by Lisa Douglass
part 1 of 2
The bird had colors. The colors of death. Green iridescent next to orange like plastic cones next to yellow the color of the sun.
Father carried the bird from the park with the intent to bring it to Mother. Mother likes colorful things, he thought, and knew she would be happy at his finding. However, the sky had changed and the air grew moist and the bird had a bug, a bug that wasn’t there before. Father put the bird on the ground and made the bug get off of it, thinking, Is this bird filled with bugs?
The neighbors watched Father, thinking he must have found something that he was going to put on the side of the road. And they watched him out their window, asking each other what he was doing, but they were too afraid to go find out.
Sometimes Mr. Cromwell, at the farthest house on Lake Drive, spoke to Father. But mostly he did not; Father was a god-ranter and this turned Cromwell’s stomach. Mr. Cromwell never liked the disparity between God and sin.
Christianity had never bothered Father. It only bothered Lily. The way the people going to church did not have empathy for others. It seemed backwards, because Mother went to church on Sunday and Father’s church was relegated to the mind. Still, Father had empathy in the way Mother did not.
The bird might change this, Lily thought when she first saw the bird. It might melt the ice that had grown over Mother’s heart. Only, when Mother saw it, she put it on the table and she looked at it as if it was her one lost great love. This dead thing.
On the first day, Mother brought the bird into her art studio as if to do an experiment, like a chemist. Only this would involve the printer and maybe paintbrushes and mixing. Father came to ask if the bug had reappeared. But Mother couldn’t hear Father, so lost was she in herself and the query of the bird.
“Jesus liked prostitutes,” Father was saying to the television. His saying this didn’t make Lily weird. Lily knew Father believed that Jesus was into prostitutes. She also knew Father thought men were only attracted by the back of a woman, like monkeys. Father told this to Lily when she was twelve and said it was very important to be thin to attract a man. Now she was fourteen.
Mother came in with her morning look on. Her face shone with smiles and wonder. She sat at the breakfast table with Lily. Lily told her about a boy she met at school, the one she sat next to in art class with brown and green eyes. “He came from Kansas but seems more city.” But Mother was thinking about the bird. Her faraway eyes reminded Lily of someone sleeping while still awake.
“Aren’t you listening?”
“Tell me again.”
But Lily didn’t; she was sick of Mother.
Mother got up and brought the bird into the kitchen and placed it near the coffee maker. This worried Lily. It was dead; what if it began to smell?
“Birds don’t smell when they die, not like dogs do,” Father said.
Lily knew that wasn’t true but didn’t say anything. But why was Mother so interested in the dead? Lily was right here, a living breathing thing who couldn’t get her interest no matter how she tried.
Lily told Father that there was one boy she liked, and he said, “What’s he like?”
“He’s smart and dresses like a rock star.”
“Math smart or art smart?” Father said.
“Both,” she said and she caught the glint in Father’s eye.
Mother stared at her paper, fake interest in news as a way to keep Lily out. This annoyed Lily, so she went to school wondering if the bird thing would ever stop and if Mother had moved on from loving her. It was always something else she was interested in.
While Lily was at school, Mother took the bird outside and tried to get Father to take its guts out, If there were bugs, they wouldn’t return.
Father said, “Sure, that makes sense,” and he took the bird outside, down to his shed where the tools were. He examined the beautiful bird closely, but he couldn’t find a single bug. Darn it. I’m not gonna gut this poor creature when there are no bugs. I’ll just let her think I did it.
Harry the cat came into the shed when Father was looking in a drawer for something to tie around the fair bird’s neck. Harry jumped up on the wooden counter and took the bird in his mouth. When Father turned around, it was too late, Harry had run off with the bird, but Father couldn’t see where he went.
He looked under the bushes where Harry slept sometimes. But he wasn’t there. He looked all around the wide grass in front of their house and by the giant rock where he saw Harry lying in the sun sometimes. But he wasn’t there either. Finally he gave up, thinking, I must go tell Mother that I lost her bird.
He wasn’t looking forward to disappointing her, but it was dead, he thought. Maybe forgiveness would come quicker when the lost thing was dead. Only he knew Mother loved dead things better than real ones. He tried to put it out of his mind.
Then he climbed the stairs feeling worn out from the whole event. Now the thing he had found, meant to give her joy, would cause her pain because of Father’s inattention. But when he got upstairs, in front of the door, there it was, discarded by Harry.
Father couldn’t believe his luck. He picked up the bird and examined it. He smoothed over the feathers where Harry’s teeth had been and it almost looked as good as new. He brought the bird inside to Mother, who said, “It’s done then?”
“Yes,” Father lied.
“Good.” Mother took the bird and began mixing colors in her studio. She was going to make the best thing she had ever made with the bird as inspiration.
By the time Lily got home, Mother had sprayed the dead bird with shellac to preserve it longer. Only it didn’t look like it helped any. Lily wondered what was happening inside the bird. Mother’s art had always been a mystery to Lily.
Later that night, when they were all at the dinner table, they heard Harry the cat crying outside. “What’s wrong with Harry?” Lily said, but no one knew. Harry was shrieking like something was really wrong and his eyes were all watery.
“He’s sick,” Father said.
Lily brought Harry in and put him in a basket with a towel so that he would be warm, but Harry didn’t seem better. Harry was sick for a few days before he died. Father was the only one that knew Harry had had the bird in his mouth and he couldn’t help thinking this had something to do with it.
Lily demanded a burial in the garden for Harry. Father agreed but Mother didn’t even seem to care that Harry was dead. Father dug a hole and put Harry inside. Lily insisted he be buried in the towel, so he would be warm.
Maybe she isn’t able to care, Lily was thinking when Mother didn’t come out to the cat funeral. Lily just thought, Forget it, I’m not going to convince her.
Lily slept in front of the TV, curled up on the couch with Father. He was watching the show on animals, where they mate and someone narrates in a checked-out voice. This voice was talking to Lily in her dream saying, “First the male Gorilla notices the female Gorilla, then he tries to make friends.”
The next day on the way to the bus, Lily heard a sharp noise. It was a car and it was skidding towards her, she jumped out of the way, but it was too late; it hit her squarely on the leg. Lily felt pain surge through her body, but couldn’t make sense of what was happening. She felt water pouring down her leg and waited for the man in the car to get out, but he didn’t. Maybe he hit his head, she thought and began walking towards home.
She was limping, but she could walk. Lily was thinking, Why is water running down my leg, it can’t be sweat, it’s too cold outside. And then she looked, and her pants from the thigh down on the right side where she had been hit were covered with blood. She steadied herself, because the sight of it made her feel like falling.
Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Douglass