Tiny Bird, a short story by Margaret C. Murray
Susanna was daydreaming at her kitchen sink, stacking dirty dishes while gazing out a small window to her backyard when she noticed the trees blowing in the wind. She could hear the wind she thought. Or was it wind? Such gentle, strange slapping sounds.
She remembered then she’d left the refrigerator open and hurried to closed it before returning to the sink. There it was again, the light slap-slap, slap-slap she’d never heard before in the house. Of course now she was alone. Not that it mattered. Dick gone for good, their divorce almost final. Alone was not so bad most of the time.
The light slap-slaps continued. She turned from the sink toward her wide-open living room. Oh, my god! Both her front door and the screen door was wide open. Bang, bang went the aluminum-siding against the metal door frame. Not surprising since it had been missing its lock for she didn’t know how long. If Dick were here. . . Stop it, she scolded herself.
She had stepped outside after noticing the mailman had come earlier than usual this morning. Nowadays it had become a habit of hers to check the mail. She had glanced through bills, the usual circulars, promotions, requests for money from non-profits, an insurance flyer, and something from the IRS addressed to Dick that she kept to forward to him. The rest she threw into the metal bucket outside the door splattered with bird droppings and the remains of insects. She had rushed back inside, in a hurry she didn’t know why. She seemed to remember the screen door slamming behind her as usual.
Now Susanna rushed toward the door, then stopped, aghast. Right in front of her in the living room a baby bird was desperately flapping its tiny grey wings on her window ledge. Susanna watched in shock as the tiny bird fell off the window ledge and flopped crazily on the wood floor. Struggling, it caught itself in her floor length drapes.
The bird valiantly attempted to fly, yet kept falling instead again and again, and finally disappeared into the hem of the curtain. Tiptoeing closer, she leaned over to shake loose the folds at the bottom. Underneath the curtain it kept on struggling. What could she do now?
Suzanna stared out the window at the small white spring buds on her miniature cherry tree blowing with the wind. Behind loomed the thick green juniper hedge that went across the front of her yard filled with bright orange poppies, leaves like green lace on reed-thin stems. The poppies blew this way and that in the wind. She saw herself outside, the tiny bird twitching in her hands as she lifted it up to the sky and watched it fly off to the oak tree across the street.
She must free it, bring it back outside. She just needed something to hold it–plastic, not metal or glass that might injure that frail body. Did she even have any plastic bowls? Glass bowls and ceramic yes, but they easily broke. Suzanne rushed through the living room and down the narrow hallway to the bathroom where she kept a plastic pail beside the toilet. The pail was too big and unwieldy, dirty even. But how else to capture it?
What if she could carry the little bird in a soft towel outside? She grabbed a towel. Not soft enough but there was no time to waste. There they were again, the sounds, more recurring wing flutters. Suzanna ran back through her living room. The bird was no longer in the curtains at the picture window! No, she realized, it had flown through the living room while she was in the bathroom and now frantically flapped its wings against the kitchen window, attracted by the light.
She looked around, holding her breath, stuffing her fist in her mouth to keep from crying out. Suddenly the bird flew away from the kitchen area where it been frantically flapping its wings against the sill seconds ago and back across the room. She rushed after it just in time to see it slam against the picture window. The bird now lay on the floor, unmoving.
“God, give me back this tiny bird,” she thought. “I will close the screen door when I come in, I promise. I will close and bolt the oak door. Oh, please let it live.”
She stood over it hoping, hoping, but the bird did not move. No flicker of its eyes? No more flutter of wings, no rising and falling feathers? One tiny grey life, a clump of feathers and little yellow bill with closed eyes she could have easily held in one hand. Oh, God she prayed, let it live.
For perhaps a second or two she believed it might happen. Still the bird didn’t move. It was her fault. She was alone. She looked away, off. The cherry tree outside mocked her. The poppies and juniper too. Everything was wrong. It was over.
She had to bury it. At least she could do that. Long ago she and the children buried their rabbit at the bottom of the juniper. There was that little cat too, tiny, all black that her youngest son found at the edge of the driveway, Run over, flattened. The cat they buried here in the front yard too. Dick didn’t help or did he? And now this tiny bird. Across the street in the trees fluttered flocks of birds just like this one.
Why had she left the doors open? It was an accident. She had been so unthinking, so stupid. She imagined the bird, young, inquisitive, curious, flying into investigate. Seeing an opening, it wanted to discover what was inside. She fell onto the sofa and cried piteously. So what? No one would hear. She was alone.
She cried desperate tears for the spirit of this tiny bird that Suzanne could hear flapping still. A spirit bird? As a little girl, she had learned about spirits. She’d grown up Catholic after all, praying to Holy Spirit as she knelt at the foot of her bed.
After a while she wiped her face with a dish towel and went into her bedroom. She put on her sweater. Changed her shoes. Where were those garden gloves? On top of the refrigerator, yes. Now out to the garage for the shovel. In the far corner, yes. What else? Nothing else? There has to be something else.
She dug a hole in front of the hedge. She’d only need a little hole. Maybe six inches? Nine or ten? She could look up how to bury a bird on the internet, but no, she had to finished digging. Crouching, bending over the dirt. She tore up poppies at the height of their brief beautiful lives, picked off cherry blossom twigs with petals small as fingernails blowing in the wind.
It had been so active, so frantic to live. Moments before nothing had happened. Just another morning, poppies blowing in the wind, unwanted mail. And now everything announced ruin. It was like her divorce all over again. Susanna lay the bird down in its small, dark hole and covered it with dirt. She could not forgive herself.