Fiction, Vol. 8.1, March 2014
A bird is flying around my attic. I hear it beating its scared body against the windows. Below the attic in my bedroom, as I lie under one sheet with my eyes open, I hear the thud when the bird strikes a window and the rattle of the old panes, loose in their muntins and jambs. You remember the old windows, how they let the cold in. The bird can see out the windows, I’m sure, toward the stretch of field, leading to the forest, the place the bird is likely trying to get back to.
Yesterday I went to see Dr. Epstein. I told him about the bird, and at first he seemed interested, rubbing his copper beard and saying, yes, certainly. Yes, certainly. When I told him I’d been losing sleep because I could hear the bird flying all night, he said, of course, but he didn’t sound too understanding. And by the time I asked him if maybe I should buy some birdseed, since the bird was probably hungry, his eyes looked hard as marbles and he asked if we might get back to the matter at hand, please. I said I was only asking for some advice. He gave me some advice of his own when he told me not to call you. I didn’t think it was very helpful, so when I got home, I listened for the bird to thump exactly four times into the window before picking up the phone and dialing your number. The phone rang seventeen times. I was going to thank you for the time you wrapped gauze around my thumb when I sliced it cutting turnips. I was going to tell you the scar is a bright white apostrophe below my knuckle. I was going to tell you a lot of things, but your phone rang seventeen times and I hung up.
I imagine that the bird is sweet and dull-looking. I think maybe she is dove-gray because when I listen to her wings rushing, they sound gray. I’m working on a watercolor of her, but it’s coming out wrong. The beak is too sharp and the wings don’t look frightened. I imagine you would tell me not to worry because that was one of those things you’d say. You’d tell me that my painting was nice. I’m not going for nice.
I’m going to call Dr. Epstein because I think I could use an extra appointment. He told me to try meditating, but I’ve been sitting with my legs folded like petals for two hours, both my palms flat on my stomach, knowing that time won’t wait, and my mind is flying because all I can hear is the bird. She is taking more rests now, but when she does fly at the window it is with more force. You would tell me not to worry, I’m sure, but I’m scared she will crash through a pane of glass and cut her breast to ribbons.
I fell asleep just when morning was turning all the shapes in my room ashy. When I woke up, the sun was cold, crystal-white, and I got very scared for a moment, until I heard scratching on the floorboards above me. The bird was looking for food. Do you remember how bright the sun was the day you left? When you drove away, it gleamed off every window, and your car was lost in brightness. I had one hand on my stomach and the other on my chest, none left to wave goodbye. Now it is the fourth day of listening to my bird. I wonder if the sun startled her too.
Dr. Epstein might be conspiring against my bird. This afternoon I told him that I was scared to go up to the attic and set her free. I told him I could throw open the window, or break it with a rock. I said I had devised many plans to set my bird free, but that I couldn’t bear to do it. He should have encouraged me to run up the attic stairs and open every window, knock down a wall if necessary. Instead, he told me to get back to the matter at hand, please. You would have insisted I go up. I haven’t gone near the attic door.
I hope she builds a nest. I’m crossing my fingers that she will find the soft yellow sweater that I knit you for your birthday. I hope she will find it in the box of things that are yours but which I took to have something left. I want her to pluck the purl stitches with her beak until the cables are unraveled, and then I want her to line her nest with that yarn, tuck her head into her feathers and sleep. I’m hoping she stays. I’ve grown used to the sound of her wings.
Did you leave because you were tired? Did you go because I placed your hand on my stomach and told you to stay, please? Was it exhausting being with someone who could find her way in, but never out? I imagine the bird came through some crack in the eaves, and now it can’t find that same opening again. The way in is very simple, but retracing your steps, or your wingbeats, isn’t.
I would have liked to hear you say, just one last time before you left, not to worry. I think it would have been the only time I’d have listened to you. Instead, you left in a flash of sunlight. You found your way out, no problem.
My bird stopped flying today and the silence has been too much. I wonder if she starved to death, or froze, or maybe her body was so bruised her heart just stopped. Perhaps she is still alive, staring with her two black eyes out at the poplars, remembering flight.