The Bluebird Box (Contemporary Short Story)

Greetings, friends! In last week’s blog post, I mentioned that I had written a contemporary fiction short story based on a dream I had. Well, after reading it over again, I am still quite happy with how it turned out. I thought I might as well share it with you all. The story isn’t perfect, but it conveys what I meant for it to. Hope you enjoy! 🙂


I remember visiting my grandparents the summer after I turned thirteen. Since they lived so far away, we rarely saw them. One day, though, Mom and Dad decided it was finally time for our whole family to visit Grandma Violet and Grandpa Stuart.

As our dusty, bug-splattered minivan rolled up along the gravel driveway in late May, the excitement of the moment was almost too much to bear. To think we would be here for a whole month, free to roam the wilderness and pursue whatever caught our fancy! My sisters could chase all the butterflies they wanted. My brothers and I could wade knee-deep in the brook or disappear into the woods all morning, only returning when the lunch bell called us. The thought was enough to make Timothy, Benjamin, and me wild with joy. The girls, too, bounced in their seats as they made nose-prints on the car windows.

Grandpa and Grandma’s white house had a wraparound porch, and a big yellow lab sat on the top of the steps, tail wagging frantically. A woman in a blue jean skirt and western-style boots appeared behind the screen door and threw it open. As soon as Dad stopped the car, we tugged on door handles and flooded out of the space we had been confined in for too many hours. Grandma raced out to meet us, eagerly hugging the nearest child, eleven-year-old Abigail. Grandpa followed close behind, walking with a distinct limp and a cowboy’s stride.

It took several minutes before each grandparent had hugged each one of the six “little ’uns” and their beaming parents. Grandma exclaimed over and over how big we had gotten, how lovely the babies were, and how glad she was to see us. The undercurrent of joy in the moment never once ebbed. Smiles everywhere. Toddlers squalling, children chattering, and adults trying to keep order. It was wonderful.

“What’s your name, young man?” Grandpa asked, smiling down at me with a face that, though leathery and wrinkled, looked a lot like Dad’s. He had a hearing aid in one ear and big, calloused hands.

“Grayson, sir,” I replied, returning the smile.

He shook my hand firmly. “It’s nice to meet you, Grayson.”

“Nice to meet you, too.” When he talked to me like that, I felt very grown-up.

While Grandpa met the rest of my siblings, Mom and Dad talked to Grandma in low voices. I stood off to the side, head cocked as I tried to figure out what was going on. Dad saw me looking and extended his hand to me. I hurried to his side, and he tousled my hair gently. “Grayson, there’s something you should know.”

Grandma and Mom continued whispering, heads together. Dad walked a few steps away, hands in his pockets, and faced me again. “Your grandpa has a hard time remembering things sometimes.”

“Like Mr. Avery at church?” I asked.

“Yes, son, and it’s hard for Grandma. You’ll need to be patient with Grandpa.”

“Okay,” I replied, though I was still a little confused.

By this time, Grandma was ushering everyone inside the house. Only Dad, Grandpa, and I were left in the yard with the big yellow lab standing in the doorway, waiting for us. Grandpa hugged Dad and slapped him on the back. After a moment, he turned to smile down at me. “Who’s this young man, Wes? Your eldest?”

Dad nodded, gripping his father’s shoulder. “This is Grayson, Dad. He was thirteen just a few weeks ago.”

“Growing up fast, eh? They always do.”

I understood what Dad meant now. The moment of that family reunion was poignant to me, full of joy and sadness both. I followed Dad and Grandpa into the house, closing the door on the wide, friendly outdoors as the yellow lab clicked across the linoleum at Grandpa’s heels.

After the first week of our stay, I was very surprised when the novelty of the vacation started to wear off. It wasn’t because I was tired of Grandma’s humongous pancake breakfasts or the antics of Flash, the big Labrador, or the countless adventures we had. I had fun playing in the river and catching trout with Dad, Grandpa, my brothers, and Abigail. Abby didn’t mind getting a little wet and grimy.

