Wiseblood Books

The Short Life of a Bird

Amy Kopecky

Yesterday I saw a baby bird. I was sweaty and hot because I just got out of gym class and we had played my favorite game—dodgeball. I’m the best in the third grade! Except for Brian. Brian’s even better than I am and pegs me in the head every time. The teacher never gets mad at him, even though head hits are illegal.

Gym is the one thing at school that I’m good at. Everyday I hear, “Conner, you could be getting A’s in all your classes if only you’d stop talking!” I don’t know why teachers don’t want me to talk. On TV kids always talk in class and the teacher never notices. Actually, teachers are a lot dumber on TV.

I love the third grade. I have a lot of friends and we make up superhero games at recess. But superheroes are nothing compared to baseball! We play at the baseball diamond in the park across the street because we all live really close to each other.

Science class is my favorite. One day Mrs. Winter talked to us about birds and their babies. Sometimes, she said, mom birds don’t have enough food to feed their babies. They fly all around looking for worms and stuff that crawls in the ground and then they bring it back to the nest. If they don’t have enough, they have to push one of the babies out of the nest because they can’t take care of it.

Sometimes, when the babies learn to fly, the mom bird will push them out of the nest at the right time so they can learn on their own. If the baby isn’t ready for it, then it will die when it hits the ground. I’ve always thought birds are dumb since then.

I like going to school. At home, my mom is really tired and doesn’t like to play with me anymore. I used to have a dad, but he left when I was three. I wrote a story once for class (my first one ever!) about my dad and how he’s a fireman that goes all over the world fighting the biggest fires. A few times he almost died, but he was too strong and saved all the people from the fire.

I asked my mom one time what really happened to my dad and she said he had a lot of things he wanted to do, and he couldn’t do them with us. She said, “People will disappoint us, Conner. We need to expect it.”

When my mom says things to me, they stick in my mind like the gum collection sticks to my desk. I have a glob bigger than a bouncy ball now, and my friend Matt and me are having a race to see who can make the biggest one.

One day I was invited to Matt’s birthday party. He’s one of my best friends and loves racecars. I knew just what to get him: a Turbocharged Mega Racecar! I had a whole three dollars to spend.

I decided to ask my mom if we could go the mall and get his present. That day she walked in the door and was crying. She said that she had lost her job and we wouldn’t be buying anything soon. Even when I told her about how the Turbocharged Mega Racecar could climb stairs, she still said it cost too much.

Before she died, my grandma used to tell me that God answers prayer. So I prayed that night that God would give us money for a racecar.

The next day I decided to tell Matt that I couldn’t go to his birthday party. It would be dumb to go to his house without a present, especially since almost the whole class would be there. I stayed at home and watched cartoons instead.

A lot of times my mom will ask my friends’ moms if I can spend the night at their house. I get to eat tacos and pizza and play video games and besides, I’m getting too old for cartoons now.

One day after baseball season I came home from school and my Aunt Jenny was at the house. I love my Aunt Jenny because she always has jokes and stories about her job at the dentist. Teeth are really funny sometimes, and when she cleans my teeth I end up laughing most of the time. It doesn’t hurt at all!

I walked into the living room and heard my Aunt Jenny talking to mom. She sounded scared and mad.

“You’re pregnant?”

“The doctor said July.”

Doctor? Mom was sick! I tried to run into the kitchen but I tripped on a book and fell hard. I think I bruised my knee.

“I didn’t expect this from you, not after what happened with Conner.”

“Jenny, do you really think I wanted this? I can barely handle one child!”

It sounded like I was going to have a sister or a brother! I was so excited that I got up and ran into the kitchen and grabbed my mom’s hand. “Mom! When are we having the baby? Tomorrow? Is it a brother or sister?” I couldn’t stop talking.

They were really quiet and finally said, “Well, we don’t know yet . . .”

“This is so fun! Now I won’t have to be home by myself anymore and I can have someone to play with. Mom, I can’t believe you’re giving me a brother or sister! This is the best present ever!”

My birthday was coming up in a few days, and I had been asking for a brother for a long time. My mom was making my birthday perfect. I didn’t know she loved me that much!

Aunt Jenny laughed. “Conner, settle down! It takes a little longer than three months to grow a baby. Let’s give mom a little extra time to think about this, hmm?”

