Little Birds


Tammy Peacy

     Through the glass over the sink I see a blue car line up with the curb. I drop the dish rag to the counter and go to my room. I pull away clothes from my body and lift the sheet from my bed and I crawl under over my head. The air filtered through the sheet smells of swim class.

     All I know about me is what I've overheard. From the bald neighbor, the one who waves at all the other neighbors leaving in the morning, he said to his wife: "She's an odd one." He waves like crazy. Like a contestant on a game show, so happy to be here.

     "She's still in bed. Yes, I know what time it is. I don't know what's wrong with her." This is my sister talking on my phone she's plugged back into the wall. Didn't even ask. I don't want that phone, but my mom is sort of old-fashioned. For her life is all done in terms of you never know.

     Fuck the neighbor. Fuck her. My sister, not my mom. I have less to do than worry about what they think.

     I'm tired. I could have mono. Plus, the weather's been so weird. Cold enough to ice over the birdbath during the night, but otherwise it's hot. Not warm, hot. But this. I know about this and so does she. It was in her books. This non-feeling, this emptiness. I keep thinking I could give it some other name. But it is what it's called. A dent, a low place in my life.

     Here's how it is: I grew up in this house. It's small. My parents had a bigger house built across town, closer to the lake. They kept this house. My mom has this foresight, knew she wouldn't want us home while we went to one of the colleges in town. My sister and brother lived here together for a few years. Then it was rented out until I started school and now it's me in the house. My brother has his own house now, in a different city. He's filled it with a family. My sister doesn't have a house, just an apartment not far from here, and she doesn't have a family. Just a cat.

     Good grades mean I don't pay rent. My grades were good. Mostly Bs. But I'd stopped caring about it after three semesters. Nobody else cared and grades didn't make sense at some point. I don't see it going back to being the number one priority either. It's not like there's some new number one, there isn't, but grades and school and diplomas, I'm through.

     When I get like this I don't talk to anyone. I'm not sure I've missed many calls. I lost my cell and I unplugged the house phone days ago. That works except on my sister. She just shows up. Still has her key and lets herself in with it.

     My sister asks, "So, you're depressed again?" She's hung up the phone and come into my room.
     "God, no. Why would you say that?" Flakes of skin are caught and pulled free by the fabric touching my lips.      "You're really thin right now." She thinks she's some expert on it because of her psych degree. She's manager at a store that sells lotions and body wash.      "So? I love being thin. You wouldn't know anything about it." Food sits lumpy on my tongue until I spit it out. So what that I'm in bed so much. At least I'm not her. Sometimes I cry about who I'll never be, but that isn't most times.

     I know what she wants to ask. But all I want to know, "Is it still raining?" She ignores me.

     I do get panicked. You know that tightness. When air doesn't seem worth breathing and then suddenly you realize you need it? The first time it happened I was eleven and learned that someday the sun would expand, consume the earth and then extinguish. The idea that this was what the sun was actually for, well, my lungs went from hand to fist. They said it would wait five billion years, but what did that mean? What's the difference in now or someday? Five billion years could be tomorrow.

     When I told my mom, she called me silly. Blew me off. Laura understood. Do you know she was the one who did my band-aides when I was a kid? Then she moved out and went to college for no reason.
     "When's the last time you did laundry? This thing stinks." She's holding my laundry basket. I haven't asked her to pick it up. She didn't ask permission. Just does whatever she thinks she should do. This is why we can't get along.
     "Put it down, Laura. God." Who cares that those clothes have been there a few weeks? This is a fresh sheet. I have a lot of clothes and so what anyway? Maybe I'll just toss them instead of washing them.
     "You were raised better." I think she's talking about the laundry, but maybe it's the dishes in the kitchen sink with their molds and scums. Is it about the magnetic poetry on the fridge? Those were the only words I had to choose from. What she and my brother left me. It's hardly fair. Maybe it's the overflowing mailbox. I didn't ask for any of this.
     "Seriously, fucking knock it off." It's not like she's been over here at all lately.

     She leaves my room without the basket. I wait a long time in the bed, to see if she's coming back. I don't want her to see me naked.

     After a while of lying there with my arms over my head, listening for rain, I slip out of bed and back into t-shirt and shorts. She isn't in the kitchen washing dishes, but there is a pile of mail on the counter. I put it on top of the trash. I find her sitting on the little step at the back door. It isn't raining.

     She's doing two things I didn't expect. 1) smoking: "I thought you quit that disgusting shit?" and 2) crying: "Why are you crying?"

     I sit on the wet trunk of my broken car, soaking through my shorts. A cardinal flies out of the open garage, like someone pricked the darkness with a pin and drew a drop of blood.
     "There was a bird in the garage," she says, wipes her face with her hand.      "There's a little baby one in there I think. I saw it the other day. He can't get out. Must have just learned to fly and got confused or something. Should they even be having babies right now?"

     I watch the cardinal watch us watching him. He's sitting on the fence. Laura drops and stomps her cigarette, stands. "You left a little baby bird trapped in your garage? Jesus, what's wrong with you?"
     "I think there's a skunk in there. It's a fucking bird."

     I can't even get into the garage. I'd opened the door, seen the piles of forgotten stuff. I left the door open. I thought if I got used to seeing the mess there I'd eventually be able to clean it up. Now there's a skunk and this bird. Of course she would blame it all on me.

     Laura scales wooden pallets I'd collected. To build, what? She disappears.
     A few minutes later she climbs back out. Her hands are cupped around a bit of gray fluff. She puts the little bird down next to a puddle in the driveway, where the cardinal can see it from his spot.

     Laura wipes her hands on her shorts and walks away.

     An ambulance parks noiseless and unflashingly in front of a house on the
other side of the street.

     Laura gets into her car and drives off. She doesn't even stay to see what
happens next.