2014 Pushcart Prize
“The Altar of Birds”
A timeless story of love and redemption set in the lush landscape and unforgiving times of 1952 Appalachia.
Redmond Johnson lets good-hearted Caney Gentry die in a collapsed coal mine, then returns to their mountain hollow home to find Caney’s widow Sarah. And a prophecy is born.
Ten-year-old Jamie never questions his place in the world. He’s figured how to stay clear of his stepfather, wring moments from his distant mother, carve a refuge in the woods. He proudly owns a stash of animal parts, and illustrates a bird catalogue with pilfered paper and pencil nubs. He doesn’t know his mother watches from afar, or that his only escape from a stepfather bent on murder is fleeing the mountains, alone, as a wise woman foretold eight years earlier.
His mother Sarah remembers the wise woman’s prophecy well. Aggrieved and bound by mountain code that defines Fate unstoppable, she withholds herself from Jamie, believing it the only choice a good mother makes to steel her son for a destiny without her. Her other heartache is for Jamie’s dead father who she still adores. She doesn’t know she married the man who let her beloved die when the coal mine collapsed. Or that the prophecy she dreads is Jamie’s salvation, and her own.
Everything changes when Jamie befriends a mysterious stranger in the hollow and learns the breadth of the world, grows to take his place in it. Secrets shatter. Sarah faces the damage done by the choices she’s made and breaks code, steps toward an unimagined future. And as the prophecy unfolds, both mother and son embrace the truth in the love between them, find what they feared they’d lost.
Flight is a multi-layered coming of age story that raises questions of fate and choice, and explores the intricacies of desire.