A sparrow swoops out of the thunder-heavy sky, crosses the window, and disappears into the nest built in the eaves. Every time the adult bird returns, the nest explodes with wild plaints from the clutch of chicks. One sharp, insistent voice is loudest of all – the one that fell this morning, down into the wall cavity. Wings thrum against the plasterboard, claws scrabble. Between scratchings it chirps loud and clear.
I can’t tell where the lost chick is. Wherever I place my ear to the wall, up against the smooth magnolia paint, I hear the cheeps reverberate. Maybe the wall is full of birds. I’ve cut two square holes in the plaster, so that the rough bricks and cement show through. The holes look like small, dark, dirty pictures. Windows into the dark at midday.
As I made them, scoring and pressing with a box cutter, looking for a way to rescue the invisible bird on the other side, I thought – what if I hit it? I pictured the bird’s body; a furled flowerhead of feather and tendon and elastic flesh, opening like the fist of someone drowning. A thread of blood appearing under the blade, drawing a line down the wall.
I am sitting here and trying to work on a story. The bird song is a relentless chirrup beside me, cutting through the story’s strings. I have a scrape on my wrist from making the holes. I pushed too hard and the plaster came away too fast. It stings. I can’t help thinking how the bird feels, stuck in a narrow dark space, far from the nest and the noise of the family. Does it know it’ll die if it doesn’t climb up? Does it miss its mother? How fast does a bird’s heart beat?
My son is asleep next door. This time, this two hour stretch, is my time. I ignore the sunshine-speckled landscape outside, the traffic noise, the filthy house. I face a wall of books, against which I have propped photographs of my boyfriend, of sunflowers, my son lying on my chest. While the baby sleeps, grows taller and older, I sit here and lose myself in stories. Or try to. I have it all planned out. I will write these stories and sell them and then I’ll be rich. I’ll get fan mail and accolades and all the trappings of a successful life. Only I can’t think of any stories, so instead I’m writing poison pen letters and deleting them. Martin. If I could choose how I’d do it, it would be with dust. I’d empty hoover bags into your mouth, force feed you all the dry dirt.
When my son is awake, I follow him round the house, crouched over, half asleep, trailing after his stream of noise. He likes to say â€˜bye, bye, no, no, no, ‘ in my voice. He likes a loud ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ sound, like an electric drill.
I’m afraid he’s going to learn from me. My words are befuddled. They come out in the wrong order, pronounced oddly. noo noo hey. dirdy babyup again. I lose their meaning. I’m trying to swear less, as if the word fuck was a sharp, broken object that might harm my son were he to handle it. The trouble is, swearing tastes good in my mouth, sometimes it’s the only thing that I have, the only weapon that won’t do any harm. So I use it like a loaded gun. â€˜Fuck, shitfuck, cunt.’
Sometimes I want to fire the gun. Sometimes the windows go dark, and I want to howl with this ache, how tired my arms are from not strangling the crying child. He trips when he chases after me. He picks up the knife which I used to cut the hole in the wall.
Lately he’s discovered how he can get a reaction, attention, if he does something he’s not supposed to do. He lifts the blade to his mouth, keeping his gaze fixed fast on mine. His eyes are a totally dazzling blue.
The house sparrow is a dreary bird. It looks soot-smeared, grubby, like it’s been trapped in a chimney. It’s an unremarkable bird, but it’s endangered. Status red. I called the bird sanctuary, they told me to lure it into a cat basket. They said the bird is able to climb up the wall, but it tends to scatter and flit and has probably got itself irretrievably lost.
If I took it back in the nest, it might scare the other birds into the gap. So I’ll have to look after it, raise it by hand, feed it dog food and bread crumbs. I think of that saint, the Irish one, with the blackbird on his open palm. With the cuts on my wrist from the plaster and the dust in my hair and the blood on my shoes.