The noise began as a hollow cracking sound seeping into the living room from the depths of the sand colored walls.
“What is that?” asked the boy. But his mother did not know, and his father hardly glanced away from the man making sounds of pain on the television set. So the boy listened harder, shut his eyes against the glare of fluorescent lights and pressed his ear against the dirty wall so everything, everything would be drowned by the very peculiar scratching sound. It made him think of escape, though he didn’t think that that made a noise.
“What are you doing?” asked his father, finally looking up as the show went to commercial.
The boy did not answer. He was too busy listening.
The big man lurched his way off the couch and the whole room seemed to shake, seemed to shrink around his pounding feet and swinging arms as the boy tried hopelessly to listen harder.
“I said, what are you doing.” But the father did not wait for an answer; he forced the boy aside and shoved his head against the wall. The boy held his breath. The commercial ended and someone began moaning on the TV.
“Well, wouldja listen to that.”
“What? What is it–” the boy’s questions fell silent to a rush of hushing.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Somehow a bird got in.”
The boy flattened himself against the wall. The father knocked as if on a door, waiting for a response, the wall reverberated with the noise. A moment and then the sound of chirping; the boy found himself frowning.
That afternoon the father took his tools to the wall, digging his way past peeling paint and crumbling plaster. The boy cringed as he watched the room acquire a gaping mouth, hated the brutish gesture his father made as he hacked away… and yet, could not keep himself from humming with anticipation. Wanting to see the home the bird had made – inside the inside. And there the creature was. Brown and slightly swollen, its head cocked to one side as if wondering what the disturbance was about. The boy bit his tongue as his father grinned and shoved a hand through the drywall, grabbing the stunned, fluttering animal before it could run away. Thick fingers closed around silky feathers. The boy could swear he heard a crunch as the father squeezed the wings still and plopped the helpless mass into an old shoebox.
“You watch him while I wash up.”
The boy did not know what his father planned to do with the small animal. Perhaps let it free? He knew that would not be the case – the bird would be kept in the box, stared at and mistreated or ignored completely. His father liked pets.
The boy looked at the sad, broken creature that sat trapped within a box meant for shoes, for walking. He scooped the crumpled bird into his hands, felt it try to beat crushed wings once or twice, sensed its acknowledgement of failure. It trusted him, believed that he would make the right decision for its fate – he could feel it in its lack of struggle.
“It might not be okay.” The bird looked at him, cocked its head again.
The boy plugged the sink up with an old towel, watched it grow heavy with water. His hand dipped below the surface, bird ensconced by skin and healthy bone. The wings flapped again, once, twice, three times. They stopped.
When the boy looked down all he saw a handful of dampened feathers and wondered what sound escape made.
Jennifer Gordon is a student of film, with a focus in production. She has a lovely dog and two rabbits. On weekends, Jennifer likes to take long walks and play Scrabble. Her favorite word is calliope.
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