Stop by more often? I know you’re busy, based on your mother’s phone calls.”

Suddenly, I noticed that my grandmother wasn’t the same as she was before. Her breathing was labored and harsher, making rasping noises every time she inhaled, and her eyes were glassy. I grabbed her cold hands and asked, “Grandma. Are you okay?”

She smiled, “Of course, Liv.”

I pretended not to notice the way her forehead wrinkled or the sudden rigidness of her fingers after the lie.

Feigning obliviation, I glanced at my watch and my heart lurched. “I have to go! I’ll be back tomorrow!” Without further explanation, I squeezed her hand tightly and ran out of the room and back home. Hearing the exasperated sigh of the receptionist, I bit my lip nervously and ran as fast as I could back home.

 

I did it everyday, every single day, and my mom never knew.

I thought she never knew.

 

One Week Later…

 

“Hey! Hey, Liv!”

I turned around abruptly, shoulders relaxing as I spotted Bella. “Hi, Bella! What’s up?”

I saw her bite her lip uncomfortably and my heart lurched. “What happened, Bella?”

“Nothing,” Bella said, “I was just wondering if you had time to go watch a movie with me.”

I suddenly found a great interest in my shoes. “Well, you see, I kinda have to go somewhere after school…” I didn’t know how to reject her kindly. 

“It’ll be fun,” Bella smiled tentatively, “My dad told me it was a really good movie. He already gave me the tickets.”

I knew I had to say no, that I had better, more important things to do, and that my grandma needed me. But some small, childish yearning awakened. How long has it been since I had fun? 

“Sure,” I decided. What was wrong with going to the movies? I was sure my grandma wouldn’t mind. But come to think of it, she had looked a little pale the last time I had seen her. “What movie?”

Bella practically lit up as she said excitedly, “‘The Man Named Otto’. It’s supposed to be really good!”

I smiled a bit at her enthusiasm. “Okay, I’ll go get my stuff. Meet me at your locker.”

_______________

 

I laughed, face flushing, as Bella bounced energetically beside me. 

People swarmed around us, holding buckets of popcorn and chattering excitedly. 

“We’re number 3,” I told her. “What movie did you say we were watching again?”

“The Otto man thing,” she replied, blowing strands of hair out of her face. “Thought you, you know, might want to separate from your cousin a little bit.”

My stomach swooped unpleasantly as she forced a grin to light up her face. She had told Bella, a few days ago, that she had been taking care of her baby cousin when she was actually sitting, hours after hours, by her grandmother’s side, holding her hand and willing her to keep living. How many lies would she have to tell until the Bomb finally came and melted all of them? How many lies to obscure the terrible truth that lay deep in my heart and threatened to explode?

“We should go,” I said hurriedly, “I can’t wait!”

They took their seats in the center of the dim theater, the large screen blank and white before it lit up with candy-bright colors. 

Relaxing my shoulders, I smiled as my minds were filled with nothing but the characters and story of the movie. 

That was, until, my face slackened and paled, and I began seeing myself in Otto.

The old man who was struggling to accept his wife’s death and refuses to interact with anyone. And one thought occured to my head:

That could be me.

My palms perspired against the soft armrests and closed around the big paper bucket of popcorn. I watched, horror enveloping my eyes as they reflected the screen.

That could be me.

I watched numbly as the man Otto fixed a noose on the ceiling and carefully slipped his own neck into it. He wanted to hang himself.

My mind screamed, no!

But of course, no one heard.

I watched as his feet fumbled on the table that was beneath him.

I watched as the table fell…

It’s just a movie. All a movie. It’s all fake.

That was, until that stupid screen started showing Otto’s flashbacks and my eyes glazed over and I started a movie in my own mind, my memories, my thoughts.

My grandmother.

All the possibilities. I was scared of the future. I wasn’t brave. I was scared to face the future once she was gone. 

Once my grandmother wasn’t with us anymore.

With me anymore.

How would I react?

Would I be calm, grieving but strong? Sad but resilient? Or, more likely, drown in the pool of grief and never resurface again?

My hands were suddenly cold and my eyes saw again. A rush of air escaped from my lungs.

Otto had escaped. He had survived and the rope had broken.

But would the rope break for me too? Or would it hold on to me as tight as can be until I chose to let it go?

But letting go of the rope was hard.

Too hard for me.

“Liv!”

I started, looking wildly around until my eyes settled on Bella’s worried face.

“Oh. Hi, Bella.”