I decided to run to my friend Brian’s house. He would be so excited for me. He had a brother and a sister, and he would tell me exactly what I should be doing to get ready for my new brother. I knew it would be a brother because I had decided that girls were too boring. I needed someone to play pitcher for me when I batted.

It was good that I already had a lot of experience. When I watched TV I imagined what it would be like to have a family like the one on my favorite show. I knew exactly what to do when he wanted to use my toys. All the kids on TV didn’t want to share, but I would. I would be the best brother ever.

When I came home from school that Friday I wasn’t having a very good day. We had an art competition and I thought my picture of the baseball diamond was perfect. The teacher didn’t think so, and I got a D. She said that I didn’t follow her instructions, because it was supposed to be a portrait or something. I was supposed to draw a person.

Mom was lying on the couch watching TV. “Mom, I’m home.”

When she turned around she looked sad. “Hi, honey. How was school?”

“Not good.”

“I’m sorry. How come?”

“Just because. What are you doing home so early?”

“I just came home from the doctor.”

“Are you sick?” I ran to her side and felt her forehead like she did for me.

“No honey, I’m all better now.”

I was really worried about the baby. If mom was sick, would the baby be too? “Well is the baby all right?”

She got really quiet for a long time. I thought maybe she fainted with her eyes open. “Mom?”

“The baby is gone, honey.”

I got scared. “What?”

“It was sick, so we put it to sleep. There was nothing we could do to save it.” She finally looked away from the blinking TV and she was crying. “I’m so sorry, Conner. I’m really sorry.”

My hands started to shake and my heart was going really fast. I couldn’t believe it! This couldn’t be happening. “I was supposed to have a baby brother!” I didn’t know what to do. The TV was screaming loudly and people were laughing, but nothing was funny. Mom had stopped looking at me. She was turned around and curled over on the couch, and I could barely see her under the blanket. I ran from the room and out the door and into the street in front of our house. Snot was all over my sleeve and I didn’t want to get a Kleenex like Mrs. Winter always told us to do in second grade.

I slept in the bathtub that night because there’s nothing underneath it. It’s weird—I’m always scared something will pop out from under my bed like a huge gorilla from the movie Godzilla. When I’m in the bathtub nothing can hurt me. I fit perfectly inside. I don’t tell anyone I’m scared, though, ‘cause they would call me a sissy.

The next day Aunt Jenny’s red truck was loud in our driveway and she got out. I’ve never seen Aunt Jenny in pajamas with her hair messed up. It was early. I could still hear the neighbors making breakfast and drinking coffee and they’re never in their houses when I leave for school. I was sitting on the front porch throwing rocks in the dirt.

She stopped in front of me and we had a long time of saying nothing. “Hi hon. Is your mom home?”

“How’s she doin’?”

“The baby’s gone.”

“I know, hon. I know.”

I handed her some rocks and she sat on the porch and threw them with me.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for your mom.” The neighbors got out of their house and drove away. “But she did it because she loves you and she wants to take care of you better.”

“But she said the baby was put to sleep. Aunt Jenny, what happened to the baby? What is sleep for a baby that isn’t done growing yet?”

Aunt Jenny stopped throwing rocks and was quiet for a long, long time. “A peaceful sleep. Don’t worry, Conner. Your baby brother is happy now.”

When people have dreams on TV and a word echoes through their mind, that’s what happened with me and the word sleep. When Aunt Jenny walked in the house, I was still confused. My friend Joey put his dog Sam to sleep one time because it had a disease and they couldn’t pay for a doctor. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time but my teacher at school said that they helped it die early because it was less pain for the dog. Joey was sad for a long time about Sam.

I opened the front door as quietly as I could and heard my mom and Aunt Jenny talking in the kitchen. They were drinking coffee because I heard spoons hitting mugs and the counter. I think I smelled toast and remembered that I was hungry, but I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want them to know I was listening.

“Stace . . . I can’t believe you did this.”

“Oh come on. You know there was no way we could’ve made this work. I barely have enough money for Conner and me.”

“That’s not the issue! I just—you know I went home and talked to Jerry about it, and you knew we wanted to adopt it. We’ve been trying for so long to have our own, and it’s just . . . it’s just so hard . . .”

“Jenny—”

“We’ve gone to so many doctors, and no one can tell us what’s wrong.” Something was wrong with Aunt Jenny too? “I can’t handle it anymore. Babies in the mall, at my office—then you! What makes you think you have the right?”