No, the reason for the empty spot in my chest wasn’t because I was bored, or homesick, or infuriated with my siblings, even though I felt that way occasionally. Rather, it was because of Grandpa. My younger siblings loved him. Abby was the only one, I think, who suspected something was amiss. Grandpa told the same stories within the span of a few hours. He sometimes got the “little ’uns” mixed up, calling me Timothy or Benjamin. Despite myself, I was finding it very hard to be patient as Dad had admonished me. While my siblings giggled, thinking Grandpa was playing games, I tried calmly to correct his mistakes. When that barely helped, I started looking for a way out.

The big map over the fireplace had intrigued me from the very moment I stepped foot in the house. Hand-drawn, it was a rendering of the property from perhaps sixty years earlier. Grandma said Grandpa’s father had made it for his son. The most intriguing part of the map was the big red “X” in one corner. I stared at that map for a long time, memorizing every feature and trying to think where the “X” might lead to. Everyone knew an “X” on a map meant treasure. I decided to check it out.

One morning, after a hearty breakfast, I slipped out the back door, stumbled on the porch steps, and flailed my arms to keep from faceplanting in the dirt. After I caught my balance, I bolted for the woods. From what I could tell, the “X” was a half-mile east of the house, near the edge of the neighbor’s lake. When I found the lake, I discovered that it was now sectioned off from Grandpa’s property by a split-rail fence. Assuming logically that Great-Grandpa had buried something on his own land, not anyone else’s, I started searching the field on the near side of the fence.

I found no determining marks on the ground. The only unusual things in the area were a few old birdhouses hung on posts. When the lunch bell rang, I started back at a dead run, making it to the house a few minutes later. Greatly winded, I sat down at the table and gulped down some water, answering Dad’s question about my whereabouts very truthfully. When he didn’t ask why I was down by the lake, I heaved a sigh of relief.

Grandpa wanted to take the kids fishing again, so I didn’t have a chance to search further. We caught ten speckled trout, with Abigail reeling in the biggest one. Dad snapped a few pictures of her grinning widely as she held it up. We had fish for dinner that night.

I spent the next few days wholly absorbed in my search for treasure. I asked Grandpa if I could use a shovel from his shed, and when he gave permission, I felt an uncomfortable twinge of guilt. Grandpa wouldn’t remember me asking for his tools. I should’ve asked Grandma, too, but I feared being forbidden from further exploration. I went about retrieving the shovel with the utmost secrecy, waiting until all my siblings had gone inside the house for lemonade so there were no witnesses. I snuck a half-length shovel out of the shed and shut the door silently, as though I was committing a robbery.

As I rounded the corner of the shed, I ran smack-dab into Abigail. She put her hands on her hips and glared at me, hazel eyes sparkling like firecrackers. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Ahhh…err…I…” I couldn’t think of anything good to say, so I pulled out my usual big-brother excuse. “None of your business.”

“Why do you need a shovel? What are you digging?” she asked pointedly.

“Dirt. What else would I be digging, water?” I brushed past her and hurried into the trees.

Abigail huffed. “I’m telling Dad!”

“Go ahead! I’m not doing anything wrong. Grandpa gave me permission.” I was too far away to hear her closing remark.

I set to work with zeal, digging holes along the fence and filling them back in when I determined they held no secret treasure. I marked the spots with piles of rocks until the whole area looked like some sort of ancient burial ground. The thought made my skin crawl. What if the “X” marked something other than treasure? What if Great-Grandpa had buried something much worse in the ground? Somehow that made my quest more exciting.

For the next week, I dug and dug and dug, gradually working my way along the fence. When that search yielded nothing, I spent some time studying the map again for anything I might have missed. I began to wonder whether it was even a rendering of the immediate area. The lake was a different shape, and the house was much smaller than it should have been. Grandma caught me staring at the framed picture. “You should ask Grandpa about that map, Grayson,” she said. “I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you how he got it.”

