Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We didn’t even see it come in. It was just a black dot, a crayon flake, a quarter-note that you almost crushed, until it chirped and surprised us both.

“A baby bird,” I said all at once.

“Probably from the storm,” you said, each word measured.

We had to lie on our stomachs just to look it in the eyes. Our curiosity made it tense, and like everything when it’s frightened, it wanted to fight us. But after it tired, our hands slipped under its wings: first yours, then mine. Its tiny weightless bones made me think of escape and Wilbur Wright’s left ankle in that famous photograph. You knew the one.

We had been to the pet store and played with the birds there. They pecked at our curled fingers and climbed us in search of openings. Their claws on the top of our heads tangled in our hair like the long toothpicks that teachers used when they called us outside to search for lice. I wanted to lie and say I hadn’t been checked.

“Pet.” I never liked that word. “It seems to come with chains.”

“Like all words,” you said.

“Like all words.” I was your eager echo.

We brought it food and made it a nest of what was available: a restaurant menu and a bundle of pine needles.

Its wing had white specks where God had a change of heart and tried to erase the whole bird.

We had a change of heart and wanted to release it into the backyard world. We wanted it to have brothers and proper worms. We wanted to be heroes. We wanted. It was easy to make it leave, but harder to forget. We left at different times, to find distractions.

Outside, the storm had knocked so much loose, and those of us who survived took walks and saw things we once owned but did not recognize them, like hearing a nursery rhyme for the first time without its melody.

I got home first and learned what the human stink does to other things. The way it leaves oily residue on glass or film, and other sensitive materials that corrode, if given time.

I wanted to be acquitted of our theft. But this is one of nature’s laws, whether we knew it or not: Some things will die because you touch them, and some things will die because you never do.

With my hands, I cupped our crime like a black stone. I wanted to hold everything like this, like it might wake up at any moment and take flight. I could almost feel its heart muffled in my palms. Or was it my own? The heart plays tricks like that sometimes, beating in places where it’s not.

photo of author Chris Shafer

Chris Shafer

Chris Shafer has broken his ankle, several fingers and toes, his nose (twice), and his collarbone, and has fractured a vertebra. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he works as a writer and director. His work has previously appeared on television and in the literary journals, including The New Southerner, The Ante Review, and 10,000 Tons of Black Ink.

Comments are closed.

In memory of Kurt Brown

Please consider donating to /One/