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There was no equivocation. He had to get to school. Coming from a thrilling VFW ceremony, he was nearly ready to jump out of his skin with anticipation. He held a brand new American flag in his pudgy hands.
His obsession was gripping if not startling. He loved the flag and he loved that he was appointed the student assigned to its care. Not that he had any competition; his responsibility was taken more seriously by him than by any adult in the school. His fascination with the stars and stripes found other odd outlets such as coordinating red-striped tube socks with blue-planed shorts and shirts, drawing flags on his hand in the way that his fellow students wrote the names of paramours, and insisting that his parents allow him to paint his bedroom walls red, white, and blue. His understanding of color, science, and crayons revolved around ways in which he could re-align traditional aesthetic considerations to reflect the sublimity of the color combination. In fact, when drawing rainbows, red, white—in this reality, a color—and blue were the top three bands, while greens, purples, and oranges sat below them. These same pictures often placed stars in the day sky right beside giant smiling yellow suns.
As a twelve year old, his concept of metaphor was yet undeveloped, so the flag did not merely stand for an America that he loved, it was an absolute object of adoration, like his dog, tater tots, and his mother. This is not to say that he didn’t also love America or Ronald Reagan in the same way, but they all had the same intrinsic value. One was not merely a symbol of the other; they all stood in a pantheon of things patriotic, not simply representing, but being. Too, his sense of love was nascent yet, and there was no distinction by the type of care or profundity with which he addressed the objects of his seemingly excessive adoration. Thus, he was bound by the same rules and expressions of intemperate love that he rained upon his dog, tater tots, and his mother.
So, this oddly patriotic child was granted access to a special closet, special because it was created to assuage his need for it, in the back of the school cafeteria, where he could access the box in which it was stored at night. Only he, the principal, and the school custodian had keys. He wore that key round his neck on the same piece of twine that he kept the house key he used to get into his backdoor each day after school, because both of his parents were still at work for several hours after classes let out.
One day, after school, he rode his bike to the city library and checked out R.H. Newcomb’s Our Country and Our Flag, which he read cover to cover. He committed its rules to memory and they became as intrinsic as “Take your shoes off before coming in the house,” and, “Be home before dark.” His favorite song, while his friends enjoyed Stevie Wonder and David Bowie, was the “Star Spangled Banner.” Indeed, when in a public place and the song would be played, on television before a baseball game or on the radio on the fourth of July, he would insist that all around him stand and remove hats. Except for a couple of incidents where alcohol was involved, his parents and all of their friends learned that it was easier to comply than receive a lecture from a twelve-year-old boy on love of country. Of course, his favorite poet was Francis Scott Key and Betsy Ross inhabited the same historical realm of significance as George Washington and Ben Franklin. For the sixth-grade talent show, he performed “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag,” on the recorder flute. The music teacher, an aging hippy, did not have the patience or stomach to endure the special time allotments required to teach him the much more difficult national anthem.
Not quite understanding the artistic significance or cultural statement that was made by them, he discovered Jasper Johns’s iconic representation and became an unflagging fan.
Every morning, he would choose a friend to assist him in his duty. He would purposefully enter the school while all of his classmates played tetherball, basketball, hopscotch, and freeze tag in the yard. He was permitted special entrance to the nearly empty—save for a few early-arriving teachers—corridors of the campus. He would emerge with the triangularly folded bundle and would lead his assistant to the flagpole on the southwest corner of the school’s front lawn. Neatly and reverently, they would unfold it, he sometimes adding commentary and other times seeking affirmations of how “cool” this was. He always took the role of clipping the flag to the halyard while his friend held the fly end outstretched and horizontal. He always loved the last moment when the rising flag left his assistant’s fingertips to catch the wind as he seriously raised the flag, hand over hand over hand, on the rope. As he wrapped the rope around the cleat, he looked to his companion with an expectant gaze, waiting to see if he knew to cover his chest. With the same assumptions that Catholics make about their Protestant guests’ knowledge of when to kneel and genuflect during Mass, he would immediately launch into the Pledge of Allegiance. With only minimal hesitation, his guest would join him. He beamed. This never became old for him. He, after all, got to say the pledge twice each morning; he was granting his helper the same gift.
