On Love

10 April 2019 in Heather, Writing

Sometime one summer when I was almost or maybe ten, I found a bird under one of the lilacs behind the house. I watched it gasp a few last breaths and knew it would die. I kept watching. My little brother swooped in, hollering, and scooped the bird into the bowl of his hands. It’s what I had wanted to do but wouldn’t allow myself.

My brother and I examined the bird, from the flutter of the smallest feathers around its neck, soft as love, to its round eye, hardening like spilled ink. I stared into it, and the eye seemed to expand. I observed the point of its beak and was tempted to see if it might pierce my fingertip. Instead, I slid my finger under a claw, hoping it would grasp back, but nothing happened. I strummed the minor talons, limp and lifeless.

This will be my love, I thought. I’ll find it under something like a lilac, still and quiet, and our eyes will know each other. Our days together will flutter against each other, soft as the fluttering neck feathers, with nights parting to reveal an even softer down underneath. This will be love, I thought, as my brother marched into the house to offer the bird to my mother. I will not be able to hold it myself, but I’ll follow behind like a believer at the Easter Vigil, certain in love’s capacity to find me and save me.

My mother scolded my brother, “Take that outside!” But then she bent to inspect it, too. My brother stretched out his arms, lording in the moment.

I watched my mother and wondered if she saw love. Maybe her love was different. Maybe she saw my love and approved. I kept watching.

She and my brother shrieked at the same time. Yes, I nodded. My love will be a lot to behold. You will be amazed that such a still and quiet beauty will someday be mine. You never expected so much, for me, did you?

But then, I saw it: A maggot wriggling out from between feathers of the bird’s wing. My brother dropped the bird and we all stared. Martin Luther, my mom’s cat, ran through the open kitchen door and snatched the bird in its mouth before turning and running away.

This will be my love: A bird I could not hold myself and a maggot, both stolen away.