Wish Children by Georgiana Nelsen

The wrens can’t decide. They flirt with the pretty purple tin birdhouse we have hung from the back fence. They flit about, filling it with twigs, singing their love song, then fly away for weeks and leave me bereft. The pair of them imply they’ve decided on our house, but then disappear for days. Then come back. Four pale blue eggs nestle among the twigs.

I dream of riding in the backseat of a car driven by my father on an interstate that crosses a river and another highway. The car chugs to reach the apex of the high bridge. When it does, the door next to me opens and I fall. I fall from that great height and hope I hit the water and not the pavement. And of course, I wake up, my heart beating fast, panting and I am in the dark, waiting, waiting for what comes next. Am I dead or am I just awake? Or maybe I’m underwater and have grown gills and can swim like a fish, or yes, a mermaid.

We left for a month, expecting the eggs to be hatched and the fledglings long gone. The internet said thirteen days for incubation. I don’t know how long they’d been there, but I’d seen the pair a few times, one staying inside the house for hours. When I finally peeked through the two-inch entry hole, the wren and I made eye contact. I thought she looked bitter, and she flew out, her sharp beak directed toward my eyes. I flinched and stepped back. I watched the nest until she returned a few minutes later. I expected her to stay.

I dreamed of lovely Cornwall, of fussy girls and pirate caves with gossamer curtains that could be parted like veils. It wasn’t dark or scary, but light, fresh. Souls lived there.

The morning mist grew so thick that the sky and sea were inseparable. The muted colors of the twelfth-century village blurred into another veil, splotchy and pointillistic. The red hull of a lifeboat parted the veil in its quest across roiling water to its rescue. A girl they said, alone on the rocks by the cave—unreachable–and underwater when the tide comes in.

I dream I am in unfamiliar houses, wandering from room to room trying to find my children, but my children are all grown and moved away, and I wonder, could these children be the children I didn’t have, because they chose to leave before birth, unhatched?  I wonder, were they even children then, or just a manifestation of a wish?

It smells of rain and fecund earth where anything can grow, where seeds can be fertilized with dreams, where life returns to parched memory and I shiver, seeking a corner lined with fleece; warm, protective place, where I try to escape memory and imagination.

But I remember the mermaids, so I wander into the rain. I can breathe under water. My blood will adapt, and I won’t feel the cold.

When we returned to the wrens, ivy had wrapped around the tin house and tucked around the perch, headed inside. I redirected it, away, and peeked inside.

The four pale blue eggs remained.

I don’t remember what sparked my father’s anger. Maybe he was just tired. Maybe he was lonely, because it is easy to be lonely when you are the only adult around. Children take up all the air in the room and you just want to breathe.

Maybe he wanted to be a merman and see underwater, but no one ever let him fall, let him hit the water or the pavement. Someone had to drive the car.

Mother says at least he is still here. Not like her father who vanished. At least we have each other, our misery, and our imagination.

When the dreaming stops, it is replaced by the rumble and whine of a train passing nearby, away from this place, this life, and the passengers may be mothers or sisters or. I think of those wish children, and wonder if they, too, are on that train, their stories not yet written, their eyes gleaming in wonder. Their hands reaching reaching reaching. And if they will be gone when I wake.


Georgiana Nelsen is a recovering lawyer whose fiction has appeared in Tiferet Journal, Bending Genres, Cheap Pop, Ellipsis Zine, the National Flash Flood, and others. Her work has been longlisted in the Wigleaf Top 50 and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She is a consulting editor for Ruby Literary Press.

Photography by Rux Centea (@visualize)