Prose Header

The Bird

by Lisa Douglass

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Lily planted herself in the middle of the street, knowing that wasn’t the best idea, but her mind was all jumbled. Her thoughts were every place at once. Another car drove up going the other way; it was Dave Carlson from down the street.

“Everything okay there?” Dave said.

“A car just hit me back on Crags Drive, the man is slumped over the wheel,” Lily said.

“Are you okay?” Dave said.

“I got hurt,” Lily said, “my leg.”

Dave got out of the car and said, “Let me take a look.”

Lily nodded.

“But don’t you look, okay?”

Lily nodded, yes. As she stood there she saw a Ferris wheel at the end of the block. Kids were screaming and she wondered where all the kids had come from and when they had put a Ferris wheel there. Her eyes focused on a girl in a pink sweatshirt at the top and thought it might be a friend from school. She waved but the whole thing turned into a waterfall then vanished. Lily was so shocked she sucked in her breath and said, “Oh.”


She tried to tell Dave, “There was a Ferris wheel. It was over there.”

Dave pulled Lily’s pants leg up to see what was wrong with her leg. Stone-faced, he said, “Wait here and don’t look down.” And he went to the trunk of his car and pulled out a white t-shirt and wrapped it around Lily’s leg.

“Get in, I’ll drive you home.” Dave said.

“I’m okay, I can walk,” Lily said.

“No, you can’t,” Dave said.

They rode quietly in the car to Lily’s house and Dave carried her up the stairs to the sliding glass door.

“She got hit by a car,” Dave was saying, and then everything went black.

When Lily woke up, she was at the hospital. There were flowers next to the bed and Father sat in the chair next to the window.

“Hi there.” Father said.

“Hi,” Lily said, not remembering why she was there. “My head feels funny.”

“They gave you something to relax you,” Father said. “But you’re okay.”

“What happened to me?”

“Don’t you remember?”

“No.” Lily shook her head.

“You fell off the roof,” Father said, “and hurt your leg.”

“Why was I up there?” Lily said.

Father got up and took Lily’s hand, “Mother tried to jump.”

“I can’t remember.” Lily tried recalling it, but couldn’t. All she could remember was that Harry the cat had died.

Father went home to an empty house. He called for Mother, but couldn’t recall if tonight was art class night or yoga night. He made dinner for himself. It was eggs and cheese, scrambled dirty style. Lily used to call them John-boy eggs, Father thought. As he sat alone at the table and felt the pain of aloneness. He thought, Without them, what am I?

A few days after Lily hurt her leg, Father noticed that Mother didn’t seem to care. She kept talking about the bird as if the bird held more importance than her own daughter in the hospital. Mother told him they were going to do the weekly shopping, but this time Father said he’d prefer staying home. “There’s a game on.”

Father watched Mother drive away and waited until he saw her car on the road across the lake, to make sure she was gone. Then he went into her studio, got the bird and took it outside. It had now become a grotesque, bug-covered mush that he couldn’t convince Mother to part with.

Father took the bird to the backyard, put it on the ground and poured kerosene over it and lit a match and stood watching. “Goodbye,” he said to it and watched it make ashes without color under the giant mutant squash plant that grew until it was too big to eat or even throw away. He said a prayer: “Please help us, God.” Time to stop crazy.

When Mother returned from the store, she happily unpacked the groceries and then went to her studio to see the bird. Only it was gone.

“Where did my bird go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

“It was covered with maggots, I got rid of it.”

“Where is it?”

“In a pile of ashes in the backyard.” Father turned back to the television and ignored Mother’s sobs.

“How could you?” she went on.

“It was for the best,” he said.

Mother went outside to the car and started it. She drove to the hospital where Lily was, but when she got there Lily was sound asleep. She went to the cupboard beneath the sink and found a pillow and she put it over Lily and held her down. Mother was thinking, This will teach him. The one thing he loves will be dead.

Lily struggled and kicked and tried to get out from under and Mother held tight. Lily couldn’t breathe, thinking, This is it, the last thing I will ever know is suffocating, I haven’t even had sex yet. She was so mad that she hadn’t had sex yet and she was going to die. The worst thing to lose was your life. Lily hadn’t known before.

Someone came and pulled Mother off of Lily, and Lily choked in the air, never having noticed how joyful air can be. She coughed and sucked in air like a vacuum. My glorious lungs, Lily thought.

Then she saw Mother being held back by a tall male nurse. “Are you okay?” he said, but Lily didn’t know if she were okay. How could she know?

Mother was saying, “I love you,” as they pulled her out into the hallway. Lily did her best to understand, but there was no understanding; there was only air and happiness that she was alive. Love is nothing when compared to pain, she thought.

Father was called and rushed over to the hospital. Lily looked so small in the bed. He had never seen anyone so fragile. He hugged her with an orderly standing by; they wanted to make sure no one would hurt her again.

“I love you! Are you okay? Oh, my God.”

Tears came out of Lily and Father and they embraced in the terrible knowing of the thing that no one could ever change. Father did not want to leave Lily’s side until they said she could go home, but he had to go see Mother. The cops held Mother in a jail cell until the shrinks determined that she was mad, and she was put in the Westside Mental Home.

Father went home and folded up Mother’s clothes, he put them in a suitcase and drove to see her.

Mother sat in a chair heavily doped.

“How is she?”

“She’s okay.”

“I don’t know what happened.”

“Something went wrong with your brain, that’s all.”

Mother nodded.

“Did you talk to the doctors?”

“Yes, but I can’t remember what I said.”

Father got up and hugged Mother whispering, “It’s going to work out, you’ll get some rest here.”

Mother cried into his neck until he pulled away. Father looked into her eyes and said, “You tried to kill Lily.”

Mother nodded, but Father couldn’t see anything in her eyes that made him think she would be okay.

The next day Lily got to come home. Father drove the long way, next to the lake that they had loved for many years. It gave Father comfort to see Lily look out the car window at the swans and sailboats she had grown up with. But Lily wasn’t really seeing them; all she was seeing was fragments of a previous world that was gone. Truth was, she was thinking about Mother and what would happen to her now.

Lily tried to enjoy the wind on her skin and the sunshine on her face and the smell of the lake coming through the open window. She closed her eyes resting.

Father wanted what they had before. So did Lily. They came back to a lifeless house, with no cat. No Mother. No dead bird. It’s over, Lily thought.

But soon after Father wanted Lily to visit Mother. “It will help,” he said.

Lily looked at her Father trying to determine what he saw that she did not.

“But she tried to kill me,” Lily said.

Father met her eyes with something like regret or sadness and nodded. Father was shaking his head and tears shot out of his eyes.

Lily hugged him but didn’t know what to say. Lily knew Father would have said something too, if he could have.

Lily went outside and sat in the middle of the lawn, in the front of the house. Somewhere inside of herself she knew that being alive was the most important thing.

She lay back and put her arms and legs out like a starfish and stared up into the darkening sky remembering the first book Mother read to her, The Velveteen Rabbit. In the book a little boy’s pet rabbit gets infected with scarlet fever and has to be destroyed. She thought about it and it struck her that you can love a thing that that can kill you.

Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Douglass

Proceed to Challenge 535...

Home Page