Megan Mayhew Bergman
Additional Background Information
What is this story about? One answer is simply that it is about love. Because of the protagonist’s strong maternal love for her son, Ike, she worries about genetic weaknesses she might have passed on to him—―cancer genes, hay fever, high blood pressure, perhaps a fear of math‖, plus being undersized for his age making him an easy target for bullies. Being a single parent, she knows that she is all her son has. She takes care to shelter him from bad examples and possible harm. The desire to be a good mother, to help her child grow up happy, healthy, and productive is so intense that she is sometimes haunted by nightmares.
The experience of parenting her child gradually makes the protagonist more aware of her relationship with her mother:
Will you love me forever? I think to myself. Will you love me when I’m old? If I go crazy?
Will you be embarrassed by me? Avoid my calls? Wash dishes when you talk to me on the phone, roll your eyes, lay the receiver down next to the cat?
These were exactly the things she did to her mother. Loving her son, she finally realizes how much her parents also loved her. Her father’s love was easier to understand. He tried his best to give her opportunities in life, but when she failed in the year at a private college, which he had funded for her with considerable difficulty, he did not judge or reproach her. She loved her father, but she regarded her mother as cold and harsh and fought constantly with her, reacting like her former self, the rebellious teenager, being neither mature nor compassionate in looking after her mother in old age, understanding her, forgiving her weaknesses, and loving her.
But now that her mother is dead, she begins increasingly to miss her, and the decision to drive nine hours with her son for the sake of hearing her mother’s voice again through the imitations of Carnie, the African parrot, shows how much she needs this connection. “I realize how badly I need a piece of my mother. A scrap, a sound, a smell—something.” She knows she has not been a good daughter, and the parrot her mother loved and which she hated so much, always seemed to come between them. Now, however, Carnie has become her only avenue to the kind of memory she craves. But the bird does not give her that satisfaction, remaining completely silent. Perhaps it could not forgive her unkind treatment of it in the past.
Nonetheless, the journey proves successful. In the tradition of the American ―road trip‖, anothe r way of thinking about this story, the protagonist does not merely make an actual journey with her son in a car, during which various things happen along the way, she also makes a personal, emotional journey in which she achieves a measure of enlightenment. It is a typical feature of