Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 247 – From the Bird’s Nest by Jennifer Nestojko - transcript
(Originally aired 2022/12/31 - listen here)
This is the last fiction episode of the year, the last podcast of the year, released on the last day of the year. And you know what that means: Starting tomorrow, the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is open for submissions again, for the whole month of January. I hope to see many wonderful stories like this one showing up in my inbox! But for now, let’s close out the year with a gentle story of love and birds that fly free from their nests: “From the Bird’s Nest” by Jennifer Nestojko.
Jennifer Nestojko is a teacher, poet, and storyteller living on the central coast of California and working in San Jose. She spent a lot of time on her commute listening to Robin's voice until Robin's letters to Millie needed to become a full story.
Jennifer is a familiar name in this fiction series. This is the third story she’s sold to the podcast, covering settings from Iron Age Denmark to medieval Brittany, to this one set in 19th century New England.
When I asked Jennifer if she had any suggestions for a narrator, she asked if I’d consider auditioning one of her students, Emma Ross, for the job. Emma’s demo recording was delightful and knowing that she’d be working with Jennifer on the specific requirements of the text made me more than willing to give her a chance. I hope she goes on to find more narration jobs.
This recording is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License. You may share it in the full original form but you may not sell it, you may not transcribe it, and you may not adapt it.
From the Bird's Nest
by Jennifer Nestojko
To: Miss Millicent Gardiner
From: Robin Martin, the Bird’s Nest
My dear Miss Gardiner,
I am so happy to hear of your safe arrival in that great city of New York. I wish you the best of fortune during your sojourn there, and I believe without the slightest shadow of doubt that your endeavors will be fruitful and that the denizens of that fair town will be as dazzled by your performance as those close to home have always been. I will always be one of your truest fans.
Oh, Millie, dearest, that sounds so terribly formal, and so it is too funny, indeed. Perhaps Mother’s old propriety guides have rubbed off on me, but I find that doubtful. I do hope you dazzle your audiences – nay, there is not hope to it, for I know you will sing them out of their seats. I used to listen to you practice for hours; it may have been my favorite occupation then when you came over to visit, and Mother always did chide me a bit for doing so. Your voice, singing or otherwise, enchants me, and I am sure the effect is not limited to this one small songbird who herself only sings as she cooks or gardens. I will miss our duets while you are out conquering the world, but I know you will come home at the end of this tour.
Oliver called the other day, but I was up in my sitting room writing and not home to visitors. I am trying so hard to make this next little book come together, but my hero just will not do as I tell him, and it is very vexing. My heroine, Penelope, is a darling, and so much fun, but Bryson is really a bore. I may have to excise him from the book entirely and find a new man to take his place. I am rambling, dearheart, but you should hear what happened with Oliver. It will make you laugh.
Oliver, who cannot seem to take a hint or a direct command, left a “token of his admiration” for me in the shape of a brooch. It was dreadfully gaudy and not at all to my taste. I was trying to figure out how to return it to him without needing to actually see him, but when I looked for it later I could not find it. I had spent the early afternoon baking, as you know I like to do when I am trying to work out something with my writing, and when it came time for tea I was simply famished. I was also somewhat frantic about the bauble, as it seemed expensive and I could not keep it. It had vanished without a trace.
Do you know, when I cut into my little loaf of bread, my knife struck something hard. Imagine – I had baked that blessed brooch right into the bread. Fortunately, it stood up to its adventure, and I cleaned the thing and sent it with Arthur back to Oliver. Arthur, being kind and dignified, made no comment on my request; I do believe he disapproves of Oliver as well, though he would like to see me properly married off. He was here before me, and sees me as but a child; I have a feeling he would like to see me settled, though if I were to leave here to live with a husband, he would lose his place. The house would be sold off, I am sure. I believe he hopes I will marry someone who will take over the running of the household, though I think I am doing just fine so far.
Millie, I want to hear all about you and your great doings. I am terribly proud of you, singing upon a stage for hundreds of admirers. Please don’t let any of them admire you more than I do.
My Own Brilliant Star,
Thank you for your letter, it arrived just after dinner, and I was more hungry for it than for any croquettes or other treats that Janie makes up to tempt me with. It is such luck that she is staying on as cook; old Marnie was ready to retire. I am sure you are having great feasts in your honor and dining upon delicacies we here in our small town have yet to even dream about.
I fell upon your words like a starving wolf upon a defenseless lamb – yes, I know I tend to get carried away with my metaphors, but your missives are my lone excitement. You, now – you are living such a grand life. I gobble up your descriptions and then read the letter again, slowly, savoring every morsel. I have read a few of the reviews of your performances in the papers; I make Arthur scour the shops for any such scrap. I must say, the descriptions of throngs of suitors give me a small qualm, but you are always quoted as saying you are currently married to your work. I would so hate for you to find a ravishing Bryson of your own and leave me to live in another state. I get quite heartbroken when I think of it, and then I have a good laugh at myself and my flights of fancy.
