Published: March 4, 2010


I remember watching their truck as it crawled up the driveway. I jumped at an obnoxious honk, and for a moment it seemed like something was wrong. They caught me peering from the window and laughed. I was stopped on the stairs by mother in a dark sweater and a long, flowing apron. She touched my shoulders and pressed me close, saying:

“I love you,” and then she walked downstairs to greet the guests.

Outside, a whisper of status, the laughter of my cousins as they ran towards my house. I paused at the foot of the stairs and tried to catch their faces on the mirror below. I saw my Aunt, her hair elegant and pompous, the blur of a bright red coat. My mother called out my name, came and beckoned me downstairs. I moved with trepidation, staring at the mirror and my Aunt and Uncle waiting in the kitchen.

“How are you today?” my Aunt asked.

“I’m good, how are you? Where’s Fred and Johnny?”

A burst of piercing cachinnation, the cackle of children in a playground.

“That’s them now,” my Aunt said. “They’re outside.”

“Why don’t you go see what they’re doing?” my Uncle asked.

I opened the door and heard the stifled chirps of birds frightened and confused. My cousins and brother were gathered together in a circle, silent, staring at rocks and leaves below. They whispered something strange, and when they saw me they darted towards me. I raised my hands in defense, but their blithe faces made me soften.

“Hey Ben!” Fred said.

“Let’s play Mario Kart,” Johnny said.

As we walked back inside I looked over my shoulder at the circle they’d been standing around. I thought they might have…

“WASH YOUR HANDS, BOYS.” my Aunt screamed.

The others passed her as if they were deaf; I obeyed. I scrubbed between my palms, the tips of my fingers, moving meticulously, until I could take no more.

My Aunt placed her arm around my shoulder. My Uncle was snickering.

“What a good boy,” she said.

The kids were already playing Nintendo in the living room. The TV was brand new, a 36 incher that towered over the speakers and record player. A green dinosaur chased little men on screen, squeaking and peeling around corners, shooting shells at heads, rolling over the competition. They were cruel, abnormal.

“Do you want to play?” Johnny asked.

The words wouldn’t come to me. I turned, I fidgeted, I sat down and looked at my family.

“No,” I said. “What happened outside? What were you guys doing?”

“You should have seen it, Ben,” Fred said. “Johnny found this…”

I ran into the kitchen and clutched my mother’s apron. She was talking to my Aunt about this or that, another Divorce for Elaine, a drunk driver killing some kids.

“You know what happened?” I asked.

A ghoulish face watched from the edges of the doorway.

“Get out of here! Get outta here!” I yelled.

“What are you so upset about?” my mother asked as I sprinted outside to find the circle.

Feathers torn and plucked, bits of bone and marrow. I shuddered. His boring brown streaked with brilliant red. Sparrows called to one another; I felt their faces. Laying on the ground, a tiny beaten bird, the outline of a corpse.