Anything But Living

We sit on the curb with the bird nestled into the t-shirt I’ve balled in my lap. It does not take long for sweat to begin beading around the edge of my forehead and nape of my neck. If Shallow notices how red my face must be, she does not say anything.

“We’re going to have to take it in ourselves. The woman on the line said they don’t do pickup for animals like this. Only big ones. Raptors or bobcats or what have you.” She places her phone inside her purse and pulls out a pack of gum. She unfolds a piece and slips it into her mouth the way she always does: first biting it in half between her front teeth, and then biting the second half into a fourth before extending the open pack in my direction as the pieces conglomerate into a mush in her mouth.

“I can’t. I don’t want to move around and disturb it.” I’m convinced I can feel the bird’s heartbeat against my leg, though it might just be my own.

“I’m not going to feed it to you,” she says.

“Fine. I don’t want it anyway.” 

She shrugs and throws the gum into her purse’s open maw. The first trickle of sweat runs down my back exposed to the afternoon sun.

“Do you think you can handle it until Tuesday? I won’t have the car until then.”

“My dad’s going to shit himself if he sees a wild animal in the house.”

“It’s a robin,” Shallow says, rolling her eyes as she stands up, crushing the neighbor’s newly-seeded lawn beneath her flip-flops. “And it can’t fly. All you’ve got to do is poke some holes in a shoebox and keep it in a closet for a couple of nights. The wildlife lady says it helps with its stress. I think even you can handle that.” She pats me twice on the top of my head, the first affectionately and the second like the type of swat you’d aim towards a fly.

“Where are you going?”

“To meet my sister at the bus stop. It’s almost three.” She hitches her purse a little higher on her shoulder. “You coming? She’d probably freak if she saw you holding a bird.”

“I just want to get it home,” I tell her, a little out of breath. 

“Whatever,” she responds with a shrug, and heads down Sawyer Street without looking back. Her usual goodbye. My eyes follow her down the curb before returning to the bundle of feathers and fabric atop my thighs. We sit and wait together until the smacking sound of Shallow’s footsteps on the pavement grows quiet.

If the bird were not quivering, I might have thought it to be dead—the way it is curled in on itself, eyes closed, right wing cocked at an odd angle. I watch it for several seconds longer, unable to tell when it draws breath. Maybe it is already dead. Maybe I’m the one quivering. It’s true, my fingers are numb and trembling as I lower my hand into my lap and close my eyes. Its feathers are soft as silk and warm, too warm to be anything but living—fiercely, violently living against my clenching palm.

Afterwards, I continue to sit stiff, unable to loosen my grip or slacken my jaw. It is still warm, even now. I tell myself I cannot rise until it begins to grow cool, because only then will I know for certain.

Leave a Reply