Bird Signs by Jack Somers

Bird Signs

Something smacked the outside of my daughter’s bedroom window. It wasn’t large or heavy, whatever it was, but it had momentum. I could tell by the sharp whipping sound of the smack. I would have guessed an icy snowball hurled by the boy next door — a boy driven to mischief by the desperate boredom of interminable shelter-in-place. But there was no boy next door, just Maude and Earl, two childless retirees who mostly kept to themselves even when they weren’t ordered by the governor to do so. And the week before, the last of the snow had finally melted into the damp April earth, earth pungent with the boggy funk of new life.

I finished folding my daughter’s cotton onesie — the pink one with the polar bear on the tummy — and set it in the living room of the four-foot-tall plywood dollhouse in front of me. I pressed my palms against the mattress of her brand-new big girl bed and pushed myself to my feet. Just as I reached the window, there was another strike. A wide-breasted robin with wings the grayish black of a poorly cleaned chalkboard bounced backward, fluttered in place for an instant, and flitted to the lowest branch of a nearby cherry tree. It stayed there for half a minute, sizing me up with its rosary bead eyes, jerking its head from side-to-side in a fashion that suggested intelligence and curiosity. Then it flung itself at the window again, punching the glass with its sturdy body.

“A bird was flying into Margaret’s window this afternoon,” I told Paige that evening in the kitchen as I shaved a cork down with a steak knife to make it fit back into the wine bottle. “Did it over and over again. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

She had been stirring broccoli in a cast-iron skillet. She paused and shuddered. “My grandmother used to say that if a bird flew into your house through a window, it meant someone close to you was going to die. Either that, or a big change was coming in your life, a transformation.”

“The bird didn’t fly into the house.”

“But it would have if the window had been open.”

“Your grandmother wore an amulet around her neck to ward off the Evil Eye,” I said. “I’m not sure she’s the most reliable source.”

“I’m just telling you what she said,” Paige murmured. She licked the tip of her wooden spoon and went back to stirring.

Margaret’s cries woke me at seven the next morning. I ambled down the hallway to her room and turned on her lamp. She had slung off her comforter and sheet and was rolling back and forth with her eyes closed, wailing. I knelt over her and patted her head, whispering, “Shshshsh.” She was hot to the touch. I retrieved a thermometer from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and returned to her room. When the number one hundred and five flashed across the thermometer’s screen, I felt the floor open beneath me. Suddenly I was reeling, hurtling downward, plunging into an abyss of blind panic.

There was a smack on the window. Then another. Then another. That damn robin.

“Not today, bird,” I yelled. “You’re not getting her.” I imagined myself storming outside with my old Louisville Slugger and pulverizing the creature, reducing it to a feathery smear with half a dozen brutal strokes. I would have done it, too. But I had a more pressing concern. I had the most pressing concern.

Frantically, I unzipped her polar bear onesie and pulled it off. I rushed to the kitchen, grabbed a bag of frozen peas, and rushed back to her. When I pressed the bag to her burning brow, her eyes popped open. Her gaze was cloudy, confused. “Daddy, I don’t feel good,” she whimpered.

“I know, baby,” I said. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to get you better.”

Paige appeared at the door. She glanced at the thermometer on the nightstand. “What’s her temperature?”

“One-o-five. I think we gotta go to the emergency room.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Paige. “Not with all those Covid patients around.”

“Maybe she has Covid.”

“How? None of us have left the house in a week.”

“I went to the grocery store four days ago. A few people got close.”

“You had a mask on.”

“The mask doesn’t protect you 100%,” I said. “We’re out of kids’ Tylenol. There wasn’t any in the bathroom medicine cabinet.”

“There’s more in the utility drawer in the kitchen.”

Despite her squirming, we managed to get five milliliters of medicine into Margaret’s mouth, and within two hours, her temperature dropped to a considerably less scary one hundred and one. We gave her another five milliliters at eleven, and by one, she was down to ninety-nine. I spent most of the morning and early afternoon lying beside her. A few minutes before two, it occurred to me that I no longer heard the bird pummeling the window.

Margaret was asleep and seemed peaceful. She was breathing softly through her nose, and her bottom lip was twitching intermittently. I got up and went outside to check on the bird. I didn’t bother to put on my shoes, and I didn’t bring my bat. I just wanted to see if it was there.

It wasn’t.

Earl was crouched in front of his house, pulling crabgrass out of a flowerbed. “Howdy,” he said. He tipped his sun hat up and smiled. “Looking for something?”

“There was this bird that kept flying into the window,” I said. “It was weird.”

“They do that because they see their reflection,” said Earl. “They think it’s a mate. They don’t know they’re just looking at themselves.”

Jack Somers’s work has appeared in Necessary FictionMenacing HedgeThe Cabinet of Heed and a number of other publications. He lives in Ohio with his wife and their four children. You can find him on Twitter @jsomers530

More by Jack Somers Vanishing Man


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