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A Bird’s Gotta Fly (excerpt)

Patricia L. Meek


Morning brings in a blinding light. Something in-flight flashes outside the window—and then there is a sickening thud. I’m alarmed when I throw off the bedcovers and step over to the window. It’s a brown bird, sitting on the windowsill, stunned. A tiny, brown bird, a sparrow, nothing special at all. The kind of brown bird that scatters underneath café tables pecking at the crumbs. The sparrow cocks its head, and I swear it looks right at me. It collects itself for another moment and then flutters up and away. I’m spellbound. It’s a miracle that it can fly. It’s a miracle that it didn’t break its neck when it mistook the glare of window for open sky. I search for it as I try to remember why I’m so angry all the time. All these years, I thought I’d made the wrong choice. Something within me softens. How magnificent it would be to fly. All birds fly. I could fly too—if I tried.


Clint is still unconscious, belly up, hair twisted into a curl. He’s snoring. I can’t remember him being such a noisy sleeper even after he’s been drinking. “So, are we going to grow into separate rooms?” I ask.


He answers me with a “Honk-spurrrr.”


“Wake up. Wake up,” I say louder, shaking him.


“What!” He jumps.


“We’re rude sleeping until…” I pause for a moment to look at the clock. “It’s almost ten.”


“Christ.” He sighs, yawns, and rubs his chest, hair graying there around his nipples.


“Get up,” I say again. “Let’s not waste the day.”


“I want to sleep!” He looks pleadingly at me. “Okay?”


I feel a snap of anger, the way the heart throbs after a wave of adrenaline. But as I look at him, breathing quietly, I think about how the Casper print will be removed next week, shoved into a drawer and forgotten, but it’s my damn family, and suddenly the snap is gone. Without saying another word, I dress and leave the room.


I walk through the empty hall, down the stairs, planning where my foot will land. Like the movement in a ballet, I raise an arch, point toes, then plant firmly in front of me. It’s a slow way to walk, but I’ve already turned it into a game. Like any game, there are rules—“Step on a crack, break your momma’s back”—but this is my game, and I haven’t decided what the rules will be yet. The only thing I have decided is that I will take each room as it comes, and the first room I enter is the game room. Besides the pool table and the slot machine, there’s a wall covered with masks—Egyptian, African, Mexican, French—they’re all there. The whole human experience—a world of fears. I turn to the opposite wall, a graffiti wall full of names.


“Don’t forget to leave an autograph,” Bill told me last night. “It’s interesting to see what color a person chooses and to analyze how they sign.”


I take two markers from the box on the nearby table, orange and blue. I use the blue marker on the wall, writing very small so they will have to squint to read my name. I pocket the other marker.


I follow the wall into the next room, arches raised, then planted. Stacked near the computer are work orders, and I wonder how much data entry Elaine does every day, clicking nails against the keys before she goes to her clubs—her health club, her woman’s club, her association club. There is a flat file extending toward the desk, and I can’t resist sliding out the long drawers. There are several proofs from recent jobs—contours of cars, women, wine bottles. He hasn’t forgotten how to make an image beautiful with light, shadow, and detail. He’s made them all look like the ruby apple in Snow White’s hand.


I push the drawer closed and then continue through the house, always following the wall. I try to see everything but my mind wanders, and I see nothing unless I’m able to touch it. And I feel a lot of things, wondering what kind of life the artist had. I see ocean huts when I rub the curve of the tribal chair, hear the musician chanting when I press the stone pipe, smell morning dew next to a cup carved from a mountain goat’s horn. This type of energy used to excite me, connected me to my existence, but I’ve been asleep for so long.


When I reach the den, I’m on familiar ground because I’ve found the skull again, but the wall ends. If I turn the corner, I can easily reach the head. If I break my rules, I can walk to the opposite wall where I know the Casper print hangs. I stand, unable to make a decision, popping the marker’s orange top off with my thumb, then pressing it back with a click. I turn my head to the right and imagine walking up to the mantel, to the base of the skull, imagine very carefully penning my name under the neck socket. “I reclaim you,” I could say as I look into the empty holes of its eyes.


I’m still standing on the threshold when Bill’s voice startles me.


“Oh, good morning,” he says. “You’re up early.”


I put the marker down and turn quickly around. “Tough time sleeping late,” I say, wondering if I look surprised.


“So, you remember that old skull?” He walks out into the room and points to the wall.


“Yes, I remember.”


“I think it helps me stay focused.” His voice sounds a little strained. “Makes death seem concrete. I mean, don’t you think it would be terrifying to die like that?”


“What do you mean?”


“Like those cows dumped in the Mojave, suffocating in the heat.”


“There are worse ways.”


“I suppose, but to be dumped out there.” He shudders.


“They got lost. That’s what I think,” I say again. “Those cows just didn’t make it.”


We look at each other for a moment, and Bill smiles, maybe even a nostalgic smile, but it’s only for a moment.


“Hey, you two,” Elaine says, another voice behind me. “Are you all ready for breakfast?”


“Sure, hon. We’ll be right there.”


“Give me a minute.”


Bill looks at me and nods.


(pp. 155-173, The Hong Kong Review, Vol. II, No. 4)

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