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One morning, a bird claimed my head as its egg. I tried to shoo it away, but it gripped a tuft of my hair and refused to let go. Eventually, I resigned myself to the little wren, but Monica, my wife, she never did.
Most days, the guys at work teased me about my bird. And my extended family believed I did it for attention. Even my doctor couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He pretended it wasn’t there, which was fine, as he was expressing alarm over a grey smudge found on my chest x-rays. I tapped my lips, pretending to regard the blemish with worry, but it was my ghostly lungs illuminated by the lightboard that drew my eyes.
“A pleural biopsy will tell us more,” he said.
This meant nothing to me. I only wanted to know if I was dying. But I worried if I asked directly, I’d sound foolish. When the results came back, Monica and I hugged and cried for a few days until our eyes went dry, and our faces throbbed. She grieved my body as if it were her own. Treatments galore were scheduled, and Monica became defiant.
“We’re going to beat that little fucking smudge,” she’d wail, storming the hallway of our house. She lifted my spirits and caused the khaki-colored wren atop my head to sing in a glorious flutey vibrato.
In time, the focus of our discussions changed. Monica would steer us into topics related to passwords, bank accounts, and insurance policies. The bird hated this sort of talk and would chirp incessantly and divebomb her shoulders until she stopped.
I guess I couldn’t blame my wife. These were essential, practical concerns that needed addressing. I answered every question she posed, but it soured us, and we spent less time together.
She took on the role of caregiver to an elderly neighbor who lived alone. Monica would come home and share stories about this woman and her career as a former stunt pilot and the many tawdry romances she enjoyed, escapades so kinky they made me blush. Although it irked me some. I’d lived half her life and death was as near to me as it was to her. Often, I’d cut my wife off mid-story and ask, “Do we have any birdseed?” She’d give me a dirty look and pull it out of the cupboard.
I never shared my thoughts of despair and loneliness with Monica. I’d sit with it in the dark, like a fly stitched inside a spider’s silk casket: my ears ringing and my chest straining for oxygen. Sometimes I’d wonder what people said when I wasn’t around. Did people think of me in a good light? I wanted to believe they did. But the idea that my friends and family privately reveled in my praise seemed absurd. Everyone I knew savored the delicious thrill of gossip. I can admit it was a weakness of mine.
To my surprise, that stunt woman exited this world before I did. It left me in the unexpected position of consoling my wife. I couldn’t help feel like a man from the past peeking in on the future.
After that, the feeling of terror that haunted me lost its edge. I was bored of being scared shitless. In its place arrived a sense of presentness, as if I’d broken through some shell and was born in full HD. My senses buzzed with an awareness of molecules streaming inside and outside of me, whirling all around, from near and far, across an infinite scope of time. I was here/now; here/now; hear/now.
It’s then that my wren released me of its care and flew wildly inside our home, rocketing down our hallway, loop-de-looping, and gliding in beautiful cursive arcs as if it wished to spell my name.
“Open the window,” I shouted to Monica.
She did, and when the bird caught sight of that beautiful blue vista, it sailed in its direction. But just as it reached the opening, it dipped and plunged, and took root on her head.
“What do I do?” she asked, afraid to move.
“Let it perch,” I said.
She did, and that little wren trilled the most beautiful ballad imaginable. It caused my wife to sob and sob and sob. I did too, a little. And then I left her with her bird, opened the kitchen cupboard, and reached for the birdseed.