Afternoons were equally special. Leaving class five minutes before everyone else—considering his day started before everybody’s too—was but a byproduct of the heavy responsibility that weighed upon his young and spritely spirit. While the pool of students who wished to assist in the morning hoisting of the stars and stripes was often shallow, there was almost universal hand-raising when the teacher asked who wanted to help at day’s end.
This stern and solemn task was not always approached with the requisite degree of respect that he demanded—especially relative to the morning volunteers. Nonetheless, he used it as an opportunity to indoctrinate classmates in the finer points of flag folding and general knowledge about the flag. He would discuss, for instance, how before Hawaii and Alaska became states, the stars lined up in perfect rows and columns instead of how they are staggered presently. He would talk about the thirteen stripes and the thirteen colonies. He was also insistent upon absolute earnestness and care, explaining that if the flag touched the ground they would have to burn it and bury it in a special ceremony. He especially liked to shock the girls when explaining that the red stripes meant blood. Again, at an age where metaphor is just out of reach, the more squeamish girls would cast the flag from their hands forcing him to scramble and contort his own grip to prevent the blessed flag from touching the ground. Eventually he learned to have the girls grasp the flag on the white stripes before telling them about the blood.
He always got his volunteer to help him fold the flag perfectly, insisting that if the proper planes were not showing at the end that they would have to start over. When complete with this task, his flag friend was dismissed early to get on the school bus, walk to a parent’s car, or retrieve a bicycle. This reward usually provided a thirty-second head start over the rest of the school. This prize may well have been an hour of horseplay, for it was coveted among all his peers.
Occasionally, his assistant would walk with him to the closet for the placement of the flag in its nightly resting spot. This was always a moment of pride, as he dug into his shirt collar to retrieve the key which set close to heart all day. He never failed to explain that only he, their principal, and the custodian had such a key.
National holidays and notable deaths broke up what might have otherwise been monotony as they called for the half-masting of the flag. He argued with his teacher on the day President Reagan was shot, insisting that he must immediately lower the flag. His teacher finally reassured and contented him that “if he dies tonight, you may put it at half-staff tomorrow.” It turned out that all flags were ordered at half-mast the next day by the governor, thereby quieting all controversy on the matter. He felt vindicated and often reminded his teacher of his vast knowledge and intuition regarding all things flag. Slightly more mature, the teacher acquiesced and allowed him to maintain his expert status, the point of deferral on all such future matters. He was usually right.
When a storm threatened, he watched the window with a stern anticipation. Perhaps he had over interpreted the rules about rain. If he was sure that a sun shower would pass, he would not fret. He would, however, not stand for his beloved flag enduring a thunderstorm. Thus, he became almost as adept in meteorology as in flag esoterics. Not aware that his insistence that the flag come down during storms implied a distrust of its strength and resilience, he coddled it like a grandmother, more concerned with the “old” than the “glory.”
Invoking the spirit of revolutionary minutemen protecting it from gunshot and cannon fire, he more than once braved thunder and lightning in order to honor its preservation. On one occasion particularly, when nearby lightning bolts had hit a transformer and knocked out power to the school, he rose from the dark with a proclamation. As tornado sirens could be heard in the background and his teacher scrambled to make order out of the chaos in her classroom, he stood and felt his way toward the door. She cross-checked him as she ordered him under his desk. He refused.
Words were calmly exchanged between the two that ultimately ended in a piercing scream from the boy: “I don’t care if you don’t love our country, but I will not,” he pounded his feet on the wooden floor with the weight of a militia as he shouted the words “will not.” “I will not,” he repeated for emphasis, “stand by and watch our flag desecrated just because you’re afraid!” He continued, “Do you think the Russians would leave their flag out in this storm?” His pitch reached fever, about to burst into tears at any moment. Another word would have been inaudible.
