"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
-- William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties

An actual complete, finished story. Could no doubt do with another hour of editing, but I'm tired and have already celebrated its being typed up with several bottles of boozahol.

It was actually written out several weeks ago, but my handwriting is so atrocious that I couldn't get over the dread of deciphering it to type it up.

It may also be that it somehow ties into this and this, but stands well enough on its own (I hope) to let it be.

It wasn't until she was older that she began to realize the presence of the bird was a peculiarity. Growing up, it had simply been as common as walls, or the explosive silence of her parents when she would walk into a room. As steady as her father's hands. Later, when she was old enough to have friends whose houses she visited regularly, or even stay nights, she understood the bird for the oddity it was.

No one else saw it.

None of her friends appeared to have one, forever perched outside their windows, talons gripping branch as if constantly fighting a strong wind. Never leaving a mark, even with its nails the size of her little finger. Climbing up there on the rare, awful, occasions the bird was missing, she found nothing.

Some of her friends didn't even have trees.

One Friday when she was maybe twelve, she got home from school and the bird was gone. All Saturday she waited at the window for it, a dark unease growing in her chest. Laying in bed that night, she found it impossible to breathe. The blinds drawn, but she knew. She could sense its absence.

Sunday morning she had a fever and her parents left her in bed, leaving beside her bottles of water and orange juice in one of the coolers they usually took to the beach. Her parents gone bare minutes, off to church, when the house darkened. The sun shone just as brightly against the blinds, but her room and the hallway beyond the open door were cast into deepening shadow. Time stuttered through the haze of fever, and in jagged frozen frames she found herself surrounded by a piercing light. It stayed low to the ground, soaking into the carpets. To her addled mind, it appeared to be staying below the shadow, somehow.

The light pulsed with the fevered blood in her head, and she could see how it flowed through the tiny cracks and grooves in the hallway floorboards. In the kitchen, beyond the living room, the refrigerator compressor kicked on and in its low thrumming something began to speak. Of destiny, loss, and revenge. It laughed, the ice-maker's clinking and grinding heavy with madness. It flowed with the light down the hall, hissing through the air conditioner, begging with the whisper of her sluggish feet dragging through thick throw-rugs as she hauled herself out of bed.

Through the fever and pounding in her head, she managed to lock herself in the bathroom. The light slid away from her feet, curling up into the shadow like smoke behind her. She watched it test the space between door and floor, and knocked over half the knick-knacks on the shelf above the toilet trying to get at one of her mothers giant scented candles. She ground it against the doorjamb, caking it thick against the floor, and then around the door as high as she could reach. The wax smelled sickeningly of false strawberries, until it began to melt.

The light found it, and it smelled of nothing at all.

She stopped up the sink and tub, filling each with water, unsure but unwilling to risk the light getting at her through the plumbing.

Her parents found her curled in two inches of freezing water on the bathroom floor. Melted candle wax had congealed and somehow sealed the door well enough her father had to bust it down. She had a temperature of a 104.

The hospital filled her with antibiotics, with plastic Jello and needles. Before her fever broke, she found herself telling herself, over and over, until it began to stink of truth like fake strawberries, that the shadowy figures lining her mechanized bed in the brief moments of dusk and dawn did not wear heavy cloaks. Did not carry scythes that glittered and danced like dust in a sunbeam.

Her mother demanded why she kept leaving bread crumbs sprinkled around her bed, or why, barely able to walk, she had stood on a rickety chair and spread the pollen from pilfered flower arrangements over the room's TV screen. She had no answers for her mother, or for herself, but it never really occurred to her to question.

Thursday she returned home to find the bird in its usual place.

Guarding her, she realized. A sentinel, perhaps, but also a jailer.

And when it finally spared her a glance, was that an echo of regret in its eye? Or have the years since simply added the feeling of unspoken apology?


When she is little, she leaves bits of dinner on the windowsill for the bird. Grapes, boiled roast, meat-loaf, green peas and broccoli (but never lima beans), pickles, spaghetti. The bird never takes any of it, but she's young and convinced she just needs to find the right food.
Her mother, exasperated, whenever she discovers the offering the next day.


One night, when she is perhaps fourteen, she opens the window and yells at the bird. Demands to know its purpose, its reasoning, its orders. She demands its name and, finally, it cocks its head down at her. Reprovingly.

Her father, watching sports downstairs, yells for her to keep it down.

But the voices of the announcers twist and warp, becoming something entirely other. Something that growls with the sound of a crowd cheering for a touchdown for her to lay down, to give in, to offer up what she doesn't know. She presses her hands over her ears, and screams at the bird.


She runs away from home, daring the bird to follow her, to find her. Hoping her parents will stop fighting with her gone. Fifteen now, breasts more than budding under some designer sweater, trying to organize some sort of mythic showdown. O.K. fucking Corral, she mutters to herself, shivering in the rain four blocks from her parent's house.

