Birds: a short story

Birds

by T. K. Jones

“Lori?” Dr. Mack, my shrink spoke. Breaking the buzzing silence. “Lori, what are you thinking about right now?”

I wondered what good it was asking me that. Would it help with my diagnosis? Or did he already have a diagnosis? If I told him what I was really thinking about, I would most definitely be diagnosed with something like psychopathy or antisocial personality. Like any of that really meant anything. When did they decide to put people into groups? And who are “they” anyhow? I lied and told him I was thinking about the birds in my yard. The ones that I feed every day. Or at least almost every day. Some days I forget. What I was really thinking about was dying in a plane crash. Would I ever experience a plane accident? What does it feel like to crash in an airplane? And do they give you oxygen to get you high? Do you black out as you rapidly descend to the ground? It’s the small, gory details I ruminated over. I couldn’t help it. Once such thoughts entered my mind, it was hard to do anything but sit and think about these things. Often for long stretched. Hours at a time, in fact. Uninterrupted.

“The birds in your yard?” Dr. Mack asked, skeptical, as if there was a reason not to believe me. I didn’t lead on that I was lying. I’m good at manipulating people like that.

“Yeah.” I would have preferred that he drop the matter but knew he and his kind are known to beat a dead horse and get paid well for it.

“What about the birds in your yard?” he went on, jotting something on his clipboard, hidden from my view. Tic-tac-toe? Stick figures? Private parts?

“I just see them in my mind,” I explained warily. Now this was true. I did see those little birds in my mind. The red cardinals, the blue jays, and mockingbirds. Pecking away at the feed I toss out by the handful. Some on the driveway and some in the dying grass. “I wonder how they can even see the millet in the grass.” I really did wonder this. How did they? I went on, more to myself than Dr. Mack. “Even in the snow they just keep pecking away. Eating.”

Dr. Mack sighed and caught himself too late as he realized that I noticed he really wasn’t interested in hearing my musings on the wild birds in my yard. He wanted something more off-the-wall. Something extravagantly insane. Quickly he offered up some thoughts. “They’re low to the ground. Small. To them, I’m sure the pellets are quite large.” He waited for a reply.

I sat staring at him. Well, through him really. Now totally engrossed in the thoughts of my little birdies. What were they doing now? I forgot to feed them this morning. Are they hungry? Can they manage without me? Have I spoiled them by providing easy food? Are they all accounted for? How would I even know? I never bothered to count them.

“You’re grimacing,” Dr. Mack noted aloud. So I was. I did this often, apparently. Strangers in public often told me to smile. I’m always tempted to tell them to mind their own business. Maybe I just found out I had cancer. Or I just went to a funeral. Or lost my job. Don’t tell me to smile! “What were you thinking about just now?” he asked again.

“The birds in my yard,” I repeated. He did not believe me for he asked me if that was really what I was thinking about. Always trying to get into my head.

“Yes!” I insisted. Vexed. I was really thinking about my little birdies. Dozens and dozens of them. All mine. Because I feed them. They stay in MY yard. I pay for the feed with MY money. THEY ARE MINE! Period.

“What are you thinking about the birds? Are they the same birds?” He looked at me with his beady eyes.

“I don’t understand. Of course they’re the same birds. I said the birds in my yard. Like the first time. How would they be different birds?” I couldn’t help but sneer at him. Him and all his stupid questions.

Dr. Mack leaned forward like he had some big secret to share with me. He lowered his voice. “How do you know for certain that the same birds are visiting you every day?”

My mouth hung open though I had no answer to offer. I didn’t know. Not for sure anyway. I just assumed that the birds that showed up every day were the same birds. Why wouldn’t they be? I crossed my arms. Fed up. Shutting out Dr. Mack. “What are you getting at?” I mumbled and turned my head away from him.

His beady eyes were upsetting me. Almost as much as his ignorant, pointless questions. The blinds were down so I could not see the birds that were probably perched on the branches just outside the window.

“They knew.” A thought popped up in my head. Maybe they knew the birds in my yard. Or maybe these were some of the same birds. I could feel Dr. Mack staring at me. Watching me carefully as I tried so hard to look through the little slits in the blinds. Are you there, birds?

“My friends are outside,” I said nonchalantly.

Dr. Mack raised an eyebrow. Friends? Tell me about these friends of yours.” He got his pen ready.

“See them for yourself.” I got up and pulled the blinds up slowly. Dr. Mack approached the window, his heart full of excitement and curiosity. He peered down to the street below.

“Who is he?” He pointed at a lone elderly man, sitting at the bus stop.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “Some old man waiting for the bus.”

Dr. Mack looked at me. Tired of games. Only I was serious.

“Are these friends of yours imaginary?”

“No. They’re right in front of you.” I pointed to the three red cardinals perched on the thick branch by the window.

© 2010, 2015 T. K. Jones

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