April 17, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Kathryn McMahon
In the winter all the sparrows died. And the falcons and the finches and the blue jays and the hummingbirds and the cardinals red against the ground. They had forgotten to fly south.
Birds fell out of trees or stayed hidden in their nooks and the alcoves of stinking buildings. They fell all at once. The ones in the sky clotted into an avian storm with anvil clouds of feathers impervious to winds and updrafts.
No insects came to feed on them. No scavengers at all: no foxes or dogs or coyotes. And no one came to collect them. They remained where they fell. We were afraid of contamination. We were weak with our thick walls and secret rooms. We sacrificed our birds and our values, stepped around them, while our daughter zipped up her winter coat and hopscotched over bodies chanting why until we pulled her back behind those thick walls.
Mold, too, braved the birds. They bloomed with mushroom caps and powder finer than the ice crystals that laced their shattered legs. Scientists said the birds may have already been infected with the spores before they fell. We guessed that these came from us. Those secret rooms.
Our daughter said everything was so quiet. Where were the doves who cooed outside her window to tell her she was late for school?
We mumbled things and showed her our best faces, but the grief within saturated our irises. It stuck under fingernails when the mold came to roost on our skin. You could almost mistake it for snow. We ignored the mold and carried on until it was all we could think of, then we shed our clothes and scratched and scratched. Our skin chafed as hair split into brittle down.
Our daughter asked what was happening to her, to us.
When we tried to explain, our breath caught in the folds of our tracheas. The dry crusts of our mouths scaffolded new beaks. Teeth fell like breadcrumbs behind us.
All we could do was squawk and whistle.
Our daughter looked up at us and we emptied stomachs of sorrow into her. We were lucky her eyes had crept to the sides of her head so ours would not have to meet them. She wept, dove-like, in the mornings and would not come out of her room until dinner.
One day there was no dinner.
We choked on rocks to grind what was left of the grain. Then just to fill ourselves and quell our daughter’s cooing. We pecked at the earth, soil dry on our tongues as we tried to find a way in, but it would not have our bones. It would not have anything we’d made. Sidewalks rebelled into curled lips. Streets rolled up into sudden mountains. You don’t want to know what happened to the houses that splintered in the wind and fed the shadow-clouds.
Our daughter stopped telling us which shapes she saw in them, if she saw any at all.
Quietly in nests of braided wire, we waited for spring and the varnish of rain, but it bent around us, would not touch us, the never-wanted. Now we try to howl, to sing, to crow at a dawn we can no longer see hunted as we are by our itch and our hunger and our daughter’s hollow why.
We climb up trees and prepare to leap.
Kathryn McMahon is a queer American writer living in Vietnam with her wife and dog. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Psychopomp, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, Crack the Spine, Maudlin House, decomP, Cheap Pop, and Necessary Fiction, among others. She tweets as @katoscope. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com.