Ryan Scott

Two Birds

                The window shuddered, came to rest and shuddered again. Something had struck it. Twice.
                The doctor looked out from his book lined study at the drab flats opposite, at the clouds like grey splotches on the cornflower cloth sky, at the streets which never enticed the old to sit or young to play. Everything was in its place.
                He opened the door to the balcony and looked down. Two small birds lay on their backs, too fragile to stand a chance against the gust which had blown them into his window. Their claws now curled up to resemble spent matches. Down below in the plot of grass where dogs shat and daisies grew was a patch of sand. It would do as a tiny grave. If only he had something to dig it with.
                Or perhaps it would be a waste to dispose of the birds so swiftly. His son was due home any minute now from a week-long festival – his son whose body was scrawled over and illustrated like an underpass, his son whose job plans changed with the breeze and who had long skulked around adulthood and was reluctant to enter, his son who had no idea of mortality’s precariousness.
                The doctor made tea and, remaining in the kitchen, prepared what to say. When these two birds – he needed to check his guide for their names – set off today, they had no idea what lay ahead. In an instant, fate in the form of a forceful breeze slammed the small creatures against his window.
                There had to be a better word than “slammed” – a word which captured death in its enormity and suddenness. He returned to his study and made notes, leaving a gap for the word he couldn’t think of. The word would come before his son did.
                On the balcony one of the birds was back on its feet. It hopped and looked around in that erratic way all small birds did, as though their bodies were composed of tiny springs. The bird had only been stunned and now inspected its lifeless companion. One dead bird was not enough to make the doctor’s point.
                He opened the door and the revived bird flew off. He took the paper on which he’d been writing his speech, paused to write the word “dashed” in the space he’d left and gently folded the paper around the bird which remained. The creature felt barely there in its flimsy coffin. How preposterous that this thing could fly.
                He put on his sneakers then his jacket and took the bird outside. A line of bins stood beside his own drab flats under the sign COMMUNAL GARBAGE. Years ago a vandal had changed “COMMUNAL” to “COMMUNIST”. Last night a different hand had struck a line through the first three letters of “GARBAGE” and written CAB above them. The bird would rest forever in COMMUNIST CABBAGE.
                His son would probably find that amusing. He’d definitely laugh if he knew about the draft speech or that it now cradled a dead bird. And he wouldn’t be able to contain himself if he saw the doctor, elbow deep in the trash, dressed in the tweed jacket he once wore to a job long gone, pushing the delicate body down so the stray cats couldn’t get to it.

Five Mind-blowing Reasons Why The Man Crossed The Street When He Did

  1.  A Job
                The description said no experience necessary and promised regular hours and pay. It was what went unsaid that convinced him to come for an interview. This was a job of little responsibility, little expectation, little stress.

  2.  Obscured Street Numbers and Lazy Traffic Lights
                The tarnished numbers above the shops were barely distinguishable from the layer of exhaust residue on the wall. He’d been heading in the wrong direction at first before realising his mistake. Turning around, he headed back to the intersection.
                The lights at the intersection were out. Or perhaps they’d decided to take the rest of the day off since there was hardly any traffic. That wouldn’t be him anymore. If he were the lights, he’d be switching on and off all day, traffic or not.

  3.  A Woman Appeared Beside Him.
                The woman smiled and indicated toward the empty street as if to ask whether it was safe to cross. He’d seen something like this in one of the rom coms that, along with the smell of stale smoke and overcooked vegetables, filled the afternoons and evenings of the communal TV room.
                According to the formula, they would make a dash to the diametrically opposite corner. Safe and a little out of breath, they’d laugh and remark how lucky they were not to end up as a car’s hood ornament. He’d be going that way, and she the other, but what the hell, sure they could meet for coffee. The coffee would lead to a walk, and the walk to more coffee, until they’d sipped and strolled and chatted themselves into a relationship.
                It would be their story’s meet-cute, and he didn’t do stories anymore. Stories came out of dreams and dreams lead to all sorts of plans which put him in the facility with the pills and soft food and cigarette smoke and wide selection of TV channels.
                He offered a smile which was much more awkward than it should be and bent down to scratch his ankle

  4.  His Ankle Wasn’t Itchy Then It Was.
                The pretence had been his escape route since childhood. “Melvin, I’m talking to you. Melvin?” – itchy ankle. “Hey Melvin! Melvin! Wait till after school!” – itchy ankle. “Were you paying attention at all, Melvin?” – itchy ankle.
                But what would he say? I haven’t done small talk in a while. I’m out of practice. But I can recite the opening lines of Beowulf for you.
                Now that he thought about it, his ankle really was itchy.

  5.  The Job
                She was about halfway across when he started to cross. She went the other way and he the other, to the office, the interview, the job.
                The counsellor had offered a different story. A simpler story. One that would neither be made into an epic poem or direct-to-video movie. It involved long-sleeve shirts and black lace-ups, job notice boards and typed CVs. Do this and there was no going back to the facility.
                The counsellor had promised.

Ryan Scott lives in the Czech Republic.
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