It was a small bird, a type of finch most likely. My cat pranced through the doggie door and paraded through the house, showcasing his prey thrashing between clenched teeth. Lucky hadn’t been feeling well, his old bones catching up to him, and he had been unable to make even the shortest leap up onto the desk chair for the whole week prior. Despite the obvious pain of his captive, I couldn’t help but be proud, cooing my congratulations and scritching Lucky’s fluffy grey head.
Alex, my brother, held Lucky’s head down, forcing him to release it; we didn’t want a tiny corpse in our house. It flew on two broken wings and missing tail feathers, up and forward. Blinded by panic, it ricocheted against the wall and fell ten feet away, landing on the side table.
I moved to pick it up, stopped a few inches away. Moved forward again, stopped. Wondered if I should get a towel or a napkin to hold it as I would a dead spider. But it was alive, neither bleeding nor moving, just heaving in shock.
“You got him, Cait?”
I cupped him in my hands as though he were water, his feathers soft in my palm. I held him for a moment, neither of us moving. Shifting him to one hand, he didn’t flinch as I pet him crest to back with the tips of my fingers, memorizing the feel of his fur-feathered head, noting the resistance of his skull, and questioning how much force Lucky had to use to break him. Murmuring pleasantries in a language foreign to birds, hoping the cadence of my voice would be enough to soothe him back to perfect health. Feeling not so much his pulse, but the speeding rhythm of adrenaline. He blinked at me.
Should I put him down? Should I put him down? Where? I know how a cat snaps a neck, as Lucky should have. My mind ghosted through the movements my wrists would take, even knowing I didn’t have that courage. Should I keep him, take him to the vet? Is this fatal? Could I heal him? I couldn’t hurt him more. Could I?
“He’s going to die anyway. He’ll probably have a heart attack.”
I wasn’t so sure. Alex didn’t see him up close like I did. Didn’t come to check on him.
I laid him outside, half hidden under a bush, and brought Lucky to him. I urged him to finish his prey, finish what he’d started. He cleaned his paws and walked away to take a nap. The little bird was too still for him to care now.
I walked away, had to; I would be late to class otherwise.
The bird blinked at me.
I got in my car, backed up, and drove away, watching the bush and realizing I didn’t hide him as well as I should have.
He couldn’t be separated from my mind. I danced with his wings controlling my arms, felt him as space moving around me. I walked paths he may have flown, glanced at trees he could have lived in. I drew him in the margins of notes on Chinese Traditionalism, dreaming of nests and altars. I sat on the hood of my Chevy Cavalier and smoked to calm my nerves, letting the smell of him and tobacco permeate my clothes.
Seven hours later, I glanced under the bush, saw nothing, retreated to the house, and looked out the window and saw a man racing down the street. Bald, white shirt, worn-out sneakers. He tried to flee, but was quickly caught by two people, hunters the same size as their prey. They shoved him up against the passenger door of my car. My family heard the commotion and slowly everyone floated to the living room, all five faces peering out the window to watch the scene unfold.
“I should tell them to get off our lawn, go wrestle somewhere else.”
“They’ll leave. It’ll be fine.”
“Should we call the cops?”
The hunters looked alike, and the age difference said they’re a father-daughter team in whatever they’re doing. Broad, heavyset adults. Although the same size, the bald man looked smaller against the two of them. Both had a holster; the bald man was unarmed.
“No, someone else will do it.”
“Are they kidnapping him?”
“No, they’re arresting him.”
“I don’t see any badges. Or uniforms.”
“Maybe it’s the Russian Mob.”
“Should we call the cops?”
The bald man struggled in their grip, the daughter attempting to cuff him. He got a lucky hit and escaped, flying ten feet before tripping and falling on our lawn. The father immediately tackled him, pinning him to the ground. They wrestled, but the bald man never came close to winning.
“No, they’re bounty hunters.”
“Gambling debts to the Mob, probably.”
“No, he just skipped out on bail, flew court, happens all the time.”
“Car’s been here a while. They’ve been waiting for him. Probably lured him out.”
“Oh look, the neighbors are questioning them.”
“See, they’ve got a book. Bounty hunters.”
“They could be lying, easy to fake.”
“If they were kidnapping him, they’d have driven off by now.”
“Would they? ’Cause I’d pretend to be a bounty hunter.”
“Should we call the cops?”
They got him in cuffs, while neighbors gathered at a respectable distance. The corner neighbors, who lived a hundred or so feet from us, whom we knew about as well as the strangers fighting in front of us, approached them. The daughter brought out a handbook from their black lookout van, flipped to a page, pointed something out. The father manhandled the bald stranger into the back of the van. The man wasn’t bleeding or wounded, just cuffed and exhausted. His face more disappointed and ashamed than angry. The father slammed the door shut and got into the driver’s seat. The daughter finished her spiel, tromped off our lawn and joined her father.
“They’re ruining our lawn.”
They drove away, the crowd of neighbors meandering back to their homes. My family and I dispersed back to our separate rooms, seemingly forgetting it as soon as the car drove away, the handcuffed man in somebody’s custody. The dogs barked on at the commotion. Mom yelled at them to shut up.
I asked about the bird.
“Lucky went over and played with it every so often for a couple hours. He was still twitching. Must have lived a long time.”
I went outside to see if he was still there. There wasn’t even a feather.
There was a smudge on my car window, right where the man’s nose and cheek pressed up against the glass. I’d have to wipe that away later.
Back inside, Lucky jumped in my lap, purring to me.
The next day, there was a blood sacrifice. A personal ritual to honor the spirits I didn’t save. A familiar motion of pen on paper, filling out forms about my medical history, weight, height, blood pressure, and whether I had taken aspirin the night before. A drink of water to make the blood flow better, a squeeze of the rubber ball to pop my veins, I lied back with a needle in the crook of my elbow. I watched the nurse slip it in, watched the blood fill a bag and four vials, watched the needle slip away, and my arm being bandaged.
After, I whispered to his spirit, “See? I’m sorry.”
He didn’t whisper back. I didn’t expect him to.