February 11, 2014
Yesterday, I decided to turn over a new leaf. I’ve been thinking about what Shizuka said to me about how all the kids aren’t the same and about how some of them weren’t so bad. I decided that I was going to go into school with a positive attitude — maybe get to know some of these not-so-bad kids. I mean, if I thought about it really hard, the reactions to Nick’s performance the other night were NOT all positive. Some of the kids made faces, others walked away. Not that I wanted to remember that night. The mouse’s tiny eye, the flickering flames still haunted me.
But it’s time to move on, right? So I went to school determined to have a good attitude.
Got through first period. Fine and dandy! Second period? super! Third period? Well, that’s about as far as I got, because when I walked into Ms. Simmons’s art room, I could tell something was wrong.
Remember how much she loved Shizuka’s and my project? Well she loved it so much, she put it on the wall.
And someone else must have hated it so much, they tore it down and drew all over it with a Sharpie.
Ms. Simmons was walking in at the same time as Shizuka and I did. She must have left the room for a minute in between classes. So all three of us saw it at the same moment.
Our project — our beautiful bird fashion catalog — was torn up and drawn all over with mustaches and dicks and all sorts of awful ridiculousness and just strewn all over the floor. There was a boot mark on the corner of one page.
I saw it and I got all choked up. I can’t believe I had such a wussy reaction, but I did. It was everything I could do to hold back earthquakes of sobs. I don’t know WHY I was so upset. It’s just a school project, and even if we did work hard on it, it’s not like it hadn’t been graded yet or something. We’d gotten our A. So I don’t know why I started crying, but I did.
It was embarrassing. Shizuka put her arm around me and we just turned around and walked right out of the room. Ms. Simmons looked mortified. She had her hands out, her mouth hanging open like she just couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
She was crouched on the floor picking up the pieces of our drawing, her hair falling in her eyes, as Shizuka led me out into the hallway. She still hard her arm around me, and once we got outside the door, she pulled me into a hug and we just stood there for a minute, leaning against the lockers, me crying like a dumbass into the shoulder of her sweater. Then the bell rang and she pulled back. “Are you going to come in with me?” she asked, gesturing at the open door to the classroom. I couldn’t see Ms. Simmons crouched on the floor anymore. She must have finished picking up the pieces of our project.
I shook my head. “I’m not feeling well,” I lied, and Shizuka shook her head, gave my arm a squeeze, then went into Ms. Simmons’s room alone.
I went to the nurse’s office, where I feigned a stomach ache and managed to convince the nurse to let me go home.
Mom wasn’t thrilled about picking me up, but I think she was glad at least that it wasn’t because I’d gotten into a fight.
We were silent all the way home. I didn’t want to tell her about what had happened, but it was obviously what was on my mind. Who did it? The obvious culprit was Madison, I guess, but WHY? Why would she care about our silly little art project? Could it be Nick? Some other dumb jerk who doesn’t even know us? Who was just trying to be funny? Someone trying to get back at Ms. Simmons? Could it have nothing to do with us? That seemed unlikely, but maybe.
I mulled it over as we rode past naked trees and muddy snowbanks and fields and the occasional house, all the way to our driveway.
“Remember that you have an appointment with Dr. Reynard this afternoon,” mom said as we got out of the car. Crap. The appointments are bi-weekly now, which is better than weekly, but still. THAT evil woman was the last person I wanted to see. I shook my head.
“Mom, please,” I begged, clutching my stomach. “I really don’t feel well.”
Mom sighed, but didn’t protest. “Alright,” she said finally. “Just rest. I’ll call and tell her that we have to miss this appointment.”
I nodded, and went inside to lay on the couch. Mom went into her office and closed the door, and I could hear the muffled sound of her voice speaking into the phone, then, silence.
She stayed in there after the phone call while I lay on the couch, wondering whether I legitimately was sick because now my stomach did kind of hurt. I tried closing my eyes and resting, but felt too keyed up. So I got up off the couch and went to the window that looks out on the back yard.