She stepped aside, deciding that the safety of the thirty other speechless and horrified students in her class was more important at this moment. Later discussions with the principal about the incident spanned from suspension for insubordinate behavior to nominating him for a medal and commendation from the President. He took off his horn-rimmed glasses and handed them to her. She obligingly took them, stunned. The sounds of rain on the roof, booms of thunder that came every three seconds, and the far-off sound of tornado sirens, were accompanied by the blazing scurry of his feet down the hallway and toward the front door.
The teacher watched through the window in silent disbelief as the roundish four-foot-eight boy braved the storm. He was soaking wet with his first step out from under the sidewalk awning. The wind and rain were so heavy that she could not see him after he had passed more than ten yards from the door. She continued to watch—the event lit only by lightning bolts—when the flag rapidly descended the pole in fits and starts every two feet until it vanished for a second. Then she could see it floating in what must have been his hands. The sirens stopped in the background and the torrents abated for a moment so she could see him rather clearly with the flag in his hands as he climbed the building’s front steps. Another clap of thunder coincided with his slamming of the front doors. He had disappeared out of her view. One of the students dared ask into the darkness from beneath his desk, “Is he okay?”
“He’s okay. He got it. Now stay still.”
His steps pounded down the hall with a chilling Poe-ness that stood in stark contrast to the frenzy with which they left. The class remained motionless, listening. His teacher said not another word, and remained still and calm in an exemplary effort to encourage her students to do so. The lights came back on, but the teacher insisted that everybody in the class, “Stay just where” they were, and all complied. As he got closer, everybody could tell that he was crying after all and that his steps were infused with grave solemnity rather than pride. Finally, a phantasm appeared at the threshold. He was not crying hard, but rather whimpering. He was dripping wet, as if the rain had fallen so hard upon him that it had filled him up and that it was now flowing back out of him like a pricked water balloon. His thin straight hair hung down over his eyes and his clothes clung to him making his absurdly shaped pre-pubescent body all the more absurd. In his arms he held the flag. It, too, was dripping. He stood in a puddle that threatened to become a lake that threatened to overtake its banks.
“Alright, everybody.” The rain continued in torrents, but the thunder, lightning and sirens had moved past. “You may, with no talking, come out from under your desks. I want everybody to sit, silently, and put your heads down until I tell you to get up.” Again, the class followed directions and the sound of scooting desks and chairs, some rustling papers, and hushed whispers combined with the sound of rain falling on the roof.
The teacher, knowing that her next action would set the tone for the rest of the year and would probably have a profound effect on more than one of these children, walked slowly over to the drenched boy and grabbed two corners of the flag. Paralyzed, he began to cry more loudly as a few heads peeked up around the class. “Heads down!”
“It touched the ground,” he said as his heart sank and his red eyes burst forth a round of tears that made the storm outside seem a misting. “I let it touch the ground. I am so sorry!” He wished for the earth to swallow him, for invisibility, for anything other than the pain in his heart at that moment. He still had all of his grandparents, aunts and uncles. His puppy was in good health and his parents had never done anything but shower him with affection. He never wanted for anything and his mother supplied tater tots from a seemingly bottomless fry-daddy well.
In his short life, this was his first moment of despair. It was, indeed, the first time his soul had truly hurt. Perhaps, he would find out shortly thereafter, this was the moment that made metaphor a graspable concept for him. Perhaps, he might later understand that, with the destruction of this flag, he was truly born again.
“I’m sorry.” Gripping the soaked mound of red, white, and blue close to his chest, he allowed himself to be embraced by his now sobbing teacher.
“It’s okay, honey.”
“I’m just so sorry. So sorry”
“Shh.” She touched her index finger to his lips. She took off her cardigan and wrapped him in it. She brushed his hair out of his eyes with her other finger. She squatted down and carefully slid his glasses onto his face. She smiled at him as she shook her head with an attitude that only a sixth-grade teacher can affect.
