For this week’s blog, I decided to post a story from my chapbook of flash fiction, FLASHES & FLOATERS: 14 FICTIONS. It’s only 649 words long. The chapbook is available at www.DamnedFool.com.
We had just come back from vacation, I, my wife Kelly and the kids, who didn’t mind missing school—a week down to San Diego to visit friends who were having a rocky time—when the birds began to fall.
They fell mostly at night, very soft plops. You could hear it if you stopped breathing. Then in the morning, nothing. Maybe the homeless eat’em, I joked, and Josh laughed, my son. We thought it must just be local.
That was in May, same time that Kelly was diagnosed and she had to go in for treatments. I drove her back and forth. Once I ran a red light, but I said I was taking my wife for treatments and he didn’t write me up.
Time went on. It was in the papers now, national news, but like biohazards or climate change, it was just one of those things. It upset Kelly a lot. She cared less about herself and more about the birds.
There was all kinds of crazy news. Some blamed the current Administration. A respected dentist cited the prophecy of Isaiah. Pundits recounted evidence of vegan involvement. Intimations of fascist plots gained traction. Choose your truth.
Now they started falling at sun-up, and they’d hit like little cherry bombs. I recalled when my friend Artie, third grade, stuck a firecracker under his sleeping cat. Some people got hit really bad, so they kept the kids off the playgrounds.
I didn’t pay lots of attention, though it was big news when the last Golden Eagle dropped at a shopping mall in Missoula. Our National Bird was kaput. There were calls for investigation, but Kelly was in the last stages.
Next week past the eagle thing, she died, and they nailed me for running a light. I wasn’t thinking.
At the funeral, my niece Jennifer, who’s four, babbled about the birds, and my sister Sandra told her, “Never mind the birds, you should be sad about Aunt Kelly. The birds, they’re like dinosaurs or the Indians, they were nice but they’re gone. In the Bible it says, All things must pass. So shut up with the birds.” Jennifer cried harder, so Sandra said, “You know, maybe there’s birds on the moon or in Outer Space.” But Jennifer cried and the preacher looked over. I can’t remember Sandra ever crying. Maybe she wanted to. Maybe she would some day.
After a month or so, it was still a risk to go out. Now they fell harder, those that were left, exploding like tiny grenades, blowing holes in the roofs of cars. I sat in the house as if stuck in Limbo with nothing to read. Some days came like waterfalls in a rush, others seeped in like syrup over pancakes. I said those things to Sandra when we went out to dinner, and she grinned. Nuff said about Sandra.
They say that all things pass. One morning in August, maybe, the birds began rising up into daylight with their shrill. I’d sit on the porch staring into the sky, hoping for something to touch and smell. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was only listening.
Birds criss-crossed the skies. Sometimes they coalesced into patterns, spelling out words as the sun moved into an autumn slant. This was a time of hope.
School started. The children learned of the Ice Age, and how it passed, how the tribes moved into new valleys and made drawings in caves of the wonders they dreamed. The children still had nightmares, but they heard the new birds at dawn and forgot all the monsters. I even imagined a time when birds would cross across in abundance, having known countless extinctions and taken them all in stride.
I remembered Kelly. Her lips.