Cover Photo: BIRDS  by Christopher Woods

BIRDS

When To Fly Away

the yard to the new bird feeder. You thought it would never hang at just the right height to please  him. You kicked the ground with the toe of your tennis shoe. Then, every once in awhile, you  would bend down and snare a weed growing between the bricks of the walk that crisscrossed the  lawn. You broke the weeds off at the surface, knowing they would be back again soon. To him,  this yard was a miniature Versailles. That is what he called it. To you, it was all pretense, so much like the other yards in the suburban neighborhood.

we can’t reach it to refill it.”

studying the feeder hanging in the still July air. “Now, let’s go inside, fix a highball and wait for  them.”

only in the last few months had you decided how much of a mistake it had been to come live  with him.

she died in was preserved like a damned shrine, from the medical bed to the tray of pills on the  bedside table. Brother! You put up with it. He said it was a small thing, his way of honoring her  memory, and it didn’t mean he loved you any less. And he was probably telling the truth, the old  geezer.

never knew about that, and he never would. Why tarnish the image he had of you? But you had seen and done it all, from cocktail waitress to hostess at a bowling alley, from your brief stint in porno films to a fine art “model.”You made some friends, lost them, and eventually began to miss them as their hard edges began to fade. You didn’t have to work as long as you lived with him. You didn’t have to do a damned thing but be around him, with him, there for him when he needed you. Hell, he was a needy bastard, a weak sister. He was coasting through his retirement, but as far as you were concerned, he was already dead, just like the rest of the neighbors up and  down the street. Everything was about comfort, and security. No one was even fucking  alive. And none of them even knew it.

his hands. They were large and comforting, fatherly maybe. You never thought you were like so  many women who needed a father type to get through life. Maybe you were that kind of woman all along. Or maybe you just liked his hands. His hands more or less made up for his eye. It was the right one, and it was what they called lazy.  The lid never opened entirely. If he looked  directly at you, at anyone really, he looked like he was waking, or else falling asleep.

into the distance, say across a field, the lid opened all the way. On its own. He had no control. He  said he might have something to do with vision crisscrossing distance, but he didn’t know. No  one knew.

lazy eye was wide open. The damned thing had a mind of its own. You wondered what he was  thinking about. You knew what you were thinking about. You were wondering why this strange  old coot was interested in blackbirds anyway. Some people, bird nuts, go for hummingbirds or  bluejays, cardinals, one thing or another. Who gave a shit about blackbirds? He did. He said no  one else cared about them, so he took it on as his job. His duty. Brother! They gave you the creeps, made you think of shadows and sadness and disease. But you didn’t tell him. It was his house.

was top of the line. The label on the box said it was “the ultimate feeder.” It was designed like a buffet table. He had bought sunflower seeds, wild bird mixes and thistle seed, and everything  went in its own compartment. That way, the birds could take whatever they liked, like a buffet.  The damned thing had nine different feeding stations.

showed up for a few days. If he was disappointed, he didn’t let on. But you noticed how, in the morning, he would go out to check on the feeder, look closely at the feeding stations. He made  sure there was enough of everything. Then, one morning, before he left for a retiree luncheon,  you asked him why he was so interested in blackbirds. And he told you. 

you didn’t quite catch. That saint was an angel. In fact, he was the tallest angel in heaven. Which  meant he could see a long, long way, across the world, heaven to hell. The whole enchilada.

message from the dead wife. Imagine! No matter what he said, if he loved you, all that crap, you  knew you didn’t count for much in that house. If you did, there would be no need for blackbirds.

you were passing through the den. You saw them plainly. The first customers had arrived. Four big  blackbirds were feasting at the buffet. You watched them from the window as they greedily ate  the seeds.

toward the feeder and the blackbirds. You clapped your hands and screamed at them.

yards. Standing alone in the yard, you looked at your hands. They were red from clapping.

he watched the stock reports on the television. Then the two of you went to bed. Next to him, and  looking at his old grey body, you made your decision.It was easy. You decided right after you asked him why the buffet was only for blackbirds. How could he keep away the other birds? 

His eyelid began to flutter a bit, and he said that this buffet was only for blackbirds, that no other  birds would dare come. Ever. And then he smiled, and when he did, his lid stopped fluttering. It  was a frightening thing.

of you. For a time, you were satisfied with that. Only after many months did you realize  something. You were bored to death. If you stayed, you’d be like him and his neighbors. Now,  you were also scared.

a luncheon appointment. More highballs. While he was gone, you got your things together. You  didn’t want anything that belonged to him. You laughed about this. At any other time in your  life, you would have stripped the damned place. But you didn’t want anything of his because it  would remind you of the dead wife, the dead neighbors, the dead man you lived with for a time.  There was only one thing left to do. You got the big butcher knife and headed for the buffet.

You cut the cord that ran from the feeder to the oak tree. When the buffet hit the ground, bird seed went flying in every direction. You took it for an omen. You would be okay, no matter where you landed next.


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Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His work has appeared in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, COLUMBIA and GLIMMER TRAIN, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery - http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/. He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, FROM VISION TO TEXT.
More About: Fiction, Short Story