I smiled and thanked her, even though I had no intention of taking her suggestion. Grandpa only told wild, far-fetched stories. There was no way to know if he was being truthful about them. I decided to continue searching as I had been. Time was running out; we had only two weeks left until we returned home.

The next morning, I snuck out to Grandpa’s shed to grab my shovel and almost jumped out of my skin. Grandpa stood there with his arms full of tools. He pretended to be startled and playfully scolded me for sneaking up on him.

“What are you doing, Grandpa?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I’m making a box for the bluebirds.”

I frowned. “But why?”

“Some birds like to nest in boxes, Grayson,” he chuckled, shouldering his way out of the shed. “I made one with my father, and I taught the same trick to your father. How about you help me make this one?”

I froze, glancing at the woods and thinking of the buried treasure. I could take a break for one day. My hands would appreciate it; the shovel handle was rough and scratched my palms if I forgot to bring gardening gloves. “I’ll help, Grandpa.”

We spent the rest of the day measuring and marking pieces of wood that Grandpa had gotten at the hardware store. He had already sketched a detailed diagram of what we were making. The bird box was going to be bigger than I expected, with a little, circular opening tucked beneath the overhanging roof. When I got a splinter from working with the wood, Grandpa used the tweezers in his pocket-knife to take it out. He also noted the scrapes on my hands. “You can tell a man is a hard worker if his hands are worn and calloused. You’re getting there, son.” He winked, and I couldn’t help smiling.

I expected to return to digging the next morning, but as I snuck out to the shed, Grandpa called out to me. He stood on the back porch, hands in his pockets. “Eager to be back at work, I see. We’ll be cutting the wood today.”

I let go of the shed’s doorknob, eyes widening slightly. Grandpa had remembered. I wasn’t sure whether I was pleased with this development or not. Hadn’t I wanted Grandpa to remember things better? I set aside my treasure hunt for another day, trying to be patient. Grandpa cut the wood with his power saw, and we both wore safety glasses and earplugs. When the racket ceased, Abigail peeked into the shed, looking slightly envious.

“This is Grayson’s project, Abby. I’ll help you make something this weekend,” Grandpa promised.

I smirked at her, glad that Grandpa hadn’t let her paint flowers on the birdhouse or something. When Grandpa’s back was turned, she stuck out her tongue, bright red from a cherry popsicle, at me. I resisted the urge to return the gesture, rolling my eyes instead.

The next day, I woke up early, fully intending to get back to work—not on the bird box, though. After breakfast, I slipped outside after making sure Grandpa was distracted by five-year-old Esther, who was playing a gentle tug-of-war with Flash. I rummaged around in the shed for my shovel, but it was gone from its usual place. Before I could find a suitable replacement, Grandpa stomped inside. Stifling a groan, I resigned myself to helping him again.

This pattern of events continued for the next three days. Each morning when I tried to escape into the woods, Grandpa caught me. Excuses didn’t work. “You have whole ‘nother week to explore, Grayson,” he said, unaware of my inner turmoil. I had a desperate need to find that treasure. People said that you didn’t realize the worth of something until you lost it. I hadn’t realized the truth of that saying until now, after I had lost so much time to search for the treasure. When I complained to Dad about the project, he firmly but gently insisted that I continue helping Grandpa. I obeyed.

By the week’s end, Grandpa and I had finished the bird box. I was starting to hate the sight of it. Sure, it was nice. Every piece fit together perfectly. Grandpa had even waterproofed the outside. The box was solid, better than any store-bought birdhouse. The last thing Grandpa and I did was carve our names into the bottom.

“It’s your bird box, Grayson. Where would you like to hang it up?” he asked, smiling proudly.

