The next day, though I had questions for her, Miss Bird was absent. In her place was a woman who approached me in a huff while I was eating lunch and toying with the idea of heading down to the cemetery alone.
"You!" She shattered my thoughts. "You stay away from my child!"
My face twisted into an expression that I saved especially for situations where I had no idea what was going on.
"Don't play stupid, you goddamn creep. You stay away from Abigail." I must have still looked dumbstruck because she continued her verbal assault, "All the kids here say you're the one who went off with her. You're not fooling anyone. You're disturbed and you should be arrested." And sure enough, the kids were once again pointing in my direction with a stillness that heralded an important revelation.
What she was saying started some wheels turning in my head. I almost couldn't speak. A single word crawled out of my throat and over my tongue and teeth, "…Janet?"
"What? I can barely hear you. What? No, I'm not Janet. Are you one of those crazies?"
I explained that the girl had told me her mother's name was Janet, which left this woman as confused as I was. But my confusion was replaced by a sense of relief that this woman was not a ghost or an animated corpse. I could deal, I thought, with assaults on my character, but supernatural assaults on my character are a little too harrowing.
She stopped to think about the meaning of Abigail's misdirection for a moment before regaining her composure. "Why are you eating near a bunch of kids like this? And going off with my daughter? What did you do with her?"
I was eager to clear my good name and tried to explain all that Abigail had said and done, but her mother was having trouble accepting it, so I decided to show the woman where we had gone the previous day.
On the way, I introduced myself and apologized profusely for my poor judgement. She told me to call her Lily when I stuttered over 'Janet' again. I assured her as best I could that I was only entertaining Abigail's childish whims to keep the girl's self-esteem healthy. "She's so positive and confident, to be approaching strangers. She must be so popular in school." I opted to omit that I was genuinely curious about Abigail's eccentric pastimes.
"She should know better. She's definitely grounded from the park. And this," she gestured at the cemetery, "I don't even know what to say about this. What would she be doing in a graveyard? What does this have to do with making birds better?"
"You haven't seen the birds?" I had figured the girl'd been taking them home.
Lily frowned at me, questioning how I could question her parenting, "No, I guess I haven't! What does it matter to you? All I heard of it was how excited she was to have made a friend. And he turned out to be some creep taking her to a graveyard."
"Sorry. To be fair, she’s the one who took me here."
"I'll be sure to talk to her about it."
We got to Mother Bird's grave. Sure enough there was a lifeless bird resting on the stone, which seemed to be enough evidence for the distressed mother to believe me. Lily was now more concerned about her daughter playing in graveyards with dead birds than wandering around with middle-aged men.
I felt a bit of relief as Lily puzzled over what it all meant. But that relief disappeared when I noticed something had changed about the bird in front of the grave. It had gotten… better.