“Excuse me? Right? I have the right because it was growing in my body, not yours.”

“The problem is you only care about yourself. That’s why you still have the life that you do. And that’s why your baby doesn’t.”

It got really quiet. “You’re right. I don’t deserve to be a mom, and I still can’t figure out why I’m the privileged one to get pregnant even when I don’t plan it. I hate myself for it. But every day I would see that child and think of that man, and I would be haunted with my stupid life and stupid choices. I’m not going through that agony again.”

“How can you say Conner was a mistake?”

Something was rushing in my ears and I wanted to fall to the ground I felt so dizzy. Their talking had stopped and I really thought that I wouldn’t ever hear again. I was glad. I wanted to stop listening, but I couldn’t, and then my real ears came back again.

“Don’t you dare tell me I don’t care about my son.”

The coffee mug hit the counter hard and it sounded like it broke. I heard some loud words my teacher won’t let us say, even though we do anyway. The chair squeaked on the floor. I knew Aunt Jenny would leave through the front door, so I ran to my room in the back of the house. I didn’t want to know if she had been crying. I didn’t want her to see me crying.

Yesterday I saw a baby bird on the sidewalk walking from school. Usually when my friends and I find dead things like that we poke it with sticks and move it around because it grosses the girls out. But yesterday was different. I didn’t see that it was dead right away. The wings were feathery and moving in the wind a little and the beak was stretched out, like it was trying to eat something. It was really tiny and then I saw the blood on the sidewalk. I didn’t move for a long time because I wanted to look at it. I just stood there quiet. I looked up in the tree and saw a nest in a tall branch and thought how much it must’ve hurt falling that far from a branch. And then I thought about how it must’ve felt sad leaving its bird family and being pushed out of the nest. Why didn’t birds love their babies?

It started to rain. I couldn’t leave the baby. Someone had to take care of it. Someone had to move the bird away from the sidewalk so people wouldn’t come by and poke it with sticks and make fun of it. Do birds go to heaven? I used to go to Sunday school but I didn’t think that my teacher had ever talked about birds.

The rain came down harder. It hit my head through the holes in the tree above me. It started to hit the baby, too. It was getting wet and even though it didn’t feel the cold, I wanted to bury it. The ground was muddy over by the red bushes and red was my favorite color too. I took off my shirt and moved the bird into its white cotton coffin with a stick. I made a small hole big enough for my shirt. After I folded the baby bird inside, I took out my lucky pencil and wrote a note to go in the shirt. I wrote, “This baby bird is loved by me, Conner Matthew Thomas. Thursday. ” I couldn’t remember what the date was, so I just wrote the day. Thursdays are dodgeball day. That’s how I remember.

I said a prayer too, just in case God was listening. “God, please let this baby bird be safe.” And then I thought about the nest still up in the tree, sheltered in heavy leaves from the rain. It looked warm and safe. I prayed for the other birds, too.

The mud covered my shirt and I could see a little blood coming through, but I put more and more dirt on it until I couldn’t see anything but a big mound.

It was really cold. It was dark too, but I didn’t want to walk home. My mom might be upset that I didn’t have a shirt, but I wouldn’t tell her what I did with it. She might yell at me and tell me that it’s not smart to touch a baby bird, and especially to give away a perfectly good T-shirt.

What will we have for dinner? Thursdays are corn and fishsticks night, but lately all we’ve had is boring chicken noodle soup. Mom told Aunt Jenny that she barely has enough for us to eat. I think she’s running out of money, and she won’t let Aunt Jenny help. What if she doesn’t have enough tonight? Will she still want me?

I walked away from the bushes to go home, and then I saw the sidewalk. It was clean. The blood was already washed away in the rain, and no one would know it had been there.

I would have liked to know my baby brother. I bet he would have been a great pitcher.

Comments

  1. The author wrote so convincingly from the perspective of a third-grade boy, she made me hurt for the little guy. Right at the beginning, I could believe the story was being told by a third-grade boy (I have four kids of my own, aged 3 to 12). The telling moves from typical kid concerns (related by someone who obviously has no trouble seeing things from a kid’s perspective) to big people stuff that takes me by surprise and obviously affects Conner deeply.
    Beautifully done!

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