Grayson’s bird box. Not anyone else’s. My frustration, which had been boiling up inside me all week long, started to ebb away. Grandpa’s eyes shone with satisfaction, and I imagined he must have looked the same way after my dad finished his bluebird house. Even longer ago, Great-Grandfather, the maker of the mysterious map and the original bird box carpenter, must have been so proud of young Grandpa Stuart. This moment, these exact emotions, had been repeated for three generations. With an odd feeling in my stomach, I wondered if I would pass the tradition on to one more.

“You know that map on your wall, Grandpa?” I asked finally.

“Why, of course. My father drew it for me when I was not quite as old as you.”

“There’s an ‘X’ marked on it. Maybe we could put up the box there.”

Grandpa looked surprised. “Why, that’s the very field we put up all the old bluebird boxes. Are you sure you want to cluster them together like that?”

“Oh.” My ears reddened. I had been digging in the dirt for buried treasure, barely even noticing the bird boxes hanging above me on old posts. “Yes, Grandpa. At least, I’d like to put it near there.”

“Find your father, and we can all go together,” Grandpa suggested.

I jogged out of the shed and spotted Dad on the front porch with Esther settled on his knee and little Ruth sitting on a blue, crocheted blanket in the dappled sunshine. I explained my errand in one breath, Dad smiling strangely all the while.

“Are you glad you made the bluebird box, Grayson?” he asked after a moment.

“Yes, Dad.”

“You don’t think it was a waste of time?”

I eyed him warily. “No, sir.” Making a bird box was much more worthwhile than digging for an elusive treasure.

Dad told Esther to go play in the yard and beckoned me closer. I sat in the rocking chair beside him, fingers tapping nervously. “It’s okay, Grayson,” he said, and I relaxed. “I’m proud of you for being patient with Grandpa. You helped him finish a project that I don’t think he could have otherwise.”

I looked down, mouth twisting as though I’d eaten something sour. “I…uh…wasn’t all that patient.”

“Yes, but you stuck it out.” He looked as if he would say something more, but didn’t.

“Wesley! Grayson! Come on, we’re burning daylight!” Grandpa called, rounding the corner of the house with the bird box in hand.

“Go on. I’ll catch up,” Dad told me, picking up Ruth and scraping open the screen door. “And Grayson…”

I stopped at the bottom of the porch steps and looked up at him.

“If you ever need a shovel, check under the porch.” He winked and disappeared inside.

I stared for a moment, then grinned and hurried to Grandpa’s side. As we walked, he told me all about his father’s map, explaining how the lake and land had changed shape over the years. He told me the oft-repeated stories from his childhood, and I no longer thought they were tall tales. In the trees above our heads, a little bluebird hopped from branch to branch, chirping happily.

***

The winter after our family’s trip, Grandpa’s failing health took a turn for the worst. The next time we visited Grandma Violet, it was for a ceremony where everyone was dressed in black. Abigail and I stood with Father and Mother while a family friend watched the little ones elsewhere. You didn’t realize the worth of something until you lost it—now that adage was painfully true. I would never forget that formative summer when, through the making of a simple bluebird box, my grandfather taught me the value of patience.


Thanks for reading, everyone. I hope you enjoyed the story. If you did, please consider leaving a “like,” commenting, and subscribing to my blog. My favorite thing about this story is probably the confrontation between Abigail and Grayson. That was very fun to write. Have a wonderful week, friends!

Until next time,

Published by The Arbitrary Fairy

I am a writer, artist, introvert, book lover, and music enthusiast! On The Arbitrary Fairy, I blog about various topics that I am passionate about. I hope that my writing brings a little spark of light to the lives of my readers.

6 thoughts on “The Bluebird Box (Contemporary Short Story)

  1. Beautifully written, touching story! It reminds me of Mark Twain, with the nostalgia of childhood and summers in the countryside. Having struggled to write any sort of contemporary story, I really really admire your work in this. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what a great story. It’s ending is satisfying in a bittersweet way, and your characters are so endearing, keeping true to their wonderful personalities throughout the story. (I love Abigail. Perfect depiction of a little sister.) I loved it, and would like to see more like it if you ever write another!

    Liked by 1 person

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