Together they walked into the hall as she cautioned the remaining thirty once again, “Keep your heads down.”
Listen to Words as read by Jason Leclerc:
The book, ancient by his standards, wiggled its way into his clumsy hands from the bottom of a precarious pile in the back of the dusty shop. Not even bothering to parlay its contents, he was nonetheless contented by the cover, by the coarse green cloth bound and tattered, by the silent mildew which climed its spine. “The Book,” the spine read and he was on his way. After the requisite bartering that always accompanied such a find, he concluded, “We’ll take this one,” as he left a crumbled five-dollar bill and a pile of lusterless change upon the counter in its place. The single-lighted door creaked as he opened it, tripping a bell that chimed once and then again behind him as he left with his treasure perched below his damp armpit.
Unfazed by the immediate transition of his environs from dank cool wood and words to the boundless and horizonless street onto which he stepped, his immediate concern was with the trove of yellowed and creped pages that awaited his anticipatory gaze. He was unaware that the sky was blue and that the sun beat down upon his young skin. He was unaware of pedestrians in his midst, of cars whirring by, of others watching him—reading him. He walked, head down, being read and waiting to enter the glory of words which became part of his haplessly zigging and zagging body.
When instantly the shock of his new surroundings approached him in the form of a piece of unleveled sidewalk, he tripped forward without a hint of mitigation. As his face careened unimpeded toward the hot and cracked square of concrete, his book fell from its perch and his hands—at perhaps the last possible minute—decided to take the brunt of gravity’s impertinence. His hands, bloodied by the fall, only very partially protected his face from complete devastation. A rosy abrasion welted upon his cheek, his already disheveled hair lashed directionlessly, and a scowl that matched the pain writhed through his entire body. If there could be an end to this moment, he thought, it must come quickly and with numbness.
Searching around for his book, he noticed that it, too, had been victimized by the fall. It lay complicatedly fanned out upon a stretch of grassy verdure which glistened from an earlier sun shower. He noticed the different greens as they juxtaposed themselves in a way that even the most astute modern visualist could not have anticipated. The leaves of grass were of the shade that inspires children’s dreams of green: the green of crayons and simplicity, the green untainted by jealousy or greed. The coarse green of the book’s cover was dingy and mossy, seeming not even green in comparison, certainly not imbued with the green of life within which it lay. An aged green lay among the painted green of the manicured streetscape. Where the greens contrasted, the book and grass shared their wetness, a wetness that seemed as natural to the former as it did grotesquely unnatural to the latter. The book awaited retrieval, again wiggling in a light breeze that blew the street-scented heat over a prostrate body and through riffled yellowed pages.
With abrazed hands, he pushed himself upwards. His elbows popped inaudibly beneath the weight of a thirteen-year-old frame as he lifted his head toward the vast sky. He paused and lifted his gaze from the ground which had consumed his leisure and pride toward that vast blueness that swirled colorlessly around him. In his suspended movement, he inhaled a breath of consternation, a reverse sigh that filled his lungs with anger and staleness; his nostrils flared with the effort. Now, looking up and down the sidewalk and side to side, his perspective rose with his body as he positioned his feet below his center and continued his upward movement. He saw calves then knees then thighs and, at once, faces of concern washing past him. Appraising his abrasions, he dusted his knees and slapped together his blood-blistered hands and finally exhaled with an exasperation matched only in severity by his anger with a body more prone to gravity than erection. His evolution complete, his hands free of everything but pain, he regained his trajectory and walked on, more determined than before to get to that indeterminate somewhere he sought.