After all, Bryson could not tempt you. He is indeed a bore, as you noted when I sent you a copy of my latest efforts. I have jettisoned him in favor of one Peter. I am giving Peter more admirable traits, and I hope he repays me for the effort by being sweet and tractable like a good boy should be to his creator. I do need to change the heroine’s name, however. Peter and Penelope are the stuff of cheap theater, not dreams. Her name shall henceforth be Audrey. I am glad you like the rest of the book. I am at the point of being fond of it, if perhaps foolishly. Later I will become quite cross and dissatisfied, but after a few tussles it will be ready to be sent off. That is a ways away, but by now I know my process.
It thrills me no end to hear that in New York and Philadelphia and other towns you have found my previous efforts being sold in reputable shops. You know no one recognizes me as the promising author; no one suspects that you know him at all. It is our little secret together – well, our secret, and that of my publisher. I wish I could be known by my own name, or at least by a woman’s name, but it is always amusing to read the reviews.
I miss you so much, and I wish I could be travelling with you and sharing in your triumphs. You understand, don’t you, dearest? I know you do; you are the sister of my heart and know all of my secrets and follies. Of course it is folly that I so rarely leave the grounds of my home, but I cannot seem to help myself. The terror that rises up in me quite destroys my reason. Your bravery is something I admire so much. That you see any courage in my own choices is astonishing.
Shine on brightly for all; sing to the many, but please ever keep me, the one, as the lodestar in your own skies.
I am feeling a bit peevish today, for I have a toothache, and so all seems dark and gloomy in my world. Besides, the bread I made for tea burnt to a crisp because I was daydreaming. It is a well-known failing of mine. I know you called me your “glimmering light in darkness” in your last letter, but I cannot help but feel drab and uninteresting. I am in a confessional mode, so I will tell you that your Lucy, the friend you have met on your travels, seems so brilliant and witty, from your reports, that you must cleave to her and think no more of your old shut-in friend.
Perhaps you have outgrown me; it would not be impossible as a thought, though I don’t see how I could ever outgrow you. I am, however, stuck here like that horrible rubber plant Mother used to keep in the parlor. Lucy can see the world with you, she can bring you flowers after a performance, she can soothe the headaches that you always get from crowds and long train rides. You have not said that she performs these small graces, but I wonder. It should be I tending to your needs, not some servant or a dear friend.
I would not be sending this letter, but you did tell me that we should share even our darker thoughts with each other, and not pretend all is sunshine. Your letters have relayed news of your headaches and your frustrations with rude men trying to garner your favor. My news is so much more tedious, filled with household mundanities and petty jealousy, but it is my own reality.
Spring is coming on slowly here, but I have heard bird song in the gardens and there are daffodils growing. I remember that they are your favorite. You have always been bright and golden. I may be a robin of spring, as you call me, but the female robin is so brown and hidden.
Forgive me my moodiness – by the time I write again, which very well may be tomorrow, I will have shored up my thoughts. The book is developing apace; Peter is much better than Bryson. I shall endeavor to be more Peter and less Bryson.
Your own little Robin.
My Dearest Millie,
It is not the next day, but a few days later, that I write you again. We have a bit of a tumult. Oliver came round and I really had to see him; I had been avoiding him all these months since the incident of the Brooch and the Bread. (Wouldn’t that make a sweet little story?)
So what does that dratted boy do, despite the fact that I have been avoiding him and returning his gifts? He gets down on one knee and asks me to be his wife. Whatever possessed him? I have not encouraged him one bit, and he does not really know me. Your comment a while back about his family needing an influx of money may provide a hint, but I am not that easy a target.
I turned him down, of course. He would be shocked to know my other self, though he has found my books in the wild and seems to like them, believing firmly that they were written by a man. That he enjoys my work would make me think more kindly of him had he not expressed, strongly, his opinion of women writing, and his opinion of you singing on the stage. His phrasing of such opinions left much to be desired and bordered on being crude. He was rather put out by my refusal, thinking perhaps a shut-in would not have a spine.
We will laugh together over his indignation some day and then lump him in with the others. I wish we had some better defense. Have you heard all the talk of Boston marriages? I hope those become more popular. I have no wish for a husband, and you are so often quoted in the papers as being married to your work. I find it tiresome that the question of achieving a husband is one of the first asked by reporters. Your glorious voice and your dedication to your art should be foremost, not some idea of a false achievement.
