By A. W. Marshall
When I came in from the garden, I found a dead bird on the floor in my hallway. The poor thing must have flown in through the dormer and fallen down from the attic fan, though I couldn’t be sure it was the fall that killed it. The bird was mostly brown with flecks of black and yellow. It was small enough to fit in my pocket, but I don’t like to touch dead things. Tight in its little feet, a rolled bit of paper. With tweezers, I gently tugged it out.
On the paper was written in a poor but legible chicken-scratch, “I have a crush on you because you are so lovely.”
“How sweet!” I thought, immediately knowing the note was for me. This poor bird, clearly intelligent, even literate, had been harboring romantic thoughts for me. Maybe he saw me in the yard, kneeling around my garden beds and pulling weeds, my hair wrapped up in a babushka, which is a comely look for a young woman in a garden—even though very few ever notice. But this poor bird, heart all pitter patter and confused, knew we could never be. Never to be! this poor, intelligent bird lamented. I will always be separated from my love. Which in this case was me. And this motivated my bird lover to his death, his last and most precious hope rolled into his spindly feet.
However, quite immediately, I had a whole altogether secondary thought, probably a much more sober thought: the note had nothing to do with me except that it was in my house. The bird loved another. Most likely another bird. Maybe a bird who lived in my attic, and the lover bird could not find her. And in his haste to find her, he smashed into a wall, probably breaking his neck, falling to my floor. That must have been it. I was just a bystander, an inconsequential witness to love. Nothing more. Not considered or loved by this bird in the least.
So I swept it into a dust pan and threw it over into my neighbor’s yard because I do not like dead things. Then I took the note and burned it with a match in my sink. I watched its edges burn, smelled the acrid tang of the match, telling myself I had done nothing wrong. Soon after, I filled my house with cats rescued from certain death at the local shelter, and they stalked and hunted against every bird near my home. They brought the little carcasses to me, little gifts tied in red ribbon, which because I do not like to touch dead things, I opened with my heart, filling it with feathers, bones, and beaks. Soon, every little bird was dead and no new ones came near, and I was left with the conniving, sensible love of cats, curled in the corners of my house, dreaming of before they killed all their hearts’ desires.
A.W. Marshall’s work is published or forthcoming in Red Wheelbarrow, the NewerYork, Fiction Attic, Austin Review, 491, and Appalachian Heritage. He is co-editor of Piece Meal, an online magazine that exclusively reviews poems and short stories from literary magazines. For the last four years, he has been writing a novel about a hybrid man/rabbit living in 1850’s California called Hendo.