The Black Songbird

This piece contains content about suicide.


“It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” The words of Ophelia’s mother echoed inside Ophelia’s head as she stood in front of her brother’s grave. Her opal rings glistened in the bright sun that reflected off of the pale white snow caps on the headstones. She knew that she was, in part, to blame, but she comforted herself in knowing that she wasn’t the one who killed him. Ophelia removed her gloves to place a red rose above her brother’s grave, simultaneously brushing off the powdery white snow from its surface. The cold had turned her fingertips red and given her full cheeks a crimson blush color. Her eyelashes batted to combat the gusts of cold air blowing in her face as she bowed her head in solitude. It had only been a year since the so-called “accident,” but oddly it felt as if nothing had changed. She could hear the laughter so clearly in her head: the laughter that made her brother lose his mind, the sneers that had made him roll his eyes and the final nasty joke that made him take his own life.

But of course, Ophelia did not kill him, she wasn’t that type. She gently tucked her side bangs behind her ear as her face expressed no signs of sadness. Ophelia needed to be alone with her deceased brother, far away from her mother’s mournful presence.
Two large footprints were left in the snow outside of her brother’s grave. The rose was the only sign of life near the headstone. The sparkling winter snow seemed to be more well cared for than her brother’s burial site. It appeared the town was too upset to pay a visit. Calmly, Ophelia backed away from the grave. She walked towards the snow-covered car parked just outside of the death-ridden cemetery gates.

“Are you all right? That must have been hard, sweetie, I’m so sorry” said Ophelia’s mother, as she opened the car door from the inside of the vehicle. Marie wiped the tears from the right side of her face. Ophelia turned her head to look out the passenger’s side window with a cold-hearted stare.

“It was all right” she confessed, “but I guess I miss him,” she said half-heartedly. Tears continued to roll down the side of Marie’s face as she silently sobbed while slowly driving the car down the pale and cracked cement path, rolling over every little pebble and causing the car to slightly vibrate.

“I can’t believe it’s been a year,” started Marie, repeating the same lines she always did after the topic of Ophelia’s brother came up. “It feels like yesterday I was in his room tucking him into bed—”

“Who knew that would be one of the last times,” chimed in Ophelia.

“Who would have known,” continued Marie, “that a boy so smart, so talented, and so kind-hearted could just decide to end it all right then and there.”

Still staring out of the now frosted window, Ophelia did not respond. She would adjust her seat every once in a while to keep herself from zoning out. Along the way back to their country house in Connecticut they passed the Ice Creamery, one of her brother’s favorite ice cream joints. Ophelia continued to blankly stare out of the window, remembering how he wasn’t even an ice cream fan, rather, he would spend a lot of time there with the employees and stay there after hours to write songs. Clearly creating music was his niche. She could not remember the last song he had actually created, since she was always preoccupied with something else. She remembered Marie always saying how they were good enough to be produced, perhaps he could have become famous. The music would always have a light tone when he played it but she could never actually recall any of the melodies since she and her friends always cackled over them. Alas, thought Ophelia, it must have been fate—he decided to die before his music career could have taken off, what a shame.

Ophelia looked down as they rode past the Ice Creamery, as if she had never seen it coming, and only looked up to see it when it was nearly out of her view.

Out of sight, out of mind, she thought.

Her brother’s death was more complex than anything else. People at school murmured that it was all her fault, and as a result many of her friends had dropped her. But she didn’t actually kill him, that was his choice. This was the only thing that assuaged the occasional pang of guilt in her chest. She always glossed over the subject when it fell upon her brother. The car came to a halt as Marie pulled into the cobblestone driveway and Ophelia calmly got out of the car and ascended the stairs to her room.

Ophelia’s room was a peachy pink hue with off-white lighting giving the overall space an effervescent glow. Her walls were accented with pictures of her and her friends and family, however none of them showed her brother. After all, he had left this world on his own accord so it seemed logical that if he left her he would not want to exist on her walls. It was only logical.

Slowly pacing in her room, Ophelia tuned out all outside noises while surveying her pictures, which included the loud car stereo playing punk rock music outside of her window. She thought about all of the people who pitied her and her brother. If he wanted to kill himself, so be it. The thought of people shaming her for her brother’s decisions made her queasy.

It was his choice and other people should not be shamed for it, she thought.

She thought it odd to think of suicide like that but now that it was so closely tied to her own family it was pretty easy to shove the blame off of herself. She had taunted him and told him to give up on his dreams but why would he actually listen to her?

For the past year the Baer household had been completely quiet; no longer filled with the lightness of sound emitting from her brother’s bedroom door, no more late night concerts or productions of his creation. It was almost as if the darkness that had been buried so deep within him, that was masked by all of his childish musicals, had finally come to life, at the expense of his own. This darkness now prowled through the halls of the two story house that stood coldly in the dead of night in the midst of a snowstorm.

If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. For more information, visit our Mental Health Resources section.
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Sydney Barish is a senior at the Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a relatively small public school based in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York. She enjoys writing and exploring techniques to make reading a sensory experience as well as an intellectual one. Sydney also enjoys creating art, whether in the form of writing, painting, or music and loves to share it with her peers.
Accompanying photo by Elise Anstey