There I am, riding my hobbyhorse again. Mother used to say, sardonically, of course, that it was rather fortunate that I did not venture into the world considering some of my opinions. She would be pleased that I did not share them fully with Oliver, though his face would have entertained me for weeks after.
His proposal made me miss you terribly, though. When you are not out there conquering the world and making it love you, then we shall present a united front here at home and fend off the sad little knights who come to save the maiden from the dragon of having wealth and independence.
Conquer on, my heart, and I will keep the home fires burning for your return.
I am all aflutter, knowing that you are so close, that you will be singing just a few miles away from our own Bird’s Nest here. I realize – oh, how well I realize – that I should be there, waving at you from a seat up front or in a box or whatever they have in a theater – but I cannot. Not even for you, my darling, can I face so many people and go so far from home. I wish I could.
Thank you for the tickets; I am sure George will be very pleased to attend, and his new bride will also be able to hear you in the environment that best suits you. My brother has always been fond of you, as you well know. I also thank you, my closest friend, for your kindness in not asking that I attend the performance, even though I am sure you long to have me there, just the once. You offer; you don’t demand, and that makes me love you all over again, though I am not sure that I could love you more than I presently do. It makes me ashamed of my failings, but I truly am terrified of venturing out beyond my little nest. This Robin will never depart for warmer climes – or even venture up to Boston for your grand moment.
My heart will be with you tomorrow night; it travels with you, though I stay so tiresomely at home.
To Miss Millicent Gardiner
Greetings from your esteemed childhood companion. Please know that I watched your performance from the box to the left of the stage. You were incandescent. I would have come to you after to shower you with praise and affection, but I was not able to stay. I know you understand. I wish I could see you before you leave town, but, alas, train schedules wait for no man, or woman, and you have future performances to give.
Please accept these flowers from my garden and arranged by my own hand.
Dearest Millie ,
You have just left, and after our wonderful afternoon together, I am tired, but unable to rest. I was so surprised to see you in the parlor when I was told I had a visitor. Nell was most insistent that I get up, and I feared that Oliver had returned and was making demands on my time once again.
That you had planned this sweet surprise weeks ago fills me with joy and banishes all fears of Lucy or other new friends. Of course you need friends and support as you go; it was silly of me to think they could ever steal you away from me. When Lucy came by at the end of your visit, she was so kind and cheerful that I hold her now as a friend as well. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some day we could fill the Nest with women who have imagination and talent who wish to give each other support and companionship? I rattle around in this large place too much, and sharing what I have would be a worthwhile endeavor. I know I have shared it with you, since the loss of your own parents and home, yet it is still largely empty.
I would not want too many to stay here, but most certainly I will be glad when you come home to rest between tours. When you held me as you used to when we were school girls, when you caressed my hair in the dear old way that was your habit when I was fretful, all time and distance were erased and I knew I had been foolish to doubt you and myself.
One would think my great adventure last night was needless, since today brought you to me, but no – it was necessary, even if I never manage the like again. We were so busy with other matters today that I didn’t really tell you how it came about. I was so impatient with myself that I sent for George and enlisted his aid for my little plan. He took care of all of the details, arranged the carriage and the hooded cape, and most tenderly brought me into the theater, making sure I was carefully seated with the least amount of fuss. He held my hand when I was frightened, and he was most solicitous of my health of both body and mind. George used to torment me a little when we were young, but that is the nature of brothers, from what I can tell. That he is such a balm to me now erases all previous pranks from our shared youth.
There were so many people, even though I was in a box by myself; it quite took my breath away. I tried to breathe deeply and use the composing exercises you taught me so long ago. I thought I would faint, but I held on, and after a bit I became curious. I watched men and women from my little nest and imagined them into future books; it was a feast for my eyes and fed my fancies. I must admit, I saw several frocks and bonnets that I coveted for myself; I must have a dressmaker come so that I can indulge myself a teeny bit, even if I do not go to banquets or theaters again.
I had no need of my fancies or my breathing exercises when I heard you begin to sing. I floated away from all care on the wave of your voice. I existed in my own little space, only aware of you; I was so transported it was a shock to come back to that little box for the intermission. It was a shock, indeed, and I almost didn’t make it to the second part of the programme, but I did. George was a dragon, keeping all comers at bay and bringing me refreshments.
I could not make it to the very end; the applause was deafening and that roar of your admirers all together wore me out, but I saw the roses I arranged and sent you from the gardens at the Bird’s Nest brought out to you.
I am sorry we were not able to do more than stroll about the gardens today and talk a bit about your travels, though it felt so comfortable to fall asleep in your loving embrace. I feel safe with you, and I am greedy in wanting more time. I feel positively virtuous in sending you off with a smile and no tears, as if I were sharing my most precious treasure with the needy, which, really, I am.
