darkness. She even hated thinking of the Bird Lady descending into darkness. She didnât want that for anyone.
âMy cousin, Lucille?â Molly said. âWho lives in the apartment complex near the railroad tracks? She knew a woman who was always depressed. Also she had hair everywhere, including her arms and hands and even her palms.â She paused. âI donât think the hair was related to her depression, though.â
Natasha had no reply. Molly said the most bizarre things, usually in a completely offhand way. My mom baked blueberry muffins for breakfast, with real blueberries. Not canned. And Lucille? My cousin? She knows a very hairy woman who happens to be depressed. (Beat.) Hey, do you have any lip gloss?
Movement drew Natashaâs attention. She looked up and saw a bird swoop from one end of the cafeteria to the other. She blinked, shook her head, and looked again.
âMolly?â she said. She pointed. âThereâs a bird in the cafeteria.â
Mollyâs mouth fell open. Then she grinned and said, âA www! Hi, little birdie!â To Natasha, she said, âIs that the same bird you saw in the Bird Ladyâs hair?â
âThe Bird Ladyâs bird was brown.â
âThis oneâs blue, so not the same. But why is there a bluebird in the cafeteria?â
âI have no idea.â
âMaybe heâs hungry. Maybe he needs some bread crumbs.â Molly scanned the table. The earbud boy sitting across from them had a sandwich, and Molly leaned over and picked up the part he hadnât yet eaten.
âHey!â he said.
She pulled off the crust and tossed the rest back. She tore the crust into smaller bits and sprinkled them on the floor. âHere, little birdie! Food! See?â
The bird made another pass across the room. It dipped low and hovered in front of the cafeteriaâs wide glass window, and Natasha felt faint. Outside the lunchroom, partially obscured by the thicket of trees bordering the courtyard, was a person.
A tiny lady in a yellow raincoat and bunny slippers who was doing a terrible job of being sneaky, if being sneaky was her goal. She popped out from behind a snow-covered pine and waved her scarf back and forth,like a matador trying to attract a bull. Then she ducked back behind the tree. She popped out again, her smile lighting up her face. She waved the scarf wildly. Then, far too nimbly for someone so old, she darted once more behind the tree.
No , Natasha thought. The Bird Lady could not be outside the cafeteria, during lunch, waving at Natasha while everyone else ate and chatted and squirted too much ketchup over their fries. Nor could she be swishing her Little Red Cap scarf back and forth, the silk rippling and fluttering like something alive.
Except she was, and that particular kind of story scarf was called a mantilla . Natasha just remembered.
âMolly?â Natasha said. âDo you see that lady out there?â
The Bird Lady did a strange foot-hopping dance, waving her mantilla back and forth.
âThe birdieâs not eating the bread crumbs,â Molly complained. âEat the bread crumbs, birdie!â
Natasha twisted in her seat, searching for Darya. If Darya was looking out the window . . . if Darya saw the Bird Lady . . .
Would that make things better or worse?
Darya was hunched together with two other girls,the three of them laughing at something on one of the girlsâ phone.
It started snowing. The scrim of white made Natasha even more dizzy. The Bird Lady beckoned her, using her hand to say, Come along, hurry now, quick-quick-quick. Natasha half rose from her chair, and if Molly hadnât yanked her back, she didnât know what she would have done.
âWhat are you doing?â Molly said. âYouâve eaten, like, one bite of your apple.â She thrust out her squeezable plastic pouch with Grover on the front. âHere, take this.â