The man didn’t understand why the bird wouldn’t fly, why it refused to even try to.
He had taken it in, having found it lying on a damp patch of pavement directly below the tree out of which it had slipped. He had bound its wing, wrapping it gently so that the bones might set. He had fed it and cleaned it and given it a cage: gilt, shiny and expensive. He even left the door open during the day so that it might wander about, familiarising itself with its surroundings. But its wing remained limp, its spirits low. It ignored the food and water and avoided the cage wherever possible. It simply sat and stared out of the window, its gaze fixed resolutely on the tree that inhabited the lawn at the bottom of his neighbour’s garden.
He had tried talking to it countless times. He had played it music on occasion. He had encouraged it to listen to the radio and to watch television in his absence. And he had given it several books to read on the off chance that it would be able to decipher what was written on the pages they contained. But each separate effort had met with similar failure, and repeated attempts only seemed to upset it further.
Eventually, unable to get to the bottom of what it was all about, he gave up, leaving it to its own devices.
Over time, it lost what little flesh it had previously owned, until finally, little more than a silhouette, it could slip easily between the bars of the cage and the man found that he was no longer able to contain it.
One day, while he was out at work, it vanished entirely, and although he searched for it high and low, in every room, shelf, drawer and tight corner he could think of, he failed to shed any light on the matter of where it might have gone.
Years passed. He waited patiently, but it never materialised.
Research reveals that it took up residence in a nearby garden, partnering up with a white dove to have and to raise a family. This cannot, however, be confirmed. In fact, the only evidence that it existed at all is the strange note that it left, more metaphor than story, more riddle than answer. The note baffled the man but made sense enough to all those who heard it who had also known the bird.
I am leaving because I have received far too much and simultaneously been given so very little.
I have had more than I can possibly bear of that for which I have expressed no desire and nowhere near enough of that for which I am surely owed but for which I have never dared openly ask for.
Baffled, the man sought help from his environment, visiting three individuals with skills far outweighing his own.
The first, a priest, told him that he had sinned openly and suggested that he pray for his salvation.
The second, a medium, told him that the bird was still alive but would not reveal its location.
And the third, a hypnotist, told him that he had reaped that which he had sown and to think long and hard before requesting the finer details. “Some things,” he advised, “are better off left alone and this might easily be one of them. Be careful what you wish for, for that which you cannot easily swallow, you might find impossible to digest.”
And so, forewarned, the man gave up trying, escaping the full weight of responsibility for his sins. But his life was less satisfying without the bird and he never stopped wanting for its company. If he could have started over, he would have asked it what he had done, but second chances are largely fictional and he wasn’t the reading or the writing kind, so lacked the ability to find one.
by Rebecca L. Atherton
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