A Bird in the House

A bird in the house, and what do you do?

bird in the house

If he flies in through a window, through the upper portion of a large door, you react with panic, confusion. He flies in great circles near the ceiling, doesn’t understand where the sky has gone, while you wave your arms ridiculously below him. You’re not thinking clearly, and so you continue to panic, a bird, a bird in the house, what does one do?

A bird in high circles is a surprise and a shock. But what about a little bird who flies in low through the open door? Like an arrow he darts into the room, but now you are calmer, you can see him shooting around at knee level, you know what to do. Open a door, open several, let him find his way out. You are in control.

But what if you come home to find a bird already in the house? You set your things down, you wash your hands, preparations to turn you from pedestrian into person-at-home, and then you see him—on a rafter, or on the floor near a large window, or perched boldly, artistically on a lamp. You don’t panic, but your stomach sinks. Life is not how you thought it was. An intruder is in your house. Glassy, unclosing eyes have been watching your most secret rituals. You won’t think to open a door, you won’t panic, because the bird sits still, and it is this stillness which will define your reaction. You’ll stand still, too, thinking about what to do, but you will only be telling yourself you’re thinking. You’re standing still because you’re reeling, caught in a moment of unexpectedness.

But what if you’re not surprised? What if a bird walks into your house, slowly, like a tourist entering a gift shop, looking around idly, placing one bird foot in front of another in a slow hobble? You watch amused—what is he thinking, this bird, look at him walking around like he owns the place. You feel no fear, no confusion. This bird is like a friend. After not too long a while, you will escort him out, which will startle him but only amuse you further.

And what if, after years of living in the same place, the same town, getting to know the people, the streets, the changes in the seasons—what if after you’ve been somewhere so long that you can tell by the wind today what will happen tomorrow, you discover that a bird has been living in your house all along? During an extravagant spring cleaning, in the attic, the crawlspace, an unexplored dusty area of the garage, you are shocked to see the glint of a glassy eye looking at you. A bird, in this quiet place, resting, a doughy lump on a cookie sheet, staring at you with the same curiosity you feel towards him, his eye reflecting yours and yours his. How long has he been here, is he incredibly old, or is he part of a family that’s been here all this time? While your quiet life has been unfolding, have birds been living and loving and raising their own here, unnoticed within your walls? You will be surprised, yet, alone of all birds, this bird will not make you feel like the world is toying with you. You will not be inclined to chase him out. For this bird, you realize, is part of the background of your life, he’s been here so long that removing him may alter the fabric of all you have constructed so carefully.

And so this bird, whose unexpected presence makes you feel most at ease, also makes you most afraid. He is a wild, unknowable creature, and you feel your life tied to his twitching wing.

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  • This was delightful!  Of course, you forgot the last option:  birdie becomes cat toy.  At least that’s what would happen at my house.  🙂

    Cecilia Dominic

  • Anne

    You’ve changed it since I saw it last. Lovely.

  • This reminds me of the Frost poem about the black bird in the snow tree.

  • Guest

    ‘tied to his twitching wing’ — fantastic.

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