The sparrows left my chest the day I brought you home from the hospital. At first, I thought it was the crying–you were a loud, red-faced little thing–but they didn’t come back even after you quieted down. I began to miss the brush of wings against my ribs, the soft prick of little beaks and claws as they hopped around inside me. It wasn’t that the sparrows were a point of pride or anything–I’d kept them for the same reasons as the electric guitar gathering dust in my bedroom closet or that half-finished screenplay I’d always meant to get back to. Those derelict dreams held, if not hope, then at least nostalgia. I thought I wanted to keep you, too, but maybe I was wrong.
“It’s almost winter, hon,” Alec said. “Maybe they flew south?”
I told him my sparrows didn’t migrate, but he just gave the little straight-faced nod that meant he was agreeing to agree. Still, I did feel colder. It made me wonder if you’d done something to me, somehow turned the aimless roil of clouds in my chest to sleet and snow.
“They’re just birds, love,” said my mother when I called her raw-eyed and sniffling in the middle of the night. “You can’t expect them to be supportive. Babies change your life, but things will get better, you’ll see.”
They didn’t, though.
Alec’s paternity leave ran out. The firm had given me months off, so it was just you and me alone in the house for most of the day. You slept while I watched Netflix until the edges of the flatscreen lingered in my vision when I looked away. Sometimes, we went for walks, stopping at the small park at the end of Haite Street to search for movement in the barren trees–squirrels, cardinals, even great murmuring swirls of starlings. I don’t know what I expected; everyone knew sparrows only lived in people, now.
“It doesn’t mean you stop being you,” Haruka said over curry and drinks at Café Mumbai. She had two babies, children now, I suppose, and still managed to land gallery shows now and again. “Just make space for what’s important and let everything else fall away.”
It wasn’t like I hadn’t done anything with my life–Alec was wonderful, I loved my house, my friends, the hot, sweet burn of bourbon on my tongue after a long day at work. I even still got that little, fluttery thrill every time I marched into a courtroom, brief in hand. How much was me and how much was just filling time?
I went home and reread my screenplay. It was terrible. You seemed to enjoy the guitar, though. The chords were more than a little blurry and I couldn’t hit the high notes, but “Changes” made you smile for the first time. We laid down on the couch after that, you sleeping tight against my chest, warm and soft. For some reason, I cried.
I filled all the feeders in a mute offering. I even tried swallowing some bird seed.
It rained almost every day, but I didn’t mind. I loved watching them come–goldfinches, chickadees, robins, and blue jays, bright points of color in a world of muted grays and browns. Alec bought you a fleece-lined poncho so we could sit out on the porch together. I would point out a bird, then say its name slow like I was telling a campfire story. You would laugh and babble, pressing your hands against the porch screen like you wanted to flutter out to join them. Once, I thought I saw tiny shapes flit through the trees, brown on dappled brown, but they were probably just starlings.
That night, I coughed up a nest, flecks of mud and tiny twigs clicking against my teeth as I hugged the bathroom garbage can. You started screaming in another room. I didn’t know what to do, but Alec changed your diaper, and everything quieted down.
When it was over, I tossed the garbage bag, stopping to sweep my screenplay in for good measure. It was never going to be anything, anyway. I brushed my teeth then sat in the shower for a while, head down and arms around my knees like people always do on TV when they’re sad about something. Even after I’d toweled off, water bled from the little knot holes between my ribs to leave dark spots on my bathrobe.
You were in your crib, asleep. You’d rolled onto your stomach, but when I turned you over, my fingers curled into empty space. Barely daring to breathe, I unbuttoned your onesie to see the hole that hadn’t been there before. Your chest was open, warm and soft, and inside, a little nest with three brown-flecked eggs.
Yawning, you opened your eyes to smile up at me.
For the first time, I smiled back.
© 2016 Evan Dicken