Prompt: That’s what happens when you invite something wild into your home.
The first thing she did with her free hand was find a towel. The second was to dig through the recycling until she found the shoebox, flattened, but she was able to once again make it three-dimensional. Fixing the bird would not be so easy.
She placed the towel in the box and then set the bird inside. When she’d found the creature on the beach, broken-winged and caught in the incoming tide, she averted her eyes, imagining she hadn’t seen it. Two strides later, guilt rolled in. She pivoted on the sand, pulled off her sweatshirt, waited for the ocean to roll back. When it did, she scooped the black-and-white bird into her shirt. Shells crunched under her feet. Her sandals dangled from her hand. The bird had been roughly the same size as her shoes, she thought, although now it was wrapped in her shirt, so she couldn’t be sure.
Leslie’s fondness for animals had failed to materialize. When her friends lavished love on their cats and dogs, she would wander back over to the Legos, the Lincoln logs or, failing to find building materials, books. When confronted with demands to pay attention to the pets, Leslie found herself scratched, bit, drooled upon or, at best, left with animal hair all over her favorite tights. At least hamsters and birds lived in cages, but the noise, the mess . After one year with a roommate who’d brought home a parrot on a whim, Leslie vowed to never live with anyone ever again. She had only one more year before completing her water resources engineering degree. She and Mark had planned to move inland after that. Somewhere dry, where thirsty cities demanded the kind of expertise the two of them could provide.
She stepped back from the box, watched for a sign of breathing. Had she smothered the bird? She’d feared its beak, its good wing, the impossibility of predicting what an injured animal would do. Perhaps she shouldn’t have covered the creature so completely. It probably needed to breathe. She’d free its head, she decided, but first she needed to wash her hands.
In the bathroom, Leslie lathered antibacterial soap between her fingers. Citrus-scented, an off-brand on sale at the discount store. She should’ve fixed the bird up before scrubbing so thoroughly, she realized. Birds were essentially flying rats, heavy with disease, most likely – she’d just have to de-germ all over again.
She returned to the living room, where the evening breeze had turned from refreshing to just plain cold. After latching the big window closed, Leslie moved closer to the box. She stood next to it, slightly leaning over, her ankles poised to move her feet quickly if something should stir. She stretched out a hand, grasped a fold of the sweatshirt she’d never wear again, the one she’d worn threadbare, her hands tucked in too-long sleeves, the one she hardly ever washed because she wanted the smell of Mark to last. She’d stolen it from him, well, borrowed, but even before she asked, she knew she’d never give it back. She knew it the way she knew his lanky body would fit against hers, the way she knew they’d laugh at the same movies and would have read the same books. She might not like animals particularly, but she understood them.
And now this bird, this broken, salty, sandy bird, had soiled her favorite thing in all the world. The thing she had left. Anger gathered at the corners of her mind. She pushed it back. With a deep breath, she shook open the shirt until the bird’s head was revealed. It lay sideways, one eye fixed on her, beak opening and closing. Okay, so you’re alive, she thought. She dropped the shirt fold back on the creature, careful to avoid its head.
Over at the computer, she Googled “bird rescue, San Francisco.” A wildlife center website popped up. She called. She left a message. She sat, still, on the chair, resisting the urge to open Facebook, to click on Mark’s name. To look at his photos. The ones of them. Ten minutes later, the phone rang. A volunteer with the center. She’d be right over. Thank you so much.
Leslie put the computer to sleep, glanced at the bird. Still doing that thing with its mouth. Should she give it water? She should have asked. Well, the woman would be here soon. She tucked her phone in her pocket and walked into the kitchen, momentarily marveling at the view as she always did, the city sprawling across the valley, the ocean shimmering in the distance and the bridge, best of all, stretching out across the bay’s entrance, solid and marvelous, connecting two distinctly different places for, Leslie thought, as long as the world might exist.