Tuesday 19 September 2023

The Bluebird by Lydia Pearson, a black coffee with sugar, a bit dark and bitter but with some sweetness and light to it

 It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in April, and a bluebird had just landed at my feet.

“Blooming birds,” Mum muttered.

She was always on about the birds, these days. She used to love them. Had all of the bird-watching books, binoculars, you name it. That’s why I’d began taking her to the back every Saturday afternoon. It took her away from that dismal care home, at least, the one we’d all felt so guilty for putting her in. The ghost of the 1960s lurked there, all faded yellow wallpaper and beige chairs. One side of the home overlooked the garden, which was fairly small considering the size of the property, which contained thirty residents. The other side overlooked a grotty Tesco car park, next to which was a dilapidated playground. More children were made there than the amount that played there, generally speaking. Wonderful place for her to spend her last months, naturally.

And it was months, as I’d had to repeatedly remind myself. It was what the doctors had said to us, the last time she’d been admitted to hospital. I’d glanced at her, in that shabby old hospital gown, the one with that morning’s porridge stains splattered all over it, and thought, ‘Oh, Mum, I’m sorry.’

And I was. I really, truly was.

“I thought you used to like birds, Mum!” I replied, as chirpily as I could. She squinted then, confusion written all over the many lines that covered her face, like a map of her life story exposed for everybody to read.

“No, I never liked them. Vermin, the lot of them, I’m telling you.”

“Well, perhaps some of the pigeons are,” I conceded with a shrug, and continued to push her wheelchair around the lake, so she could get a better view.

“I used to play the piano,” Mum said, brightening up.

“No, Mum, that was our Bernie, remember?” I reminded her. “Your older brother. He played when you were a baby, during the War?”

She frowned at that. “Who’s Bernie? I don’t remember a chap called Bernie. Is that one of your friends, Jeanie?” Jeanie was my sister’s name, but I let that one slide. I decided to let the comment about Bernie slide, too. It had been three years since he’d passed on, and Mum had been absolutely devastated. She’d only go and get herself in a state if she’d remembered.

It was always the remembering that seemed to be the worst thing of all for her.

I let out a sigh. “Never mind, Mum. Shall we go and have a look at the flowers?”

She nodded. “I used to grow flowers in my garden, you know.”

That much, at least, was true. She’d accumulated several prizes across the years for her rhododendrons, her hydrangeas, her precious white roses and her gorgeous marigolds. Our old garden had been her pride and joy, but it was little more than a charred graveyard now. The fire had done a lot of damage to it, alongside our house, and a part of our next-door-neighbour’s front yard, too.

It was a good job Mum didn’t remember that, at least.

“I know, Mum,” I said. “They were so very beautiful.” I showed her the flowers, pointing out to them, but she began to fidget.

“Where are they?” she asked, whipping her head around frantically.

“Where are what?”

“The flowers, you silly girl! Where are the flowers!?”

What did she mean? “The flowers are right here.”

“No, my flowers! Where did they go?!” My mother looked to be on the verge of tears, worrying her hair as her eyes glossed over. “They’re gone, Laura!” Finally, she’d recalled my name correctly. For once.


A horrified expression bloomed across her face, as though some terrible thought had just struck her. Her cerulean eyes widened.

“Fire…there was a dreadful fire, wasn’t there. Lost, oh, all lost,” she began to weep, tears streaking down her face like a river. “The garden, gone. House, gone. You and your sisters, living in London and Manchester in flats, couldn’t even look after me. Parents dead. Brother dead. Husband, left twenty years ago. Hardly any friends to speak of, that are alive at least. And now I’m all alone...”

That was a low blow. We’d both moved for work purposes, and she’d been fully supportive at the time. Still, I couldn’t get upset with her. It wasn’t her fault that the dementia had made her this way, after all. It was worsening by the day, too, but more rapidly than we’d anticipated, apparently.

“You’re not all alone, Mum.  I come and see you every Saturday afternoon,” I began to blabber, “and Jeanie comes up from London once a month for a week. Remember?”

We were past the flowerbeds now, her wheelchair parked next to a bench outside of a small white café that was located towards the entrance of the park. I sat and watched as her expression morphed from one of sorrow to one of confusion and panic.

Oh, no. Please, not here. Not now. No, no, no-

“Who are you?” she demanded, glaring at me suspiciously. “Are you a police officer?” She’d been embroiled in the Second Wave of Feminism when she was in her mid-twenties, and she’d had her fair share of…moments, with the police. Needless to say, she didn’t like or trust them. I stood in front of her, so I was facing her, hoping she’d recognise my appearance.

“No, I’m your daughter, Laura,” I told her, in the calm voice that I knew her carers, nurses and doctors preferred for us to speak to her with.

“How old are you? My twin daughters are forty-three. Are you? If not, then you’re not my daughter,” she accused.

We’d been forty-three for the past five years, apparently. Pick your battles, I reminded myself, taking a deep breath.

“Yes, I’m forty-three,” I lied.

A spark of recognition lit up her eyes, “Jeanie?” she asked. I’d understand if we were identical twins, but we weren’t. Jeanie favoured our father, with her chestnut brown hair, whereas mine was the same shade of copper my mother’s had been up until almost twenty years ago now.

“No, not Jeanie, Laura.” I disliked the exasperation in my voice. “Come on, Mum. It’s getting late, and you’re clearly tired. I’ll take you back to the care home.”


“No, Mum, the care home, where your carers are. Sandra and Mary. It’s written down in one of your notebooks.”

“I didn’t realise I had any notebooks, dear.” She paused as I pushed her wheelchair through the park gates. “Who are you, again?”


She didn’t make it for much longer, I’m afraid. Looking back on it, I remember the day of my mother’s funeral so very clearly. I stood holding hands with my twin sister, as they lifted the coffin into her grave. I found that time, that history was repeating itself.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in April, and a bluebird had just landed at my feet.


About the author 

Lydia, nineteen, has just completed a Gap Year, working, volunteering and writing. She's an undergraduate studying English Literature and Creative Writing (Placement Year) at Lancaster University. She's had work published in BMH, Queer Yoga North's Freedom booklet and Masque and Spectacle. She aspires to be an English tutor and writer. 


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