Suburbia surrounding her forever and ever, and she is unsure what a corral is exactly.


Nineteen, and her college roommate finds her standing on the window ledge of their fourth floor dorm room in the middle of a thunderstorm. The rain has plastered her clothes to her, turned her hair into ropes that whip her face as the wind roars. In her defiance, she is weeping, screaming. The words make no sense. Maybe they aren't words at all. Just another frightened animal raging against the storm.

As her roommate drags her back into the room by the back of an ex-boyfriend's ratty boxers, the roommate assumes she just stoned trippy. The girl has been known to overindulge in unsubscribed anti-psychotics, and it makes her overly strange. Then the roommate notices the steam coming off her, the rain seeming to evaporate, repulsed by the girl's sweat and anger.

The fever a physical thing, a wall that encloses her. The roommate never relates how she had to fight through it to get to the girl. Not to the ambulance crew, not to the doctors, not to the girl's parents. She never says how the ice she put on the girl's skin shattered and cut her hand. She calls campus security, 911, and then requests a transfer to another room.

Still crying, steaming and blind with terror and rage, the girl only quiets when they sedate her.


Another hospital, but this one is silent and empty of shadows. The light is quiet and safe, nothing more than painful fluorescence. It fills her life with nothing but static, devoid of sentience. This dead light fills her in places she never knew to be empty.

There are no windows through which she can see the bird, but at the edge of the drugs potency, she can still sense it. Perched on a power-line, or a flagpole, or one of the very decorative little trees that litter the hospital's communal areas. Unblinking, unmoving, those tiny black eyes not reflecting the world, but absorbing it. Eating the light.

She can't get it out of her head and to stop her screaming and sobbing, a needle finds a vein, and she is quiet.


Sometimes at the ebbing of the tide in her head, a man talks to her. It is hard to understand him, but she tries. Why she doesn't know, but through his voice like water over marbles, she gets the idea it's the thing to do. Other times, when the world is far away through miles of placid water, another man finds her and closes the observation port in her door. Floating hours and hours from anything resembling her body, she finds it hard to care.

Eventually the needle comes less and less, and she sees more sunlight filtered through the sea of antidepressants and carefully balanced anti-psychotics. The talking man looks more and more pleased with himself, but the sound of his scribbling pen is a grumbling voice she can almost make sense of.

Eventually, they let her out into the air with others recovering from their own fractured minds. They hobble around in slow circles, or sit in the grass and talk to the dandelions. Most of them just stand around and stare at nothing.

She immediately picks out the bird, studiously not noticing her from the top of the fence. The wind through the chain-link whispers retaliation, the price of her resistance. The bird ruffles its feathers, and the wind becomes just the wind.


Her room is the way she remembers it as a child. Probably cleaner. It seems smaller, her feet nearly hanging off the canopy bed her parents presented her with for her tenth birthday. Posters of boy bands long come out of the closet climb the walls; pictures of forgotten friends line the mirror at her tiny vanity.

Her parents tip-toe around her, never raising their voices regardless of her behavior. Their mouths modulate their annoyance, thinning it into something that won't upset her, won't send her back over the brink, into another "event." Their forced gentleness drives her more mad than anything else. Always using the word "we" instead of "you."

One night they come home from a movie, after months of never leaving her alone for more than a few minutes, to find she has boiled a dozen eggs and scattered the shells around the house.

Laughing, thinking her cured, they spend hours cleaning up the mess. They will each pause, looking over her joke, and chuckle. She refuses to tell them where she got the eggs, having no car and no supermarket being within easy walking distance. It makes it funnier somehow, a better story for much later, and they laugh harder.

She is careful not to consider too deeply how the sacrifice of a dozen chickens has lifted the weight from her family.


That night, she sits by the windowsill in her childhood room, and breathes in the night air. The bird stares out over the light-post lined streets of this nowhere in particular, and she whispers. "You aren't really real. You're just something broken, in my head."
The bird pauses in its surveillance, its vigilance. Its head tilts in perplexity. "Not real, not really real," she whispers again, but her conviction is already fading.

A black hole of an eye turns down to look at her, anger and sadness somehow mixed into the gleaming little void. The bird ruffles its feathers, stretches its wings. Underneath the black wings, she sees a body seemingly made entirely out of scar tissue. Deep cuts and chunks of skin missing from its small, muscular body. Years of abuses, soaked into its flesh.

"Wait," she says, sobbing, afraid now. That it might go away. Fearful that with its absence she will have more to worry about than her own psychosis. Afraid of what life might be like, without the bird there to take the greater hurts promised by the household appliances, the dark oaths the wind brings. "Wait, I'm sorry."

Its wings settle, feathers smoothing down. It resumes the vigil and ignores, as it so often has over the years, the girl crying in the window.

May 26, 2007 9:49 PM