When was the last time you stopped to take note of the emu at your local coffee shop? If your answer is “never,” then please let Issue 048 author Jenna Hanan Moore enlighten you to the magic of noticing the small wonders in life, such as in her story “Birds of a Feather.”
LSQ: This story was delightfully quirky! Tell us about the origins of this story. Is there a parallel with emerging from lockdown?
Jenna: Thank you so much. The story originated from a writing prompt: imagine an animal sitting in a coffee shop sipping a coffee and no one else notices. I imagined the scene taking place in a real coffee shop in my neighborhood, and a funny thing happened: the characters did what real people do in real life. That includes being desperate to be back out around people, and then being too busy or too wrapped up in what we’re doing to take the chance to make a connection. It also includes overlooking the interesting things that are all around us if we’d pay a bit more attention. I’m often guilty of both of those things. When I wrote the first draft of that first scene, emerging from lockdown was itself a bit of a fantasy. As badly as I wanted to be able to sit inside my favorite coffee shop, the thing is, when I can do that, I usually sit alone or with my husband reading the morning paper.
LSQ: What did the birds symbolize, if anything? Are there emus and peacocks everywhere, if we but stop for a moment and pay attention?
Jenna: I didn’t intend them to be symbols, but yes, I wanted to show that there are all kinds of wonderful things to experience if we just stop to pay attention. In the story, the two birds act as catalysts to get the people they encounter to notice things, but these two fantastical talking birds aren’t the only things the people notice – there are also ordinary birds, and there are ordinary people and things. In the coffee shop, they talk about Emma’s travels, but they also talk about Janice’s pet parrot. On the subway, they talk about the unusual peacock, but they also talk about homing pigeons and hawks.
LSQ: By the end, this story leaned into a positive encounter–Janice wasn’t the only one who acknowledged and talked to birds. Explain a bit more what you meant about how she didn’t look back to see if the peacock was still there?
Jenna: I wanted it to be positive, and I wanted the experience to be something Janice would carry with her after the encounter, even though she wouldn’t always have a talking bird around. What I imagined was an army of anthropomorphic birds descending on the city to help people to open their eyes and talk about what they see, the way Emma and the peacock do, but I wanted to leave things a bit vague to let readers decide for themselves what to imagine. In the end, Janice is not sure whether she really saw what she thinks she saw. If the talking birds aren’t real, she doesn’t want to know that. She doesn’t want the magic to end.
LSQ: Tell us a bit about the last line, pun and all. Did you think of the ending first, or did it come to you as you were writing?
Jenna: I thought of the line after I’d written most of the story. It wasn’t meant to be anything more than a humorous pun, although to be honest, the birds in the story acted as catalysts for me too, in a way. Originally, the scene in the coffee shop was the whole story. When I expanded the focus from Emma to include all sorts of birds—the peacock, the pet parrot, the red-tailed hawks, and the homing pigeons—it freed me to write about more than just the absurdity of a talking bird drinking a coffee in a café.