After a Certain Point, You’ve Got to Name the Bird
Sheldon Lee Compton started writing this story on about December 10, 2016. This was two days after a cardinal showed up at his window. That first day he was on edge, believing it to be an omen of a coming death. Heather was concerned for him because of past issues, and called her mom who told them both a cardinal wasn’t a sign of death but was actually a visitor from Heaven. He wanted to believe this, but you can’t make yourself believe something just by trying really hard.
The way this cardinal keeps flying into my window, it’s all I can think about. It’s not something you see most of the time. It’s like an eclipse or fireworks, or the kind of thing people pay to see. Back up, fly, and thonk and, oh yes, A-1 thonk. Right back to the tree branch and then again – thonk with its beak like a hammer, and the window bows inward one more time. It goes like this for as long as I watch.
The story was hardly started but he was losing interest when he sort of floated off into a daze at work. On the walls were two or three framed photographs she had taken. One of his grandmother playing guitar, another of a broken roadside cross, and the one of the angel with the streaks of black and the tilted head and the grin.
It’s not dumb, Evan says. She says birds at the window can be a sign of death.
Just any bird?
No it has to be a sparrow or a blackbird.
What about a redbird?
A cardinal means somebody from Heaven is coming to say hello, she says.
I offer the possibility that the cardinal is seeing its reflection and trying to play. Evan smiles the way she smiles when I’ve lost my point and am sinking.
I went with her to this cemetery once. Her grandmother was buried there and she wanted to put flowers on the grave for Christmas. I stood off to myself while she took the presents to her grandmother. Evan has no problem at all spending money on dead people, her heart is so big.
There was a statue of an angel at this one grave. Its head tilted to the right like maybe a half inch or so. Two little wings rising up from its shoulders. This little grin on its face. And let me tell you this, that statue had been burned and good. Soot and ash covered most of the head and a little curl of it snaked down the bridge of the nose. Mostly, I could relate.
Sheldon pays closer attention to everything about the bird. The varying degrees of impact each time it hits the window. How does it survive it, time after time? He remembers that woodpeckers have some type of cushioning in their heads that protects them from concussions or skull fractures. She takes bread outside, absolutely sure if it’s not the reflection keeping the bird around then it must be hungry. He googles woodpecker cushion brain and reads, “Woodpeckers hammer their beaks into trees at the astonishing rate of 18 to 22 times per second, subjecting their brains to deceleration forces of 1200 g with each strike.” He listens to Heather’s beautiful voice calling for the cardinal to eat and remembers the exact words she uses.
The cardinal shows up again on the fifth day, still knocking its beak against the window.
This is not natural, Evan says. I’m going to take some bread out there and see if it’s hungry.
This sort of talk tees me up to offer some reality. It’s just an insane animal, I say. If people can go insane, birds must be able to lose their minds. Insane can get spread around in the weirdest ways.
She stomps back through the house with a full loaf of bread and heads out the front door. The cardinal is sitting on a tree limb craning its head around. Thonk! It flies back to the tree limb and then the two of us, man and bird, watch a piece of wholegrain bread disc through the air and land about three feet from the tree.
I hear Evan outside. Go get it, birdie. Go get it. Get it! She tosses two more pieces of bread and disappears around the corner of the house.
Roger gears up again and thonk, thonk. You better believe it, A-1 thonk.
After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird.
After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. This sentence held him up for a long, long time. He thought it was as clever and as perfect as he could write a sentence. And placed at just the right spot in the story. If he could just write this sentence for the rest of time then everything he wrote would be perfect.
There’s so much left to explore in the story and the creation of the story. The introduced theme of death, the dichotomy of Evan’s kindness and the narrator’s callousness, not to mention the question mark surrounding Sheldon’s past issues, if the reader remembers the single, first-paragraph reference at all. There’s the angel statue and the strangeness of it having been burned, there’s the unwritten section about finishing the story. There’s actually finishing the story and writing about finishing the story. But wouldn’t it be nice.
After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird. After a certain point, you’ve got to name the bird.
Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer and poet from Eastern Kentucky. His most recent work has appeared in Wigleaf, gobbet, Live Nude Poems, Vending Machine Press, Peach Mag, Gravel, Unbroken Journal, and elsewhere. His fourth book, A True Story: A Novella, is due out this summer.
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