Bird – Part 1
Jay put the finishing touches on his birdhouse at 1:47 on the afternoon of September 29th, 2019. By 5:30 on the morning of October 6th, he would be dead. But for now, on a breezy autumn afternoon, with a cold Heineken sitting on his workbench, all was well.
Jay put the paintbrush he was using to paint the birdhouse in a small jar of turpentine. He wiped his hands on an old, dirty cloth and grabbed the Heineken. He drank the whole thing and flipped the bottle into a nearby trash bin. Jay smiled, admiring his work for the first time. Never one to spend much time in his garage, Jay was relegated to office jobs and boring admin work for most of his thirty-four years. But now, having just won a substantial lawsuit against his former boss was he able to get into something that he loved—woodworking.
Jay grew up around handy people. His father was always piddling around on old cars and building various objects for their house. He remembered getting shelves and dressers, desks and chairs that were always sturdy by design, but terribly ugly to look at—unfinished oak, bristling with smooth edges and swirls of contempt. You see, Jay’s family were drinkers. Mom took to verbally abusing the kids and letting Dad smack her around when he got drunk. And then they would make up, and Jay would have to listen to them screw for part of the night while he and his little brother Doug acted like it didn’t bother them.
So Jay remembered the woodworking, knowing that he liked it, but not able to start something. Until.
Jay set the post into the ground. He made sure it was deep enough to hold up the heavy top end, where the birdhouse rested. The ground held up, and Jay’s creation stood proud among the lime trees in his backyard. He smiled, looking around and marveling at how well he maintained it. And then the bird came, lighting on the small ledge that led into the round opening in the birdhouse.
“Welcome,” Jay said to the bird, still smiling.
The bird bobbed its head up and down quickly and then darted inside the house. Jay had filled it with feed and knew that the bird would probably tell his friends about this new oasis. He wanted the birds to come. Their coming to his creation would signify a change. He was letting go of that ugliness that he grew up with, the ugliness of his parents, and the loss of his baby brother: the alcoholism and lonely nights listening to anger and rage. This birdhouse represented something wonderful—a new life, new life, filled with his lovely girlfriend Clarissa, and no drama.
And then the bird came out of the small opening in the front of the house, head bobbing up and down like an insane bobber popping up and down in the water, signaling that a fish might be messing with the bait. This bird was also taking the bait. Jay watched it a moment longer and then went into the house. Clarissa was in the kitchen looking at a pile of mail on the kitchen table.
“Hi,” Jay said, kissing her on the cheek.
She flipped the pile of mail on the table and hugged Jay. “Hi, baby!” she said.
“I made something. Wanna see it?” Jay asked.
She smiled, a quirky smirk that always made Jay think of sex, and giggled. “Of course.”
Jay grabbed her hand and led her out the back door and into the yard. She noticed it right away and put her hand to her mouth.
“That’s awesome,” she said.
Jay looked up at the birdhouse, noticing how awesome it really was, and then back down at Clarissa. “You really like it?”
“Of course I do. You finished that today?” she asked.
“Yes, like fifteen minutes ago. There’s even a bird in there already.” At this, they both looked up and saw two birds land on the long rod that led into the house.
“Oh, it looks like he brought a friend,” Clarissa said.
The two birds bobbed their heads a few times and then made their way into the house, both emerging seconds later with a beak full of feed.
“They like it,” Jay said, grabbing Clarissa and hugging her. He swung her around, barely grazing the post of the birdhouse. She nudged it, and something fell to the ground with a soft thump. Clarissa and Jay looked at each other and then at the ground. And that’s when they saw the dead bird.
“Are you kidding me? Did that bird just fall dead?” Jay asked. He looked up and saw the one remaining bird still sitting on the perch. It seemed to be looking at him.
“What happened?” Jay asked the bird.
Clarissa looked at Jay and tilted her head. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to help us, Jay.”