The birds, I noticed, were out of food. I hadn’t fed them in a couple days, and a wave of shame washed over me. I grabbed a scoop full of seed and a suet cake, slipped my coat back on, and went out back to remedy this sad situation.
I was hanging up the suet cake when I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. I just knew it was Clancy.
Then there he was, right in front of me! I’d never seen him get that close, but he fluttered down onto the iron bird feeder post and just sat there looking at me, less than a foot from my face. I kept perfectly still, my hand still poised on the suet.
He looked at me, his eyes filled with intelligence, and I looked at him. It was cold out, frigid. The air smelled like snow but it wasn’t snowing, hadn’t snowed for at least a week. The ground was covered in crusty old snow, dirty with mud and criss crossed with animal tracks.
And then, as I stood there looking at Clancy and he sat there looking at me, my eyes just welled up with tears and I started to cry. My body shook with emotion. All that had built up over these past couple months: Mom and dad, dad and Sofia, Madison, Dr. Reynard, the nightmares, Nick and that poor mouse, the story of the robin — All of that just came bursting out of me.
I thought Clancy would fly away for sure, but he didn’t. He just stood there looking at me. He inched closer, in fact, and then, ever so gently, touched my hand with his beak. Not a peck. Not a bite. Just a gentle tap.
But that tap felt like electric. It zapped through my body from my finger to my spine, then ran up into my brain like wildfire, where it set off a bomb.
The whole world went dark.
Then I was walking through the woods again, through the canopy of squawking, screeching, singing birds. I looked up at the skeletal trees towering over me. Time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. The sun went down. The moon came up. The seasons flew by. The naked trees grew buds, then flowers. As I walked, petals rained down on me like a spring shower, the moonlight glinting off them as they fell. The birds kept singing, singing. The leaves grew and grew.
Flashes then: Flashes of memories. But were they MY memories? They couldn’t be. But they were memories all the same. A big, hulking man standing in the doorway of a cabin, some kind of animal trap slung over his shoulder. A floorboard that lifted up and a leatherbound book shoved underneath. The fog rising off a marsh in the morning sun. The red-winged blackbirds flashing their crimson epaulettes and strutting. A woman, sweet and young, baking bread and humming, then wild-eyed and old, dying screaming in her bed.
Screaming. Refusing death.
A young girl then, my age, with tanned skin and her long hair braided down her back, laughing, smiling, twirling in the dappled sunlight of a forest clearing. Her eyes are such a deep brown. She takes me by the hand, and laughing, I leverage her wrist to pull her in closer. I wrap my hands (masculine hands) around her waist and she looks up at me, blinking those big brown eyes. Her mouth is slightly open and I can see where one of her front teeth overlaps the other.
I kiss her. Tenderly at first, then insistently. She kisses me back. Her lips are soft. She tastes like cherries.
Then another memory. She and I are together, in the dark. The door bursts open and HE’S there. The big man with the animal trap. He steps across the whole room in one big stride and pulls the girl up by her hair. She screams and I grab for her but she’s gone. He’s taken her outside, still screaming.
It is almost dawn, still dark but the first birds are singing as I bust through the front door and out to where the man and the girl stand. He has a musket to her head.
“You did this,” he says, as he fires the shot that kills her. I dive toward them but I’m too late. Her body slumps to the ground, her face mottled with blood and a blast of gunpowder and…I don’t even want to imagine what else. The man looks down at me, the rising sun behind him blinding me, turning him into a flaming silhouette. He draws back and spits, the saliva landing on the dead girl’s breast.
“You bury it,” he croaks, and walks off, his heavy feet thumping across the carpet of delicate purple flowers.
One more memory: I am packing up my things. I need to leave. This man is a madman and he’s murdered the woman I love. Worse, I didn’t do anything to stop him. I hate myself. I want to start over.
And then there he is again, torch in hand.
“You did this,” he says again, shouting this time, out of control. And the cabin goes up in flames.