The Bird Lover
This week, Sarah McCarry’s lyrical story transforms relationships and what we know of the world. . ~ Fran Wilde, August 21, 2022
The Bird Lover
By Sarah McCarry
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
—W. B. Yeats
In December the river freezes over, a skim of white sealing in the dark current beneath. At night she leaves the twins sleeping in their cradle and walks through the cobblestoned streets to the harbor, where old ships lie fast in the ice, dreaming of unfurled sails and summer storms across the North Sea. Every day is darker than the last, the stars pale beacons, a hole in the roof of the world where the new moon waits to bloom again to fullness.
She finds feathers on her pillow from birds long extinct, birds with names like poems: Bermuda flicker, cryptic treehunter, bush wren, bellbird, Mangarevan whistler. The birds of Réunion Island, slaughtered in droves by French colonists. Fody, ibis, heron, rail. The penguins of Antarctica, who cannot bear the warming seas. Such storms that move across the Southern Ocean! How strange to think that human hands now shape them. Loss writ large in the whorl of a thumbprint.
* * *
I want to see the ice, she whispered in the dark.
You cannot bear the climate there, Leda, her husband said the morning of the day she left, a day he thought would unfold like any other. He has always believed her to be not strong enough: for work, for weather, for the world outside. You have two newborns. You know I can’t leave my job. It’s not up for discussion.
He had gone out the door in his suit and tie, the same as every other morning, and she had gone into the bedroom and packed a bag.
* * *
That was something different. The door behind her, closing for the last time. In her heart, the lightness of wings. When all the ice in the world is gone, where will be the last cold place? In their cradle, her twins stir. The sun comes up again, and not much later it will set. Soon it will not rise at all, not until the spring. What an age, what an era to withstand. Everyone is dying, and the earth is dying also. The courage it requires, to bear another morning. In their cradle, the babies murmur to each other in their secret language. All days are also ordinary, even as the end of them draws near.
On the night of the full moon, Leda gathers branches with a small curved knife. A pattern worked by witches. What good now does magic do? All the ghosts of the world are restless. Your time is coming, she tells them, whether or not this is true. The birds’ eyes unblinking, gazing out at her from the heavy dark.
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