I KILLED A BIRD

  1. Once when I was 13 or 14 a bird came down our chimney.
  2. It was in the cold fireplace behind the closed glass doors.
  3. The fireplace had a gas starter. You could turn a knob and flames would light the logs.
  4. My father is a smart man. He finished premed in 3 years and had a long career as a very successful anesthesiologist, department chief, and hospital administrator.
  5. But he's not a smart man if you know what I mean.
  6. I'll get a garbage bag and we can try to get him into it my brother said.
  7. No said my dad. It will just escape and poop all over the house. We need to get it to fly back up the chimney.
  8. I'm not sure a bird can fly *up* a chimney we said.
  9. Of course it can. It flew down, right?
  10. I'm not totally convinced it works that way.
  11. Of course it does. We just need to scare it enough that it will fly away.
  12. I tapped the glass. I rapped the glass. I banged the doors.
  13. The bird paced nervously.
  14. If we turn on the fire it will have to fly away.
  15. (He is not a smart man.)
  16. I'm not sure that will work.
  17. Nonsense. He turned on the fire.
  18. The bird noticed the fire right away. The bird possessed that singular primordial certainty given to all living things that fire was a threat.
  19. The bird paced. It kept its distance. It began to breath more quickly.
  20. I don't think it is going to fly out.
  21. Nonsense.
  22. The bird became delirious probably from a combination of heat and terror. It became unsteady on its feet. It stumbled, jumped back up, stumbled again, and fell on its side in the fire.
  23. Oh my god.
  24. My brother turned off the fire.
  25. The bird was charred on one side of its body but it was still breathing and trying to muster the strength to stand.
  26. My brother got a garbage bag. We carefully opened the doors. The bird did not flee. We picked it up with the help of the bag. It shook in our hands.
  27. Oh god.
  28. We took the bird outside and laid it on the cinder block edging of an in-progress garden project in the side yard. It felt like a scene from a movie come to life. I heard myself use the phrase put it out of its misery. I was crying.
  29. I took a heavy round log from the woodpile.
  30. I held the log above its head. My heart pounded. I was so terrified. I think I was most afraid of the sound I was sure this would make.
  31. Swiftly with far more determination than I felt I crushed its head completely. It became entirely still.
  32. It is a tender mercy of God that I heard no sound at all. No crunch. No cry. Just a thump and silence.
  33. I didn't want to look. I turned my head, lifted the log, and returned it to the pile.
  34. When I turned back my brother had wrapped the bird in the bag and was carrying it away.
  35. I yelled at my dad. He didn't say anything. My mother told me to be respectful.
  36. I closed the fireplace doors.
  37. We never spoke of it again.