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A Nightingale Sings
I don’t know when I first heard the whistling. It may have been days or months ago. But I remember exactly where I stood when I became aware of it.
It was a cold but beautiful Monday in March. The weather that new spring day promised to cooperate with my day’s plans. Now all that was left was for me to cooperate with my day’s plans.
I had just filled the bird feeders sprinkled around the back lawn. As I headed for the house, I could hear the frantic call of a blue jay letting his fellow feeders know that breakfast had arrived! I permitted myself one backward glance and espied a big old jay landing in the feeder and picking up two peanuts in his bill.
One of these days he is going to aim for three peanuts, I was thinking as I entered the kitchen, and it was then that I heard it.
Not just a random whistle, either, but that jaunty tune he favoured. The one with no name. The one that had been a constant in our lives for thirty years.
But how was I hearing it now? The tune had left when he left. I looked around the kitchen as I fought back the tears. Without knowing what I was doing, I touched everything on the counters making sure things were in their proper place. I counted to fifty backward and tried to remember the Lord’s Prayer in Polish. Anything to keep reality in check.
And then the music stopped. I know now what is meant by that old adage, “The silence was deafening.” My heartbeat was as loud as the drums in Ravel’s Bolero. Suddenly – out of pure defiance – I started to laugh.
Wasn’t it just a few months ago I had shouted out to the world, “I am so lonely and scared! Can’t someone give me a sign that I’m going to survive this?!?”
Be careful what you wish for! I thought.
I remembered when I first heard the tune. We were walking along the river on the fringe of Brown’s campus on the East Side of Providence. It was Easter weekend, and both the city and campus were nearly empty. Elliott had on his cool beret. No one wore a beret back then – not to date myself too badly – but he had a collection of them from all over the world. We were holding hands and making our way back home after dinner when Elliott expressed his desire to watch a small boat make its way up the river.
Then he started to whistle. “What’s the name of that?” I asked.
“Um . . . I don’t really know,” he said. “For some reason
I think it has a ‘nightingale’ in the title. I’ve been whistling it a long time.”
Months later, and after a lot of research (everything related to our relationship seemed so urgent then), I found out the name of the tune. It was a song from the 1940s called “A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square.” I remember how thrilled I was when I presented this information to Elliott, and I remember how stunned I was when he seemed sad about my news. That was not something I expected. And then we never talked about it again.
“Do you hear yourself whistle?” I had asked Elliott the first time I had heard him “perform.”
He looked at me in surprise. And then with a chuckle he said, “Now that you mention it, I’m really not aware of it.” “I guess it’s like that tree falling in the forest thing,” I said, with only a dim idea of what the hell I was even talking about. It didn’t matter. We both laughed. In those days we laughed at everything, taking in the glorious scenes that unfolded before us, so comfortable in each other’s company, so relaxed.
He ran his fingers through my red hair, looked into my eyes, and simply said, “You make me so happy.”
I felt a small hole open in my heart, and then I felt his love creep in.
Now in the kitchen, I felt weak and sat down, trying to rationalize the whole thing away. What was happening with my head? Did I miss him so much that I willed myself into hearing things? The sound of two blue jays fighting in the yard woke me from my reverie, and I knew my day had to officially begin.
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