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Michael C. Keith
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songbird30.jpg
Art by Gordon Purkis 2010

If I Could Hear the Songbird in My Grave

                            

                                               

Michael C. Keith

 

 

 

                                       Give me a little music out of doors

                                                            -- John Keats

 

 

 

In a satin-lined, eco-friendly container deep within the frozen ground, birds sang their sweet songs to the eternal delight of its dead occupant.  It was exactly what Terrance had wanted when he was alive and his careful preparations had paid off.   In his 61 years, there was nothing that provided him more pleasure than the winsome exultations of the whip-poor-will, meadowlark, loon, warbler, and tanager, to name a handful of his favorite, feathered balladeers.

 

Like most humans, the thought of death had filled him with apprehension.  The loss of the world he deeply loved was almost too much for him to bear.  Since his early twenties he had served as a park ranger in a remote preserve in northern Michigan.  He had never married or developed any close relationships, but he had not suffered from loneliness.  The forest and it creatures were all the friends and family he needed.  Above all the beautiful creatures occupying the woods, the birds were by far his favorite.  Their perfect serenades lifted his spirits and fulfilled his life. 

 

Thus when Terrance was told his time was limited due to a congenital heart ailment, he dolefully began bidding farewell to his beloved soul mates.  In the weeks that followed, he hiked every inch of the reserve despite his weakening condition, hoping to hear the songbirds one last time.  On these exhausting treks he carried a small recording device to capture the melodies that danced through the trees and fields. 

 

As the end neared, the dedicated conservationist lamented the silence that would replace the music of his precious aviary.  Then an idea occurred to him.  If he could hear the songbirds in his grave, his passing would not be the tragedy he considered it to be.  Over the next few days, he visited area funeral homes hoping to find one that would install an audio system in his coffin.  His queries were met with incredulity, if not ridicule.

 

“You want bird sounds in your casket?  Are you serious?  That’s the damnedest request we ever got.  No, we can’t do it,” was the typical response he received.

 

As he was about to abandon the idea of taking his cherished music on his eternal voyage, he located an undertaker that agreed to accommodate his unusual request.

 

“Don’t see why we can’t put one of them digital chips in the lining of the casket.  Shouldn’t take much doing.”

 

And with that, the despair Terrance had experienced at the prospect of leaving his magnificent songsters behind vanished in his waning days.  He felt content knowing that the thing he most prized in life would accompany him to the next world.

 

Toward the end of his time, he had become too weakened to visit his plumed companions, but the recording provided him great comfort until his frail heart stopped.

 

The handful of people he knew, mostly fellow park employees, attended his funeral and noted to one another that the embalmer had perfectly captured Terrance’s customary deadpan expression.

 

“He looks just like himself,” they said, viewing him in his casket.  “He never was one to show much emotion,” they agreed.

 

Hours later, when Terrance’s casket was lowered into the ground, the songbirds commenced their recorded symphony.  The robin performed its cheery whistle, the bluebird its sweet tur-a-lee, the tanager its glorious double tones, the warbler its bright injunctions, and the thrush its splendid yodel.

 

Soon a bevy of other winged vocalists joined in, and an everlasting smile appeared on Terrance’s face.

 

 

“If I Could Hear the Songbird in My Grave” originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Micro Horror.                                            

 

 

                                                           

 

Michael C. Keith is the author of numerous books and articles, among the former is a critically praised memoir--The Next Better Place--published by Algonquin Books.  He has written dozens of short stories, which have appeared in Grey Sparrow Journal, Forge Journal, Danse Macabre, Cantaraville Quarterly, Bartleby Snopes, Underground Voices, The Horror Zine, Cynic Magazine, Black Lantern Publishing, The Greensilk Journal, Short Story Library, The Absent Willow Review, and Apollo's Lyre, among others.  He teaches communication at Boston College.

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