Uncaging the Bird
by Scott Carsons
by Scott Carsons
A crack of thunder raised Mitch from his sleep. He looked to his clock, but saw only the flashing of eights.
"Hello," a scratchy voice called out through the black.
Mitch tensed and his breath halted. Then suddenly, he remembered. Noodles.
He picked up his phone and flipped the light on. Then, shined it towards the cage in the far corner of the room. He stared intently as his eyes tried to focus. The cage was empty and the little, yellow-painted door hung open.
"Hello," squawked the bird again.
He swiveled the light towards the bookshelf, and there, on the top of it, stood the parakeet. Its eyes stared back inquisitively as it cocked its head to the side.
It was his daughter Emma's bird. He had picked it up from her apartment a day earlier and when it spoke, it sounded eerily just like her. The familiarity of her voice brought a rush of emotions and suddenly Mitch was crying.
It was almost three days now that Emma had been rushed the hospital. She had been in an accident—a bad one.
When Mitch arrived, he found her unconscious and connected to a breathing machine. He had felt the floor give way beneath him and his body seemed to detach and move on its own, as if he were sleepwalking—lost in some state that did not really exist.
It had been four years since Mitch had talked with Emma. A thousand diapers, five thousand ‘goodnights’, a dream job passed up to be closer to home—none of it mattered. He had hurt her mother, and when you stacked that against anything, no explanation had a chance.
Mitch watched the bird as he slowly worked his covers off. The coldness of the night air washed over his skin. “Hey bird. It’s okay.”
The parakeet whistled back. “Noodles.” Its voice was soft and feminine and the more he heard it, the more it sounded like Emma.
He walked delicately towards the bird.
“Noodles. Bye-bye. Love you.” The bird leaped up and flew about the room, knocking over a picture frame that had been standing on the dresser. Rays of splintered glass spread out from the corner, distorting the picture behind it.
Mitch let out a long exhale and ran his fingers through his hair. In the picture, his daughter was standing in front of the Berkeley sign, a big smile displayed across her face.
Mitch had invited Emma—a trip he had hoped might renew their relationship—but Emma had said ‘no’ and had gone with her mom instead. Mitch came across the picture on her Instagram account and printed it out himself.
“Bye-bye. Love you.”
The words ate at Mitch. He held the picture frame tightly in his hand. In her smile, he saw a perfect blend of the little girl he raised and of the beautiful woman, she now was. He thought back to when she was young, how she used to stand on his feet as they would twirl about the rooms together, listening to old country songs. Emma loved the thrill of him lifting her into the air. He clenched his fist and squeezed until his nails cut into his skin. She was still alive, he reminded himself. Coma or not, she was a fighter and she would make it through.
The bird had now settled comfortably, back on the shelf. It brushed its beak between its feathers and then looked to Mitch.
“Noodles.” The bird cocked its head and stared. “Bye-bye.”
All he could hear was her voice. “Stop it,” Mitch called out.
“Bye-bye,” the bird said.
“I said, stop it,” his voice now louder.
“Love you. Bye-bye.”
In a burst, he shot his arms forward and lunged for the bird. He missed and it flew about until it landed on the bed. The bird’s chest was beating—it’s tiny heart thumping with such ferocity that its whole body seemed to pulse along with it.
A loud ring lashed out from his cell phone. It silenced all other thoughts, and all at once, Mitch knew what it was. He answered the phone.
There was a breath on the other end, then a voice spoke out. "Julie couldn't call. She—" Another breath. "I'm so sorry Mitch. Emma's gone."
Mitch clutched his face with his hand and squeezed as he felt the world blur in front of him. He tried to breathe, but couldn’t. He tucked his arms against his sides and felt his elbows dig in below his ribcage. He mumbled something into the phone and then dropped it to the floor.
He needed air. He walked to the window and opened it. Above him, clouds masked the stars and suddenly, he felt detached from everything that mattered. He wanted to scream and throw his face through the wall. He heard a flutter come from behind him and as he turned to look, the parakeet flew passed him and out the window.
“No!” he shouted as he watched his daughter’s voice disappear into the night. “No, no, no!” He screamed as he pounded the frame of the window with his fist.
Tears flowed and images of Emma, sped through his mind. Each breath required focus—a concerted effort just to make it to the next moment.
He collapsed against his own weight and stayed in the windowsill, staring out into the darkness as though the bird might soon realize its mistake and return to safety—or that Emma would walk up from out of nowhere and tell him, it was all a nightmare and that everything was going to be okay.
It took everything Mitch had to step back from the window and finally pull it shut. As he heard the locking mechanisms engage, he felt the permanence of the reality he had been dealt, and in the reflection, he saw his eyes fill with tears—which rose and spilled over his lids—falling for every shared memory they would no longer create together.
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