In its place among the grass and dollarweed, the book stayed behind, neither whimpering nor flitting in its newly attained freedom. Mostly unhurt by the fall, it was nonetheless abandoned, a new fixture in a new context against which it would eventually proclaim a new and less dramatic independence. For this and subsequent moments, however, the book remained and proclaimed in its static postulation, a decoration: an intrusion into nature by man’s beneficence, a sullying force among an equally contrived paradise. Open to nature, the words physically connected with the leaves of grass that tickled the crunchy pages. Where no human fingers or squinting eyes had interacted with these pages for ages untold, these manicured blades of grass exacted a relationship never intended by authors or publishers or editors. As if to end the dalliance with a single blow, a pink, scraped hand righted the binding and closed the cover around the pages and words as it lifted the book into the air and placed it, again, under a sweaty armpit.
Booked and bookishly, together, they tripped their way back down the sidewalk, across the street, and out of view.
Carefully, with the light touch that my grandmother’s arthritic hands might have softly extended in the last decade before her dementia set in, I grasped the tiny flaccid creature. You don’t realize how really small a bird is when it isn’t flying, when its wings aren’t extended, when it is limp in your palm. I cupped it, marveling at the tiny closed eyes as my own filled with tears. My slightly creased forehead reddened under the pressure of internal flushes and external sun. My neck tingled and my throat lumped. My heart beat slowly and I fought to huff a clean breath. My sorrow seemed bottomless.
When I heard the hollow bell-like timbre of the impact—was it a finch this far south?—against the clear glass of the recently cleaned front double-pane, I was further distracted from my work. My mind was already wandering as the un-light words in arcane midnineteenth-century constructions rustled in an airy soup of jumbled thoughts. Oddly situated in my periphery, dust and pollen danced in stark bright beams between the yellowed pages and the elaborately crown-moulded plaster intersections that alternately centered and bounded my comfortable space.
The very portal through which the brightest streams of light filtered in from the eleven o’clock May sunshine reminded me that God’s sun is best-suited for reading America’s own literary Yahwist. Neither a knock nor a rap, it was a simple sonorous “thud” that echoed through the sparsely furnished solarium—so named for the wall of morning facing glass designed to always properly house me as I read and drank iced tea—in which I sat with the hardbound collection of Emerson essays splayed across my bare knees. Late spring, it was already too warm and humid to have the windows open: a fact for which I instantly cursed my own selfish exile from Walden to the sterile walls of Academe: from Thoreau’s simple-life essaying to Emerson’s cleanly delineated lofty American poetic criticism. I was walled in.
The second bump was lighter, yet still it carried through the room and sat upon my ear like a far-off tree falling, the memory of which was instantly created. Transcendentally, I pondered His knocking; with some regret I concluded that this was not my day, nor would I ever be worthy of a personal visit from the Almighty. As if I needed one last piece of evidence that the Lord was not waiting for me at the front door, I concluded that He would not knock with such timidity.
I moved Ralph Waldo, face down, to the raw leather couch beside me as I floated toward the source of the sound. Piercing the solemnity between inside and out, I cracked the door and peeked my head through. My body followed as my eyes surveyed the knotty pine-planked porch that wrapped the front corner of the house.
It lay there peacefully just over the edge of the wooden platform, drained of the life-force which had twice driven it into the glass.
Twice, the creature of the outdoors, not knowing the rules of construction or architecture, attempted to pierce the impenetrable. Meant for us men to see safely in from the outside and out from the in, as frames around our own constructions, this mostly invisible solution to the opacity of solid walls—this window—stilled a creature made to dance in the clouds among angels.
The second knell likely broke its already slightly fractured neck, I surmised as my finger lightly smoothed over the tiny spot that connected its solemn head to its dainty body—where its wings tucked neatly and seamlessly into its softer-than-anything-I-ever-remembered-touching’s abdomen.
It trembled in my hands, lingering at the indeterminable edge of death. I opened my hands and cradled it, imagining my long-gone grandmother’s hands—the hands that had dressed my childhood scrapes, the hands that had rapped the back of my obstinate teenage head, the hands that had made me sweaters when I went off to college, the hands that had painfully gripped my own when she no longer knew who I was, the hands of a healer—as my own cupped this felled, twitching creature.
