short story – the girl who sang at funerals

Nora Birch held a funeral for the tree in the garden. She gave a speech to the attendees; her pink stuffed rabbit, Darla the rag doll, and a small crystal bird she had liberated from a silver cage at her aunt’s house years ago. Even though she had only met the tree the day before, she was sure it would have been glad to have a proper memorial. She and her father had come across it as they explored the sprawling, overgrown garden, running out of the house before they could be roped into unpacking the rooms and rooms of boxes and boxes. Her father had looked at the tree’s scarred skeleton and the lonely curled up leaf still clinging on with a solemn shake of his head. A brittle branch snapped in Nora’s hand.
After the service, Nora wrapped her arms around the narrow tree trunk and pressed her cheek into the grey bark. Under the thin, broken shadows she served tea from her Alice in Wonderland tea-set, its pieces all chipped and bitten and scratched and the white rabbit’s ears wearing away from where her fingers held the cups. The last leaf shivered in the breeze and fell into the tea-pot, crumbling into dust.
Dusk had come in a cloak of rose and gold when her father found her. She had dragged over a rusted step ladder from somewhere in the abandoned forest of a garden and was on her toes, draping a string of star-shaped fairy lights across the bare branches. She had ripped one of her mother’s flowery dresses into rags and tied loose bows onto the lower branches. The bubbles of outrage that had formed when her father spotted the vandalized dresses shattered inside him and left him deflated when he heard the lullaby. He sat between the rag doll and the crystal bird to listen as Nora sang and shook out a packet of glitter dust over the tree, raining into the soil below like a flood of falling stars.

The third funeral Nora Birch attended was for a fox. The tree was long gone and, even though the wild garden had been tamed with trimmed hedges and stone paths and pristine roses with threatening thorns, there were still tell-tale specks of glitter in the barren patch of earth marking where the tree had once stood. Nora found the fox on the side of the road as she was walking home. It was small and gaunt, its fur matted with blood and its stomach flattened into the ground. She shrugged her thin rain coat off and wrapped the fox into it. There was a sickly sweet undertone to the scent of decay that would cling to her clothes for days after. She rummaged through the garden shed until she found a spade and buried the fox in the tree’s grave. She tore off a beloved rose, thorns piercing through her skin, and placed it on the glittering earth. She hummed a lullaby to the fox as she licked the blood from her fingers and her father appeared at her side, wrapping an arm around her shoulder as night fell with the rain.

At her own funeral, Nora Birch thought about the first one she had attended. She had worn a black dress with silver beads stitched into the collar and her pink stuffed rabbit held her hand. She sang her father’s lullaby because it was easier than saying goodbye. When she stood at his graveside, watching dirt fall onto the gleaming wooden coffin, a breeze tucked her hair behind her ear. It was a soft, light breeze that she would feel again when she ran through a wild garden and found a dead tree, and again when she decorated it and sang, and again when she buried a fox, and again and again and again.
She sang to the people gathered at her funeral and hoped they heard it in the wind.
When she looked away from her grave, she saw her father waiting with a young fox weaving between his legs under the broken shadows of a fairy-light lit tree.

 

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