I shall be able to rest for the evening, now that I have written some of what I could not say while you were here. Time slips past even though we will it to stay. I can think of at least three poets who have made the same observation, which is why I so seldom stray from prose to poetry.
I could write you a poem, though – this instant, were I not already nodding over this missive. Good night, my songbird.
Peter and Audrey and company have finished their adventures, including proofs and corrections, and are now off to the printing press. It is such a relief to have that done, and I deserve a short break from ink stains and broken pen nibs. Nell should find this a relief, since I always seem to stain my frocks despite the vast pinafores in which I swath myself to prevent such mishaps.
Of course, I was reading in the garden, relaxing in the summer sunshine, when a new character spang up, like Athena from the brains of Zeus, only she sprang from my own thoughts. I had no headache, thankfully, and I am not of such a straying nature as Zeus. I am only scandalous in my refusal of proposals of marriage from young men who see my fortune and not my graces.
My fortune shall be used as I see fit, and I have laid out a plan, with the suggestions you gave to me added in, to brother George. He does not have authority in this case, since Father distinctly left the house and part of his fortune to Mother and then to me once Mother passed on, and he knows that. George is not overbearing in the slightest, which is fortunate. I dislike overbearing men, and wait until I tell you about the latest suitor. Even Mother would have sent him firmly on his way.
It is a good thing I do not ramble in this way when I compose my novels; we would never get to the ending! Still, George has advised me on the practicalities of opening the house up to a few more women to live here and do their art or work as needed. You and I, of course, are the main residents, but others could come and go depending on need. I know of a woman, Josie, who is studying medicine, who may need a place to stay for a while. It is a terribly hard profession for a woman to take on, not because women cannot do the work, but because they are discouraged from doing it. I want to counter such discouragement. We also have a good room with excellent light for painting if Lucy wishes to come and stay for a while.
We would need to take on another servant and hire a washing woman, but my purse will stretch to that; it just never made sense to have more than Nell and Janie and Arthur for just myself and you now that Mother is gone. Indeed, that seems like too much, so I am delighted to be moving our plan forward.
I know when the leaves begin to turn and the air has that tang to it, then you will be home. I am enjoying the summer sunshine, and my roses are blooming, but I look eagerly to autumn’s joys.
The air is crisp and cool and the trees in the orchard are laden with apples, including our old favorite, whose fruit we used to gather and eat as we studied. It is hard to study when there is so much to do. The squirrels are scurrying away with their nuts; we don’t begrudge them their share, as they are so cute and diligent in their labors.
I have been diligent in mine. The art studio is now well appointed, as are the rooms for Lucy and Josie. The house has been aired and cleaned and all arranged in such a way that four women can share space or have privacy according to the needs of the day or hour. I bought the sweetest new linens and curtains for the rooms, and had such fun choosing the fabric for the bedspreads; Nell brought me samples, of course. I have even made little rag rugs for each room. You and I will share the largest room, of course, and we have a darling little parlor with a partner desk George found for me. It is the most wonderful thing, equipped with little cubbyholes and drawers.
I have also been diligent in getting my newest story going. I want a larger cast of characters, and more women this time. I have a new direction in which I am going in my scribblings and I cannot wait for you to read my efforts and give me your insight.
What is most invigorating, even more so than this brilliant weather with its great gusts of wind, is the thought that I do not have to wait much longer. The end of the week will bring the best of the foliage as if the entire woods were welcoming you back, clad in holiday attire. I too will be clad in my own festival gown, because I went through with my silly plan to get more fancy clothes, even if I go nowhere but here and see no one but you. Thank you for your encouragement in that as in all things.
Millie, we have so much to do together, but I trust that we will settle into a life worth the living and sharing. You will have other concert tours, of course, and I will have my attacks of writing come upon me, but together we will create something that reaches out past this little Nest of ours.
There I am getting sentimental. I must go and finish my last rug for Josie’s room and then wrestle with my main heroine a bit more. I am beginning to suspect she is not the only heroine in the story. I look forward to your thoughts.
May my welcome home be herald to your journey and may your journey be safely concluded soon.
With all my love,
This is just a quick note before tea to say how much I love our mornings working together, and the bread left for you was made by me just for your plate. I have gone for a wander in the woods, to think a bit more on that matter of plot and setting we discussed earlier. My work is so much stronger when you are around. I know you are busy planning your next tour, and I want you to know that I am excited for you and understand that you must fly away on your own adventures. This is a Nest, never a cage. I look forward to our evening together, and have picked a book for us to read that I just know you will enjoy.
Your own –
This quarter’s fiction episode presents “From the Bird’s Nest” by Jennifer Nestojko, narrated by Emma Ross.
This quarter’s fiction episode presents “From the Bird’s Nest” by Jennifer Nestojko, narrated by Emma Ross.
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