A bird hit her window the day after her son died. The flat thunk and explosion of reddish feathers startled her. She flinched like when your mind’s asleep but your body hasn’t caught up and your dream crosses realms, resulting in a flail of limbs and a fluttering chest. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been staring out the window, unfocused, when the bird’s misfortune pulled her back home. All that was left from her current point of view when she had grounded herself and realized what had happened was a vaguely bird-shaped smudge on the glass. Dina thought that it must have been going pretty fast to have made a mark like that. She leaned forward to reposition her view and caught sight of the bird on the ground a few feet away from the window surrounded by a circumference of feathers that almost complemented the yellows and browns of dead pine needles. It was a dry summer and she was surprised it hadn’t been smokier, but today was the first day that a filter of smoke hung in the trees, masking the sky’s true colour. The smoke had rolled in overnight from the Okanagan. The Smokanagan, her son used to call it when referring to their mainland counterparts. When Dina woke this morning, she had thought to herself that today was a fitting day for her throat to burn and the smell to seep through the cracks in the seams of the windows. In the bird’s bed of colour-coordinated feathers and pine needles, it wasn’t moving and it was sitting kind of off-kilter. Crooked like when a figurine doesn’t come with a proper stand. From where Dina sat, it was perfectly still. It didn’t look like it was breathing. She stood from her seat at the window and flattened out the crease in her pants that told her she’d been sitting in the same spot for too long. From her closet, she collected a spade and a shoebox to bury the bird that she witnessed meet an end not entirely dissimilar to her son’s, she imagined. Her chest tightened at this involuntary thought, and she hurried outside to find the bird so that she could think of burying something else. Conceal the images of her son in a casket. Once outside she saw that rather than the toppled-over figure, the bird had changed positions. It was now facing her with one wing splayed out and the other tucked neatly into its side. She sighed at this new development. Her shoulders dropped with the weight of this newfound moral dilemma. She could leave it to figure itself out on its own, but she knew that the owls or hawks or other predators living around here would probably get to it before it would be okay enough to take care of itself. The bird stared up at her as she stood over it, returning the stare. Dina’s shadow covered the bird in the afternoon sun, shielding it from the heat, but not the smoke. It looked up at her with an aura of innocence that communicated the facts of its predicament and she considered them, probably not as methodically as she might have on a normal day. She thought of leaving it. It wasn’t her fault that it flew into her window. Anyways, she was busy, herself. The last thing she needed was a broken bird to take care of when she was occupied with funeral preparations. The bird continued looking up at her. It puffed its chest out and ruffled its uninjured wing, impatient. Make up your mind, it urged. You found me, what are you gonna do? Soon, she was collecting grass in the shoebox for the bird’s comfort. Then, she was back approaching the bird. At first it flinched away, but as she ushered it into the box with the spade, it finally dragged itself and its damaged wing into its new home that Dina had curated for it without much convincing. She took it back into her house and sat with it at her dining room table. The bird had a dark grey beak, a wide triangle that tapered off into a gentle point. Its beak could pass for black if its eyes weren’t there, round and beady and perfectly, entirely black. Dina wasn’t unnerved by them. She believed that they were probably thankful. Dina hadn’t seen her husband when she’d left the house, but he passed her now, on his way to the kitchen. He didn’t look at her. “Look,” she said. “This little bird hit the window. I think it hurt its wing. It’s a purple finch.” As if her voice reminded her husband of existence, or maybe responsibility, he spoke. “The funeral home called while you were outside.” “What did they say?” Cartilage pulled on ribs again. Smoke smelled stronger. “I said you’d call them back.” He left Dina with her purple finch. She turned back to the bird that still at times resembled a figurine. Sometimes, it still looked inanimate until its head flicked to the side or it puffed its chest out. The finch sitting in its shoebox looked up at Dina, offering more acknowledgement than her husband had just given her. She began speaking to the bird, hoping it would offer her more comfort than she or her husband could provide. Hoping it could loosen the grip her chest had on itself. As Dina spoke to the bird, cooing to it, telling it that she’d make it better, she’d protect it, she decided that the call could wait. She almost did not think of her son.
Amber Nuyens (she/her) is a creative writing student living on Syilx territory in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada with her elderly lizard. Her work has appeared in The Papershell Literary Anthology, Second Chance Lit, and Glitchwords. She can be found on twitter @amberuhh mostly complaining.