* * *
Bring your arms up to the ceiling,
Drop your arms,
Drop your eyes to the floor,
Let your back weaken,
Steal a glance across the room,
Smile at someone new today.
This is a journey out of innocence,
The story of two years, more or less.
This is how I think it happened.
* * *
One day a sparrow with amber-colored wings came to sit on my window sill. There were two other birds fluttering around him: three little birds. Every little thing…is going to be alright. But it wasn’t going to be alright. The sparrow with its amber-colored wings hopped and shook its head side to side as if to say,
“This is not the end of bad times. This is not when everything fixes itself.” And I had no choice but to believe the sparrow. So, I prepared for the worst.
This year proves to be tough for the sparrow. It forages, it fights, it dreams. But not as hard as me. I claw through classes, crawling from place to place, day to day. I wish that my wings would sprout faster. I tell myself: leaving is definitely the answer to all of your problems.
But we don’t leave. We push on, give one another strength that can’t be bought or sold. We feel like martyrs of our generation, doing nothing more to change the world by reading and writing and studying. Things start to come together in the spring. The sparrow has survived, albeit it looks a little worse for the wear. In the long-lasting sunlight, our faults become more apparent.
“Your mistakes keep popping up all over, like crocuses,” the sparrow tells me. I brush him off my shoulder. These mistakes transcend the weeks, they vine and snake their ways into my room, through the back door someone left open. Drunk, probably.
The sparrow sings its syrupy voice in my ear, inviting me outside. Even in the spring it’s cold here. We stamp our feet and rub our biceps, the sparrow and I, as we exhale our nicotine toward the inky sky.
“Do it.” The sparrow tells me. I glance at him sideways.
“What will my parents say?” I ask the sparrow.
“Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.”
The sparrow makes a good point.
I look at the weathered clapboard of my residence—it certainly is not a home—empty, dark. Even filled with furniture and loud TV’s and stereo systems, it still feels empty as a shell. Amber lights glowing dim behind the opaque windows are the only signs of life. And so I resolve to become like the house: empty.
And I am…
* * *
Jumps in front of me,
About the death card in tarot,
And how it really means rebirth.
He follows me down the hallway,
Pulls at my collar as if to say
“Wait! I have something important to tell you.”
But I shake him off.
Finally, I give in,
Turn on my toe
And look at the sparrow,
Boring into his beady little eyes.
My face softens at this feathered companion.
I pull him into my arms,
forcing him to hold tight.
I tell him I will never leave him.
“Who are you talking to?”
* * *
Flakes tumble down and seem to shatter at our feet; silent, like our struggles. I ask the sparrow,
“Do you hear anything?” But the sparrow doesn’t reply. He is busy daydreaming of a life that could have been. I see his eyes gaze off into the distance, the metallic, late afternoon sun reflected in twin mirrors on his face. I know this look. When the sparrow gets like this, I leave him alone; he needs it.
* * *
The sparrow shapes the things I see behind my eyes. They take flight in purple skies, drifting, free from gravity through this white washed milky way. The sparrow carries my dreams back from the depths of consciousness so I can remember them in the morning. As if he knows I need a reminder of the mistakes I make. I ask him,
“Why do you make me remember?” I shiver in the late winter.
“I don’t do anything you don’t ask me to do.” The sparrow replies. I roll my eyes at him. Some days I’d like to let him fly too close to the sun, see what happens. But I keep my mouth shut about that.
“Could you knock it off?” I elbow the sparrow, nudging him. He annoys me.
“Fine,” he snorts, “if you say so.”
* * *
The sparrow reminds me to put on my coat before going out, like some sort of pseudo-mother. He watches me leave the house, his eyes transfixed on the sun he will never be able to fly close enough to. This makes him bitter, but even when I come home late and drunk, he is there, rubbing my back and shushing my tears. When I wake there is a note on my nightstand:
See you soon—we have a busy day.
* * *
The sun warms the hard ground late in the summer here. Finally, we start to come out of hibernation and gulp the rays we’ve waited for. I take the sparrow outside, let him sit on my shoulder and bask in the newfound sun. I look at the sparrow with melancholy; I’m going to miss him. We walk toward the field behind the property, taking care to step over the clover patches that dot the grass, as if they were valuable gems waiting to be mined by prying beaks. I take my time, not quite ready to let the sparrow go just yet. Just another minute, I think. When we reach the field you can see it’s started to unfreeze from the long winter. The sparrow and I squeeze hands, breathing deeply. Then, I let him go. He flaps his tentative wings, allows the wind to help him fly like he was always meant to. And then, he’s gone.
And for once, I don’t feel empty.
I am full.
* * *
Jess Daugherty has been teaching high school English since 2013, and recently became an adjunct professor with UW-Oshkosh. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga and is a bonafide bookworm. She has not been published before, though she’s written for decades. She lives in Madison, WI with her husband and three rescue cats.
featured photo: Portland, OR mural by Stefan Ways, photo by Cody Fredrickson