Not so long ago an abandoned farmhouse was struck by lightning and caught fire. It burned through the night and into the next day. When the firefighters finally inspected it only embers smoldered in the rubble. The massive oak crossbeam supporting the roof had cracked and buckled causing the roof to collapse to the second floor. The second floor and roof crashed to the first floor which in turn caved-in to the cellar.
The lieutenant of the crew frowned at the wreckage. The corkscrewed and splintered bones of the old house were heaped in a pile nearly reaching ground level. It looked like a knot of prehistoric snakes spaded up from the center of the earth. He ordered a thorough soaking.
The lieutenant studied what remained of the second story. To his surprise a lolling section of roof rode atop the two walls still standing. It was balanced as if someone with too much time and not enough ambition had leaned two playing cards together and poised a third one just so.
He ordered his crew away from the area. The roof was going to follow the rest of the old house before long.
But it didn’t. The roof maintained its improbable poise.
Over the next few weeks village and township inspectors frowned at the blackened walls and shredded roof. Knocking it down would’ve been prudent. Having the other guy pay for it, wiser still. And so the farmhouse stayed.
The land it now teetered upon hosted a working replica of a nineteenth century farm. It backed to the small woods that were next to the great green field that was attached to the municipal park across the street from Emmie’s home. Emmie visited the farm whenever she could. She loved holding the chicks, petting Bonnie and Babe on their wide muzzles, watching the turkeys chase each other and laughing at the pigs as they rolled in the mud.
Even before the fire Emmie was fascinated by the abandoned farmhouse. She dedicated a minute or so every few visits to walking off the foot path leading to the new farmhouse, high-stepping-it through the brush choking an overgrown side path to stand in the abandoned farmhouse’s shadow.
When she came upon the farmhouse this time the devastation startled her. She shifted her eyes back and across the wreckage trying to figure out a how come. Her gaze settled on the juncture of roof and walls. She considered the bowed walls and crumpled roof magnificent. They appeared ready to keel over that second, but also like they had been set there by Druids a thousand years earlier. Both at the same time.
An iridescent flash at the crux of roof and wall caught her attention. A bird bobbed in and out of that delicate space and then flew away. Emmie watched as it graced the invisible currents between Here and There. He returned with a scrap from the woods where Emmie liked to idle. He flew to the crux of wall and roof, again bobbing in and out of view. Emmie sidled to her right, angling backward to get a better look.
She gave up, stepping over roofing tiles and splintered wood, making her way to stand at the edge of the now yawning cellar.
The bird continued his bobbing.
“My name is Emmie.”
The bird did not appear to hear her.
“You’re building a nest.”
Emmie’s neck tired from holding her head against her back and she lowered her gaze, scanning the area.
“This used to be a farmhouse. Do you know what that is?”
She waited; the bird worked.
“It’s the house where the farmer lives. This was the first farm in Glenveagh.”
She kicked at some stubble for awhile then looked up. The bird was gone. Emmie scanned the skies and then sighed. She circled the wreckage searching for the best spot to see the nest. She returned to her original place. Motion caught her attention and she craned her neck again.
“Why are you building a nest here?”
She watched his flashing blue head bob up and back and forth.
“You’re a Bluejay. You’re handsome.”
The Bluejay continued to dart and flit, worrying at a corner she could not see.
“You haven’t the sense God give a goose, you know that? That roof is about to join the rest of the farmhouse. I don’t know why your nest isn’t enough to send it over right now. And who do you suppose is going to share it with you? There can’t be another bluejay that foolish. Certainly not a mama-bluejay. You think a mama-bluejay is going to raise her babies there? Why, I bet I can blow that roof down like it was a birthday candle.”
The bluejay flew off and after a while returned with more this and that and Emmie talked to him until it was time for her to go home. As she took her first careful steps through the splayed pieces of wreckage, she noticed her sneakers. She crouched and unlaced one and then the other and laid them on the ground. Her sneakers flapped all the way home.
She returned to the burned-out farmhouse the next afternoon. She saw no flashes of blue. Standing at the edge of the cellar, staring at the pile of sodden moldering wreckage she said, “I wonder…”
She scouted around. Found a plank. Somewhat longer than herself. She pushed at it, half-carried it and half-walked it, side-over-side to the rim of the cellar. Then she squatted and lifted one end as high as she could. As she walked under it, she pushed the board until it was standing on one end. Then she gave it a last shove. It flopped across the space, the far end landing with a loud whooomp! on top of the pile of rubble. Emmie jumped back with a yelp. The foot of the plank had hopped, grazing her ankle.
She looked down and saw that she was bleeding. She pulled her sock over the scrape. And then she stepped onto her bridge. It did not move under her weight. She took one slow step. Everything was fine. Then she took three fast strides over the chasm and stood on the pile of broken and sodden everything. The pile shifted causing her to tense and chew her lip. From this new position on the island rising from the cellar she could see the nest. There was a bluejay in it.
“I see you, Bluejay!”
She looked down as she ginger-stepped across the island of rubble. Nails and twisted wainscoting, jagged and crumbling sheets of drywall, torn swathes of linoleum….Each step disclosing new perils to navigate. She kept her head down until a step caused a mix of junk to slide into the chasm. She drew her foot back and said, “that’s it.”
She looked to the nest and saw the bluejay as still as if in prayer. And then, startling her, a second bluejay flew through a gap in the lolling roof, landing on the edge of the nest, affixing a new bit of whatever.
“Bluejay, it’s you, isn’t it? And that one is your wife, isn’t she? She’s been there all along, hasn’t she? Is she sitting on eggs? She is, isn’t she?”
Emmie watched him work.
“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble for this nest. I hope your babies appreciate it.”
She was quiet while the bluejay bobbed. And then she saw a bright green line curling the nest and then, lower, a fluorescent orange line.
“My shoelaces! I know I said so, but now I don’t think the roof will fall.”
She made her way across Precarious Isle; stepped lightly across the plank, and then, back on solid ground, turned to look at the farmhouse. She could neither see Bluejay’s wife, nor her shoelaces, nor any part of the nest. She smiled and made her way through the farm, through the great green field to home.