Short Story Contest - Third Place Winner: Tanishq
I was scared of birds growing up. There were these menacing, gawking ones that would come and sit on the fence in my backyard. The backyard of my home which resided in an aging neighborhood among many similar dim homes of its kind, on a bit of a sloping street which made each home seem a tad higher and lower to its contemporaries.The birds however, were black and purple and to be honest I had never seen anything quite like them anywhere else. When I stood by our sliding patio door that seemed to grow brackish in the fall weather, or by the kitchen window above the sink, their black, beady eyes bore down into me. They resembled the black obsidians that were my mother’s but unlike hers, I never grew close to them over the years. I once heard Mr. Smith say “birds are like. . . there to send you signs. . .” His scratchy old voice looked for better words and his eyes squinted in his retired search. He was a man of 84 (barely hanging on if you were to ask me) who had the habit of clicking his tongue after most sentences and he owned the gas station off First Boulevard which was one of those roads that you could have a calm afternoon walk on. Not quite busy. Not jammed with loud traffic and cars that didn’t budge. It made you wonder how well his business did if you didn’t find cars bustling around— but the pump was doing good for him. Good enough. He frequently leaned over one of the pumps popping a beer open, gritting its tin cap with his aged teeth. You would stop to hear his stories as cars circled through the lot around you, with a cola in hand as he, on occasion, stepped outside his humid, crammed room of an office to lean against the cooler out front. You would wait as condensation grew on the cold glass, as your hands grew wet and slipped around the neck of the bottle. You would stand patiently as the man of 84, dying of bad habits he picked up at fifteen of smoking between fifth period under the bleachers- habits that once made him too cool for school back in the day- opened his box of old stories that seemed like faraway, aged lives once lived with an excitement he wouldn’t show on his face.
“They’re those things you call omens.” He finally completed, satisfied as the cap of his beer popped off making that hollow whistled noise.
Omens. If you’ve heard of that word it was most likely connected to a negative connotation. “That’s a bad omen” you might have heard. I was wary of the word. If I thought too much into it, I would drive myself mad about those birds— even years after our move from that home. If I dismissed the word as a superstition, I would feel as if I were turning my back to a bad fate that was written into my future. I would believe as if I am turning my back to a monster, walking away from it though not getting any farther. And that feeling. . . The insecurity of the monster behind your back. . . that feeling creeps up on you. It crawls up your back and whispers unsurety and doubt into your ears. The birds, to me, were omens. Bad ones. When they showed up, they made a good day turn bad, and a bad day turn worse.
I told my mother about them. About how they sat proud and deservingly on our fence. How the snarky little things flew away when she appeared.
“I hate that you give them all that unnecessary attention. You’re only stressing yourself out.” She would say as I sat on the kitchen countertop, watching her cook, watching her stir the ceramic red pot of stew with her wooden spoon and her nose scrunch up as the steam rose up into her face. She said that often as I often sat on the kitchen counter watching her cook, sometimes coming to her crying about the birds who didn’t seem to leave me alone. I even stopped going into my backyard at all because of them. Now, my mother was a loving woman. She never had the means to leave my side even when I became too difficult to deal with. But despite my personal discomfort for the birds, it seemed that they were never keen on my mother. And I took those birds’ sentiments seriously. This odd feeling crept up on me, corrupting every neuron in my brain because I knew surely that between the two of us, my mother carried a far more warm, inviting aura. She didn’t frown at the birds like I did, instead they sneered at her. Sometimes it even appeared to me that they liked to warn me before my mother would enter the room. They would point their beaks in unnatural ways and cryptically twist their rounded little heads around, squawking as she walked in a room behind me. Some would fly away as my mother appeared while the others left behind would viciously continue their squeaking noises directly at me, so loud that it made you want to bring your hands up and clasp them against your ears, eventually following the trail of their family. Despite their gawking, beady eyes, they were much more tame when only I was around, even serving as a serene background to glance up when I washed the dishes or entered a room.
So, one Thursday I was surprised to notice the birds hadn’t appeared when I showed up at my kitchen sink and looked out the window at our backroads fence. It was lonesome, missing its usual companions. Perhaps a wish I had been muttering to myself for years, had finally come true. Though, because of it, a guilt began settling at the core of me, separating itself from my wishes like oil and water. That night I sat by my mother in the kitchen again, as she stirred the red ceramic pot with her wooden spoon, mixing plump, feathery lumps into the stew. Stirring the eight limp corpses of my childhood nemesis in the pot, carrots and peas floating around with them in the brackash liquid. My mother noticed me staring, tears appeared in her eyes, round beady ones, her gaze shifting away from the stray feet, talons, and what I couldn’t mistake as their beady black beads boiling away into washy marbles, floating at the mixture’s surface.
“I just hated how sad they made you feel, dear. I got rid of them for you.” She said in a soft voice, then she mumbled a delicate “I love you more than anything” under her breath, continuing her stirring. Sitting comfortably on the counter top, I now gawked at the helpless birds.