I looked at my own hands and the tiny spots of blood that I had not previously noticed. These spots merged into ready creases on my palm and I knew that, were it not for my home—for my shelter from nature—this bird would be flying. My focus shifted back and forth between the bird and my hand until finally the bird and my bloody hands were one conjoined form linking life and death, memory and dementia, man and nature, Thoreau and Emerson.
I was traveling thousands of miles away from here when my grandmother finally passed; I didn’t fly home for her funeral. Instead I wrote a poem—“Hands and Wings”— and folded it up and carried it with me until my career finally took me back to this town where I could build this home—a loose replica of hers—and lecture at the university just a few miles from where I grew up. Eventually, the folded poem found its way into a cherry-stained maple keepsake box filled with old jewelry—watches, crucifixes, and silver chains as well as my grandfather’s dog tags—that I had stopped wearing over the years but with which I could not part.
The yearning to recapture life and re-breathe it into this bird had, by this time, flown from me.
I gently laid the feathered corpse back on the ground, shaded by the front porch where I had found it. I concentrated on it with my eyes, though my heart had long since abandoned it as anything more than a totem. My bloody hands once again captured my attention. They were not dripping with blood but, given the size of the bird, this may have been all there was in it as it bled out from its tiny pierced carotid.
Thoreau and Emerson argued as I contemplated leaving it for nature to reclaim or burying it in a good Christian way. Thoreau won and I left her—I had determined from the mental archives of seventh grade life science that the females of bird species were less brightly plumaged than the males—on the spongy St. Augustine grass and returned inside.
I sat for only a moment, reaching for Dr. Emerson when I was again bestirred. Bestirred isn’t the right word. In my recollection of seventh grade, a memory was jarred loose from my mental archives. This was not the first time this had happened. I was overtaken. I was possessed.
Straightaway I flew to the bedroom and, from under the sturdy mahogany four poster that sat high enough off the floor to stack eight-inch-tall plastic storage containers, I pulled out a bin and began to riffle through it. When I was young, about six or seven years old, the same thing had happened at my grandmother’s home. The same exact thing: a bird flew into her—god, she could clean glass so streaklessly and completely that it disappeared—sliding glass door. We found the bird limp and lifeless; we tried to save it, but it had already died, she told me.
“It is flying in heaven now, with your grandpa.”
I remember thinking even then, “Isn’t that what birds do when they live?”
I was not yet born when her husband, my grandfather, passed away; he was always present in her spirit and he was our constant companion during my two-week visits every summer from 1980 until 1989. He had fought in the Second World War. He had built this home. He had helped raise my mother. He had known the great Walt Disney himself. He had died of a heart attack, suddenly, leaving her a widow at the age of fifty four. He had left her to keep up this home and its acreage. He had left her to be both grandparents to me, her only grandchild.
“You can never leave me,” she demanded. I never would, I promised. I lied.
With her hands resting on my head, and sliding down toward my shoulder, I sobbed. We buried it: no box, just straight into the earth. “That’s the way to bury critters,” she told me.
It was the first dead thing I had ever touched, though it was nothing more than a finger-probe: a poke.
She did all the heavy lifting.
We fashioned a cross out of two sticks that we tied together with some green palm fronds we tore into strips. The mound of black soil into which we carefully placed the body stood starkly against the bright green grass that surrounded it in the corner of the lot near the herb garden where the mint grew that we picked and muddled into our sweet sun tea.
I waited patiently with earnest, pre-adolescent solemnity and, while she took her afternoon nap, I returned to that swollen ground and dug that dead bird up. I was not done with it. I was not ready for it to be dead. I was careful to put the cross right back where it had come from and to be certain that the ground was packed to the same density. My black fingernails might have betrayed me had she checked them, but after a week at her house my fingernails were always dirty. Holding the soil-covered avian corpse in my left hand, I gently brushed it with the other. I wiped the tears from my cheek with my shoulder.
