This Songbird Must Fly
La Diva is dying. Everyone knows it. Doctors, nurses, the hospital chaplain, loyal friends and followers – everyone knows that her illness has progressed too far; Francesca cannot possibly live much longer.
Everyone knows, that is, except Francesca. “I refuse to die!” she shouts at the doctor who stops by on his rounds. “I will leave this hospital singing!” she insists to her followers and friends, in response to their telegrams, massive bouquets and comfort cards.
The nurses all try to avoid her, terrified of the fury in her eyes and her critical comments. “You’re too old,” she mutters to one nurse. “Too fat,” to another. “Too ugly.” “Too awkward.” Only one nurse pleases her – young Nurse Heidi. Francesca watches the slim figure straighten the bed, adjust the blinds, gracefully balance the dinner tray. Heidi hums while she works. “You’re out of tune,” Francesca says thoughtfully. “I know,” says the beautiful nurse. “I do love to sing, but can never get the right note!” They laugh together, and Francesca pats her hand reassuringly. “Never you mind, bella.” There’s a wild cunning in her eyes.
Hour after hour, Heidi sits by the Diva’s bedside, listening to her life stories with rapt attention. Francesca describes every role, every opera house, every standing ovation of her career. “I’m known as ‘l’uccello canoro’ – the songbird of Milan. Of the whole world! Of course I cannot die.” Every hour her voice grows weaker, her face paler, her breath more labored.
Finally she whispers, “Come close. Closer. Closer still.” She pulls Heidi’s face down with surprising strength until their foreheads are touching. Time seems to hang suspended, then finally resumes. Francesca, the glorious Diva, is gone.
Heidi springs up triumphantly, marches down the hall to the administrative offices where she announces her resignation, effective immediately. “But why?” splutters the department head. “You’re our best nurse, the one with the healing hands, the special calling!” Heidi laughs and exclaims, “Questo uccello canoro deve volare!” And she rushes down the corridors to freedom, trailing fragments of song behind her, every note in perfect tune.