Strange Bird
Alice Whittenburg
T he man and woman walked slowly along a footpath through a vast grassy field. "What is it you wanted to show me?" she asked, but he didn't answer. He held her hand firmly and tugged at her from time to time as though leading her along. She was startled when a flock of blackbirds burst from a small tree and filled the grey October sky with their chaotic flight. It was then that she noticed the tennis court.
"This must be private land," she said, but he ignored her.
After all but a few of the blackbirds had settled in another, more distant tree, he said, "You should always pay attention to your dreams."
"Surely not every dream."
"A dream is your way of telling yourself what you most need to know."
Turning toward the tennis court, they continued to walk through the dried grasses and desiccated queen ann's lace and milkweeds gone to seed. She looked up as three crows flashed by, calling, and asked, "Whose land is this? Whose land are we on?"
As though she hadn't spoken, he said, "What did you dream last night?"
She drew in her breath, reluctant. "I dreamed about a strange bird."
"A strange bird," he repeated.
"It was hurt, and I was caring for it. It was a big bird, something like a thrush but bigger, as big as a hawk. It had strange eyes."
"A strange bird with strange eyes." He laughed quietly.
"I knew there was hope for it. I fed it with an eyedropper. It was very warm, and I could feel the pulsing of its heart as I stroked its breast."
"So what happened to it?"
She sighed a long and shuddering sigh. "You came and told me it couldn't survive. Then you wrenched its head to one side, quickly and sharply."
They walked in silence until they reached the tennis court, and by then she realized what he had in mind. "We can't," she said, pulling away from him. "Someone is sure to come along."
"They only play here in the summer. In the fall it's a love nest built for two." He opened the gate and pulled her, resisting, onto the tennis court.
She struggled half-heartedly as he began to unbutton her shirt. Then, without knowing why, she helped him make a rough bed of their clothes on the asphalt. This was by no means the worst place, the most exposed place, the most humiliating place they had ever made love.
Afterwards, he stroked her hair. He was always very tender afterwards. "I just don't like birds," he said.
"There's something uncanny about them." She began to cry softly.

First published: May 1998