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Two-A-Penny

Summary

A sparrow hit my kitchen window by accident today. I heard the dull thud of body-on-glass and ran out with my heart in my throat. I hate it when those little things fly into stuff like that. It just tears me up. John would get that frown line on his forehead if he saw how upset I get over it, but he’s never been there to see. Songbirds hit windows more often than you’d think, but somehow it’s usually when no one’s around.

Two-a-Penny

A sparrow hit my kitchen window by accident today. I heard the dull thud of body-on-glass and ran out with my heart in my throat. I hate it when those little things fly into stuff like that. It just tears me up. John would get that frown line on his forehead if he saw how upset I get over it, but he’s never been there to see. Songbirds hit windows more often than you’d think, but somehow it’s usually when no one’s around.

I gave money to a charity once, and they sent me stickers in the mail. Window stickers, with these yellow ribbons on them, to let everyone who drives their car behind mine know that I’m a supporter. Only I never took them out of the envelope. I should put those stickers on my kitchen window, to warn the birds. I’ve been saying this for years, and never done anything. Now look what’s happened.

I bought a pair of shoes on impulse once. Funny, since I’m not usually an impulse shopper. I’m pretty close with my money. But then I saw these little black shoes with cutwork in the leather and Annie said they made my feet look dainty. Annie – my kid sister, as close with compliments as I am with money. So I bought them. I knew, of course, I had nowhere to wear them, but I bought them anyway and every so often I used to close my door and take the shoebox out, and I would put them on to see what it was like to have dainty feet for a while.

The sparrow was keeled over on the deck – still alive, but she didn’t look so good. I picked her up, gentle as I could, and carried her into the house. When I was a little girl I used to make nests in shoeboxes for hurt birds and keep them there until they got better, or until they died and the shoebox became a coffin. But I didn’t like the idea of putting this one in a box, cold and alone. No one should suffer by herself, and she seemed to like the warmth of my hand. She pressed her broken body against it and panted a little. Sparrows really shouldn’t pant. I bit my lip. She was dying for sure. A hot feeling bubbled up inside me but I pressed it down and started wondering instead.

First I wondered about my sparrow’s life. Did she have a mate? Probably not, I decided. Though maybe I only thought that because I didn’t want her to have one. Didn’t want her to be leaving someone behind.

Maybe, I thought, she didn’t have a mate because she was a social misfit. Even in the nest she was probably the last one to get the bugs and worms and whatever else sparrow parents puke up for their kids. And the parents were so busy flying and eating and puking that they didn’t have time to notice that one of their nestlings was getting pushed around. Maybe that’s why she was a little bit slow, and didn’t see the window, and flew into it by accident.

I was twenty-two when I met John. I think I first liked him because he was tall. I always liked someone tall and strong, someone that you could lean against without knocking over. We both had part-time jobs at the YMCA, him as a fitness coach and me as a lifeguard. It took three months and an accidental collision in the hallway for him to even notice me, but within a year I got to lean on him plenty.

When I finished wondering about the sparrow’s life, I started wondering about her death. Did it hurt a lot to die of being smashed like that? I figured it must. I wanted to give her a hug then, but probably a hug isn’t so much comfort as it is pain to someone in that condition. But I wanted to do something for her. What did people want when they were dying?

“I could pray.”

I startled myself, not just by saying the words out loud, but by thinking them at all. I hadn’t prayed in... Well, in some number of years. Since I was twenty-three. I never did like doing subtraction in my head. And would the sparrow want me to pray for her? Were birds religious? I tried to imagine them sitting in pews at a church and I just couldn’t do it. They would have a great choir, though. I looked down at my bird. Her eyes were looking duller. I guessed that praying couldn’t hurt.

“God,” I said awkwardly, “This sparrow smashed herself on my window today. But she didn’t mean to. It was an accident.” I waited for more words to come, but my mind stayed blank.

“Amen,” I finished lamely.

Annie was born when I was ten. She was funny-looking at that age – all red and wrinkled like an old man.

I hated her.

When she cried my parents ran to see what was wrong. When she smiled they ran to take pictures. When she was sick they ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to be useful and getting in each other’s way. I finally told my Grandma how unfair it was one day, and she laughed and laughed.

“This is your folks’ second baby,” she reminded me. “They’re a whole lot wiser and calmer now. You should have seen them ten years ago. You were the most spoilt baby I ever saw.”

After that I felt a bit better, and decided Annie and I could be friends. To this day I still think that was the moment I started growing up.

The sparrow was really far gone now. She was trembling a little, but I don’t think she could have moved on purpose if she tried. I couldn’t bear to look at her anymore, so I looked out the window. At least, I tried to look out the window. I ended up looking at it instead, because stuck to the glass was a little bit of feather, and seeing it sent that same, old hot feeling racing through me again. How a thing like this happen? Why couldn’t anyone stop it? Why didn’t I stop it?

And then I was crying, screaming at myself, “Why didn’t you put up the stupid stickers? You could have done something and you didn’t and it’s all your fault. It was always your fault!”

I don’t know if my screaming did it, or if it was just time, but the bird shuddered and died right then. I sat staring at it and crying, and that was when John came in. He took one look at me and crossed the floor in two steps, the lines on his forehead already worrying themselves into a frown.

“She’s dead,” I told him through my tears. “But she didn’t want to be. It was an accident.”

I was twenty-three and I was staring at my shoes. Because my shoes were black leather with tiny cut-outs, and Annie had said she liked them. And because if I looked up then I would have to see them close the casket lid on Annie for the last time. And if I saw that, the hot guilt would well up and I would ask myself again if I couldn’t have guessed something was wrong.

My God, how could she do that to herself?

But God never answered and I didn’t ask again.

“I need a shoebox,” I told John.

“A shoebox?”

“To bury my sparrow in.”

“I’m not sure we have – ”

“We have one. On the top shelf in the closet. There’s a pair of black shoes in it. Just take them out.”