Life is filled with random encounters and Ellery Roulet, a 35-year-old American PR executive living and working in Paris, has experienced enough of them to last five lifetimes. When betrayal, loss, mistakes, regrets and even acceptance enter Ellery’s life at different times, she learns it is not what one experiences, but how one chooses to deal with those experiences that shapes the soul within. This bittersweet collection of tales shows just how messy and complicated life can be, and that sometimes there just aren’t any neat and easy solutions at all.
“Every goodbye ain’t gone,” at least that’s what Ellery’s mother, Alma, used to say when she was a little girl. She was referring to her belief that the soul lived on, long after burial.
Alma had an interesting way of speaking. A lot of it could be attributed to growing up on the Mississippi Delta. The rest probably was due to her very own unique personality. She was an outspoken, straight-talking, no-nonsense kind of person, uncommon traits for a woman prior to the equal rights movement. She rarely minced her words when trying to prove her point during a conversation. Everyone always knew where she stood on any topic. Ellery was a lot like her mother, but not completely–especially when it came to the art of conversation. Like her mother, she also liked to talk a lot, but her communications skills, though direct at times, were a lot more subtle.
At any rate, Ellery quickly discovered that there was a lot of truth to her mother’s comment when she encountered them–the pigeons.
Ellery’s daughters were spending the summer with their father traveling around Europe. For a month, Ellery left Paris and decided to rent a house just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. She had the entire place to herself and found herself enjoying the solitude. Now she could wake up, take her coffee and newspaper on the terrace and admire the early morning sun rising over the French Alps and Lake Geneva. Ellery opened all the windows in the house to let in the powerful lake breeze. It was already warm so the afternoon promised more heat, and if she could cool off the house now, it would be comfortable inside by lunch time.
From the bedroom, she heard quick, fluttering sounds. When she entered the room, there they were. “Oh!” she screamed out of surprise. Then, “Get the hell out of here!” There was a large male one with dark grey feathers and a smaller female one with light grey feathers, sitting on her bed. Ellery waved her hands around in the air, trying to get the birds out the bedroom room but it was useless. “Damn birds!”
The birds kept flying around in circles, desperate as well, to find their way out of the house. Down the hallway they went, swooping down first into the living room, yet still missing their opportunity to exit through the balcony French doors. Nothing was working until she remembered that the kitchen windows were still opened so she shooed them in that direction. Once on the other side, there they sat on their favorite perch, the kitchen window sill, cooing.
Ellery observed them through the window. There were a lot of pigeons in Switzerland to be sure, but most didn’t seem particularly interested in spending time around humans unless there was food involved. The funny thing was, these were not ordinary pigeons; they were special birds, with human-like qualities. Thus, she named them Earl and Alma because they behaved a lot like her own parents before their passing. One minute these birds would be cooing lovingly at one another, and the next they would be pecking each other fiercely, until the male would fly away, with the female trailing behind him. Yes, just like my parents, she thought to herself smiling. It was true. Her parents, who were married for over 20 years, were always fighting. It was normal for them.
In fact, sometimes their cutting words during arguments were shocking but also terribly amusing; way better than any lines of dialogue delivered on a television show. Sometimes, she and her brother would lie in their beds and turn down the television’s volume just so they could listen to their parents fight. But like television programs, they always found a way to make up within 25 minutes. Ellery wished her marital relationship had worked out that easily. Maybe if it had, she would be still be married.
Despite having her beautiful children, Ellery often felt all alone in the world. Some days she longed for her parents, wishing they were still alive to provide any kind of guidance. In a weird sort of way, the pigeons gave her comfort, which proved to be the next best thing.
Now, Ellery didn’t feel any special affinity to birds, but her mother did. In fact over the years, Alma had become a sort of patron saint of all animals (both big and small) because of their defenselessness. “They’re all God’s creatures,” Alma would say. “And anyway, the Bible says only God knows if an animal’s soul goes up or down.
So that’s enough for me not to mistreat them,” was Alma’s rationalization.
It wasn’t unusual to find Alma protecting the worm from the finch; the finch from the crow; the crow from squirrel; the squirrel from the cat; the cat from the dog; and finally, the dog from the man. That’s just how she was, ever the underdog’s defender; the voice for those without one, human or otherwise. So for Ellery, having her mother, especially, reincarnated as a pigeon made perfect sense. After all, she was quite the homebody and a bit of a quirky mystic.
Over time, Earl and Alma felt very comfortable coming closer to the window, even allowing Ellery to pet them. Instead of just leaving food for them on the window sill, Ellery would talk to them, too. They had a remarkable way of showing up on days deemed important to Ellery, like her birthday or even when Ellery appeared to be angry, sad or upset. Sometimes, only one pigeon would come, but she was sure to receive a visit from the other later in the day. At other times, it was just enough for them to hang out long enough for Ellery to greet them and then fly away, because somehow they knew she already was okay.
Every goodbye ain’t gone, huh? Ellery thought to herself. Well, she wasn’t sure if that was true in everyone’s case, but at least it was in hers. Her parents were always with her. The truth be told, they’d never left. They were just waiting for Ellery to notice them. She was glad her mother had been right all along.
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