My voice was shaky and uncertain.

“Liv! The movie ended! Are you okay?”

I felt myself nodding unconsciously. “Yeah, yeah I am. Why?” Inside, I cringed at my falsely bright voice and forced myself to meet her eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said, troubled. “The movie ended a long time ago. Everyone left already. Do you want to…” Her voice faltered as my phone vibrated with a notification.

I read the text.

Come home. Something is wrong. We don’t think she’s making it.

And my heart almost stopped.

A dark whirlpool opened up inside my stomach, and it swirled and swirled and swirled until I couldn’t take it anymore.

My eyes went glassy and I couldn’t see anything anymore, only darkness, suffocating darkness, closing around my neck like a noose.

No.

No.

  No.

I bolted, and in the back of my mind I heard Bella calling me, asking me what the heck was wrong, but I didn’t have ears to hear her.

Or anything.

My grandmother.

My beautiful grandmother.

Was she okay?

Wind tore at my clothes as they rippled beside me.

I ran.

I ran until all the air ran out from my lungs and I had to gasp for more.

I ran until my legs went numb and my face was red and my fingers could no longer feel themselves.

I ran home.

 

“Mom!”

I tore through the front door and searched for my mom, my mind a blur of panic and fear. My eyes finally settled onto my mom. Her eyes were bloodshot. Her mouth formed the words, she’s gone.

And my heart broke, right then, into two.

I was falling, down, down, down, until the darkness engulfed me and swallowed me, the whisper of death clinging to me and my mother.

Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen as she turned toward me.

I wasn’t brave enough to face her.

Disbelief tore through me as I slammed my bedroom door and collapsed on my bed. Splatters of tears stained my blanket, and I only realized then that I had already begun to cry.

A small chirp reached my ears, and I turned, only to see the dove, perched sadly on my drawer, staring at me.

He fluttered down to me, a blur of gray and brown, and I pulled him closer, head burying in his feathers.

Pulling out my phone, I swiped through the recordings and hit, “play”. 

It was as though I was in a fever. My body hurt, everywhere, though I had a small feeling that it had nothing to do with me physically. Grandma’s voice rang false in my ears, and I blanched. Her voice was canned and mechanical, having no actual meaning. The warmth in it was gone. The recording recorded her words, but not her soul. My body wracked with silent sobs, crying but not crying, my mind a whirl of thoughts. I tried to remember her face, but my mind wouldn’t focus. I couldn’t even remember her face properly. I only remembered her eyes, a deep chestnut color, piercing deep into me. The eyes that would never look at me again.

Of course, Liv.

I know you’re busy, based on your mother’s phone calls.

Of course, Liv.

I know you’re busy, based on your mother’s phone calls.

…course, Liv…

…based on your mother…

…Liv…

…on…mother…

…Liv…

…on…

..Liv…

…on…

…Liv…on…

…Live…on…

 

_______________

 

Grandma’s funeral was a peaceful one. But it wasn’t sad. Not happy, either. It was the perfect mixture, in between, people talking quietly about their memories of her, celebrating her achievements, her kindness, her passion and her selflessness. I think it would have been what she would want as a funeral. The occasional laugh, the smiles, and most of all, the love that radiated from everyone. It wasn’t until the coffin was lowered that we all bowed our heads, and took a silent moment, and wasn’t afraid to cry. 

I rested my head on my mom’s shoulder and let my tears stain her shirt. Don’t be afraid to cry. Sometimes, being brave isn’t fighting wars, or battling dragons, or trying to push away the truth. Sometimes being brave is accepting the truth. Sometimes it’s saying, yes, it happened, but I will move on.

 

_______________

 

A few days later, we took the mourning dove to the rehabilitator, where the man took him carefully in his hands and examined him. 

“Is he alright?” I asked, twisting my hands behind my back.

“Overall, he should be fine. I will call you when he’s ready to be free.”

Be free. I like the sound of that. 

 

_______________

 

I watched as the mourning dove fluttered his beautiful wings, eyes blazing with passionate, exhilarating light. He then left the man’s hands, feathers striking against the bright blue sky. 

Suddenly, he halted in the air, beady eyes questioning.

I raised a hand, smiling sadly. 

In my heart, I began, Be free.

He must have heard me, I knew he heard me.

And as he flew farther and farther away, before he disappeared, a speck in the distance.

And I finished, in my mind, where nobody but me could hear, 

And I will be free, too. That’s what Grandma would want. 

I am brave. Brave enough to move on.

 

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