during an REM phase of sleep
It swooped down, picking me among the shoppers at the neighborhood mega-wholesaler store, which was the off-shoot crossbreeding between a Super Target and Costco.
Its left wing of feathers flinched as it landed on my shoulder. “I like earthy men the best,” the sparrow said as I walked down the aisle of toilet paper and paper towels. “…the ones with long hair and beards.”
I read about the talking sparrow in a local newspaper weeks ago. She was a bird that escaped from the pet department and became a store fixture. The store regulars and employees considered her not only piece of the store’s personality but a close friend and confidant.
As I placed a package of paper towels in the shopping cart, she continued: “There is a man in particular that comes in twice a week with sunflower seeds for me. He’s been coming for years now. He’s nice but a bit of an alcoholic. He keeps asking me to come home with him and that he’d take care of me. But, I don’t know…I don’t know if I can trust him. Plus, I kind of like it here. It gets a bit lonely at night but I’ve gotten used to it. What do you think?”
Suddenly, I found myself responding to her as I would to a girlfriend, advising her to trust her intuition and take things slowly and to always call the shots.
We continued our chat as I pushed the shopping cart through the aisles of house goods. She remained perched on my shoulder.
“Oh, you must see this bracelet that I’ve been admiring for weeks,” she said, flying toward the women’s accessories section to a display case of silver-plated jewelry. She managed to put her head into one of the bracelets and whizzed around to the full-length mirror.
“It’s a bit much, and it’s quite heavy. But, look at how it sparkles!” she chirped.
With her small bird frame, it was a bit over-the-top and ridiculous. But, as I searched for a compliment she landed on the jewelry counter frantically. She flapped her wings, shook her head and body. “Oh no…I think it’s stuck!”
She shook her body once again, realizing that her fluttering had caused the bracelet to become tangled within her feathers and neck.
“Get it off! Get it off!”
I tried to take her in my hands, but she put up a fight. Quickly, I realized she was the delicate kind, a fragile bird that could snap with just the slightest aggressiveness or wrong touch. I told her I would get some help and ran to lover who was across the store, looking at blenders.
There was a sense of relief in my decision. I knew his hirsute appearance would comfort and provide an instant rapport of trust. Indeed when she saw him, she let him hold her and remained as still as a patient. He acted quickly. His hands moved with precision, and soon the bracelet was freed and on the counter. However, his big hands had wounded one of her wings.
We took the sparrow home with us. Consumed with guilt, I nursed and addressed her many demands. By the end of the first week, she and I were oil and water. She rattled on; and I longed for the return of my own silent corner. When lover returned from his work, she sat on his shoulder for the rest of the evening with the air of a deprived wife. I welcomed it as relief from her chatter but quickly realized it was a mind game directed toward me. And, she was winning.
I took ownership of the situation, feeling the profound effects of being born in the year of rabbit. I owned the responsibility of her pain, and even held my tongue when the tale became twisted and the fault of her wounded wing became mine before lover’s strong grasp or her own narcissism.
On the morning I told her to leave, I saw her as an equal. She was the woman sitting in a yellow taffeta gown, hair coiffed, made up beautifully, spread out on our couch waiting for lover to return. It was the perfect amount of seduction and suggestion to pack her cage and belongings in the back seat of the car and return her to the place where we originally met.
“It’s time to leave,” I said to her.
“Oh really…and have you seen how poorly this wing has healed? I’ll never be able to fly as graceful as before,” she said. Then whispering under her breath, “Thanks to you.”
I didn’t try to catch her, chase her or wring her neck with my bare hands. I retreated with my weapons–silence and no retaliation–but held the door open. “Get out now.”
Months later when I returned to the store, a bit out of curiosity, I looked for my old winged friend. I found her perched on the ponytail belonging to an older man who was quite the hippie-type, the kind of man she preferred.
“It was dreadful. Like being kept in a prison with no air to breathe. Held captive by a miserable old hag,” she said.