Jay shot her a snotty look and then back down at the dead bird on the ground. Its head was twisted awkward, bent too far towards its chest, and there was a large swatch of blood along one wing. He looked back up, but the bird had disappeared from the perch. Flown away to less dangerous geography, Jay thought. Clarissa grabbed Jay around the waist, and together they started towards the house.
“Shouldn’t we clean up that bird?” Jay asked.
“For what? Let nature clean it up.” Clarissa smiled and pulled Jay towards the house. She led him into the bedroom and ripped his clothes off. They made love on the floor on a pile of their clothes. Outside, a bird landed on the perch of the birdhouse, a perfect vantage point to see into the bedroom. And if either Jay or Clarissa had looked up, they would have seen that bird looking at them. Watching them.
Jay woke the next morning, kicked off the covers, and jumped out of bed. He felt invigorated somehow. Clarissa was already off to work, and he had the whole day to himself. A full day to fuck around and do absolutely nothing. So he started by making himself a breakfast of scrambled eggs, rye toast, and some fresh-cut cantaloupe. He ate outside on an old wrought iron table that was given to him when his brother passed away. He drank deeply from his cup of black coffee and ate.
There were birds out in force today. He noticed at four of them making their way into and out of the birdhouse. The first few birds came out with feed in their beaks, but the last three came out empty. He figured he would need to refill the feeder. So he finished his breakfast, brushed his teeth, and made his way back out to the garage. He grabbed the bag of feed and poured a good amount into a Tupperware bowl.
He grabbed the ladder, put it on his shoulder, and then he was off, making his way towards the birdhouse when he saw several birds underneath it. They were pecking away at something, making their crazy bobbing motions with such ferocity. And as Jay got closer, he realized what the problem was. They were pecking away at the dead bird, the one that had fallen the day before—pecking away at its chest, opening terrible red holes in the breast. Each peck brought forth a small spout of blood as the birds continued to shred their peer.
“Eww,” Jay said, stepping back a moment before setting the ladder down and opening it. He eyed the birds warily as he made his way up the steps, taking note of the one remaining bird still perched on the birdhouse.
Why won’t it move? The damn thing is just watching me come up this ladder. Just as he got to the top rung and set down the Tupperware bowl, the bird gave one final bob of its head and flew off. Jay sighed, happy that the damn thing was gone. These birds seemed downright ornery right now, and he wanted no part of that. He scooped out some feed and poured it into the small opening in the birdhouse, and then he was going down the ladder, taking the last step cautiously. He folded up the ladder and propped it onto his shoulder again.
That’s when something sharp ripped into his neck. He screamed and dropped the ladder, instinctively putting a hand to his neck.
The bird was still there when he put his hands up, pecking away at the tough muscles in his neck, ripping flesh and drawing blood. Jay grabbed the bird and pulled it away. He flung it to the ground where it sputtered for a moment before getting its’ wings straight and flying off.
“Motherfucker!’ Jay wiped his hand across his neck and felt a small flap of skin peel back as he did so, fresh blood coming away on his hands. He screamed as an exquisite pain tore through him. And then he was racing towards the house and into the bathroom, rinsing the wound as best he could. He pulled Clarissa’s decorative towel from the rack, knowing that she would be pissed about him using it (and not caring), and put it to his oozing neck.
He could feel his heart steady as he assessed the situation. The adrenaline that fueled his initial fight-or-flight mentality was slowly draining from his body, and he slumped down on the edge of the bathtub, holding tight to the towel against his neck. He pulled it away for only a second and saw that there was still too much blood. So he slammed it back against the wound, feeling fresh pain rip through his shoulders.
“What the Fuck?” he said to the empty bathroom—half expecting it to answer him. After all, where was the fine line of madness drawn when a bird attacked you? When a group of birds attacked their own and ate its corpse. When the one project he made with his own hands had brought such violence, Jay almost smiled. It seemed like par for the course, he thought.