More than a couple of times, after comfortable meals, as we were putting away leftovers, she would tell me that Walt Disney was not buried when he died but put into a big plastic container, just like Tupperware, so they could bring him back to life one day. If plastic, a fancy new invention that had emerged during her lifetime—she could remember a time before plastic—could preserve a man like Walt Disney, she lectured, it could certainly keep meatloaf good for a couple days: to be resurrected for sandwiches on doughy white bread.
Moving with determined stealth, I quietly swiped the smallest Tupperware container I could find from the cabinet beside the refrigerator. Translucent avocado green, it was the same size as the one she used to store fresh herbs when she would pick them and bring them into the house. With a single hand, I managed to remove the tightly sealed plastic cap; the fresh oily essence of basil mixed with the scent of spearmint and wafted to my nose.
The small black bird body, still dusted with the fresh earth, never left my other hand. “Perfect,” I silently decided as if to answer an equally silent query about the appropriateness of the container for the purpose. I dropped the body into the vessel with only slightly more delicacy than I might have a chocolate chip cookie, remembering to “burp” the container twice to expel the excess air.
The petite plastic container found its way to a hiding place among my effects that worked equally well for illicit magazines and marijuana during later stages of my youth. Packing and moving and moving and growing and moving and living and learning and packing and moving and not-burying-my-grandmother and crying and leaving stuff behind, this tiny Tupper (diminutively, as grandmom always called it in the same way someone else’s Abuela may have called it “Tupita”) came, tucked at the bottom of a box which finally landed—unopened and unreviewed—in this bin fifteen years ago. It landed under the bed ten years ago and was packed in the furthest, unvisited recesses of my memory at what must have been the same time.
Here, now, it sat at the cusp of resurrection.
The smell of new death—two years in the Peace Corps had acquainted me with the scent—swirled with a hint of basil and mint as I removed the still airtight top. The bird was amazingly well-preserved, stiffer than the one on the porch, but as still as the day thirty years ago when I placed it in there.
I had now proven to myself that this was, indeed, the second time this happened to me. I planned a strange marriage of old death with new as I brought the plastic casket with me into the solarium. Emerson remained quietly on the couch, himself reading the memory of my recent touch, while I continued toward the front door. As I opened it, I glanced through the smudged sidelight toward where I had left the dead—what I will still assume was a—finch.
It was gone.
A rush of pungent air whooshed past me toward the only partly cracked portal to the porch, rustling my hair as it did.
I looked down into the open Tupperware container which had now been exposed to twenty-first century air for about four minutes and saw that it was empty.
I looked about my feet, wondering if I had somehow—in a startled state from my discovery of the first bird’s absence—dropped this one. It was nowhere to be found.
It was gone.
I stepped outside to see a fully obscured, black sky. The sun sat behind an oncoming dark cloud—amorphously approaching as though shot from Heaven in my direction. I dropped the empty plastic container as I reversed my direction, returning through the portal from the porch and back into the glass-encased solarium. I slammed and locked the door as my gaze transfixed upon the living flock descending on my home.
One by one, the leading edge began to ping the front of the house. I watched in awe as the winged herd stampeded toward, and finally against, my home. Each east-facing window in my graciously re-created 1930s bungalow held under the flying deluge of feathers and blood; noon became midnight. Wings became blindfolds, smashed against every opportunity to see outside. In the sea of black death, even the room in which I stood became deepeningly darker and darker. My eyes struggled to capture the last bits of light until—and I could not tell which—either my eyes stopped working or the sun did. I held what should have been my hands before what should have been my face.
I was gone.
As they fell, one by one, ten by ten, then by the hundreds, the thuds became claps then thunder, and the unknowable voice of God boomed. The attack ended after a lifelong minute, and conspired in a siege of silent conception. My screams went unfulfilled and ended before crossing my lips.
Then, it was over.
They were gone.
And these birds, too, now flew in Heaven.
I dried my eyes with my shoulder as I fought to huff a clean breath.