A few years ago, I listened to an episode of Nate DiMeo’s podcast The Memory Palace called “Artist in Landscape” about John James Audubon and Lucy Bakewell. The seventeen-minute podcast gives an overview of their marriage and how Birds of America came to be. After recounting the trajectory of their relationship, from young love to long separation to a short-lived reunion, DiMeo notes that Lucy Bakewell dying in a small borrowed room, her husband long dead and their fortune squandered, is no real way to end a story. And so he flashes back to the couple, young and in love, riding out into the wild frontier unsure of all the heartbreak that may await. It is a beautiful piece of radio, well-produced and researched, and one that stuck with me for a long time.
When I began “Every Bird a Rival,” I didn’t set out to write about the Audubons. The story began with setting more than anything else, since Joppa Flats is near a town where I used to live. Birding seemed only natural in that space and then, as the relationship between the protagonist and Richard began to unfold, the Audubons sort of wormed their way in. As Missy and Richard’s interest in John James took shape, I started to think back to the podcast and the way that DiMeo had played with time. I liked the idea that the story of the Audubons’ relationship was a tragedy and a love story, that a relationship could be both a compilation of moments worth holding on to as well as a series of disappointments and grief. And while the Audubons took a backseat in the narrative, it felt right to segment the past and present for the characters. In the story, the relationship between the protagonist and Richard exists in shared past moments rather than in the present through-line. To me, giving glimpses of the protagonist’s past with Richard helps to develop her character, her sensibilities about men, and the complacency in her role as the other woman. Keeping her relationship and interaction with Richard out of the present through-line helped me understand that this was her story rather than a shared story between the two. In flashback, I tried to condense the moment in time to one where she realizes her mistakes while catching the reader up on what it is she must realize.
I like stories that use time differently to help the reader understand the movement of the characters on several levels. Playing with the timeline of the story felt like a way of rounding out the complexity of a relationship while still sticking to a tour of birders, scanning a beach, looking for something they hope will present itself if only for a second.
JACQUI REIKO TERUYA is an MFA candidate at Boise State University where she teaches and is the Associate Editor for The Idaho Review. Her work has appeared in The Masters Review, where she won the 2018 Summer Flash Fiction Contest, and is forthcoming in Passages North. She lives in Boise, Idaho where she is currently at work on a novel.