The Death of a Tiny Bird
by William Michaelian

Written September 11, 2002

I will not be going out today because I do not want to shake the bloody hand of America. Rather, I will sit here at my work table and write a story. It will be hard to do, because even though itís early yet, the sound of drums beating already echoes like thunder, and angry images of red, white, and blue flash upon my walls. Still, I intend to try. Today, more than any other day, it is important that I do my job. I mustnít allow myself to be distracted, or to be disturbed by the cries for war and more war.

I have finished the first paragraph. It is fairly clever, though I think I might have done better. One thing many writers donít understand is the importance of a storyís first paragraph. And many who do understand are still unable to make a proper beginning. It takes a lot of work, and the ability to recognize a false start for what it really is (bad) and what it really isnít (precious). That much said, I think itís time to continue.

At the moment, there is a parade coming up the street. This is remarkable, because I live in a quiet neighborhood of maple trees and cul de sacs. Usually my street is a boring place. But not today. Today there is a very large brass band marching by my house. The members of the band are dressed like Uncle Sam, of American war poster fame. They are wearing an angry look, and their sousaphones have all been replaced by cannons.

I wonder ó is it necessary to describe the other instruments, which do not really look like musical instruments either, but like instruments of death and destruction? I am reminded of a radio program I heard recently, in which several Native Americans were complaining about the United States government using the name Apache to identify one of its military helicopters. One person said, I am tired of having instruments of genocide named after Indian nations. Another said, Yeah, why donít they call it the White Trash helicopter? Anyway. I think I will leave the other instruments to the readerís imagination.

I have just witnessed a terrible thing. A tiny bird in the maple tree near my window was just hit by a stray bullet. It is lying on the ground, limp and warm, its feet still curled in the shape of the twig upon which it was perched. I would like to give it a decent burial, but I am afraid to go outside. I promise to do this later, when the fighting ó I mean the parade ó subsides. The thing I want to point out now is that at the time the bird was killed, it was singing. Another thing I want to point out is that no one in the world will ever hear the voice of this particular bird again ó unless, perhaps, he or she is in the grip of lifeís greatest nightmare, otherwise known as reality.

There are many other things I could say about what just happened. For instance, no one in the parade noticed the birdís death. Had the creature fallen into the street, it would have been crushed by marching feet, and by the wheels of jeeps, and by the tracks of armored vehicles. But I donít think this is necessary. If I put that in, it might be construed that I am making too much of the death of a mere animal. But as I understand it, there is no such thing as a mere animal, or a mere anything. In fact, I have seen offices of veterinarians that are far nicer than those where people go in search of medical help, if they are indeed fortunate to have money enough to pay for the privilege.

Now the house is shaking. This is definitely the biggest parade Iíve ever seen. There are no less than ten thousand soldiers ó I mean musicians ó in front of my house alone. The part that worries me is that there is another band further up the street, and that it is on a collision course with the first band. From what I can make out, it is similarly outfitted, although its members are dressed differently and, generally speaking, have darker skin.

Usually, I donít make mention of the color of someoneís skin in a story, unless it is the result of his or her lifestyle or a medical condition. If the color of someoneís skin isnít the result of his or her lifestyle or a medical condition, I try to find other ways to reveal their character. What a person says and how he acts in various situations is far more revealing than his skin color. Once in awhile, though, I find it necessary to include this information. In this particular case, as I shall soon demonstrate, the color of the second bandís skin is actually more revealing of the first bandís character than the secondís ó and vice-versa. If this seems contradictory, it is. But donít worry, most things are.

At the moment, the bands are still several houses apart. They are relentless, but slow. I imagine this is because their leaders, who are sitting in air conditioned offices thousands of miles away, are waiting for the latest opinion poll. As foolish as this seems, it might give me enough time to go out and rescue my fallen friend. Maybe I wonít have to wait after all. Anyway, Iím afraid that if I do wait, the birdís body will be destroyed, if not my own. In the past, Iíve found that I am very ineffective when my body is destroyed. Thatís why I stopped drinking.

The truth is, I never did stop drinking. But as this is a work of fiction, I thought Iíd throw that in. Also, I like for my stories to be a little humorous, even when they are dealing with matters of life and death and other weighty subjects. Life is pretty darn funny, after all. I am reminded of this every morning when I look in the mirror. I am also reminded of many other things, which I hope someday to forget.

Well, well, well. This is interesting. The results of the latest poll must have just come in. Band Number One has launched a pre-emptive strike on Band Number Two. The darker-skinned trumpet players are down. Boy, Iíll bet those guys wonder why trumpet players always have to be in front. I guess itís because there are so many of them. Three houses have also been reduced to rubble. At times like this, Iím glad I donít know my neighbors. And will you look at all the smoke? If that doesnít enflame the heart, nothing will. Wait ó here come the news crews. I wonder, how do they keep their hair so nice?

The hair of news announcers has always amused me. Then again, almost everything about news announcers amuses me. To take just one example, why do they all sound exactly alike? And what, may I ask, is so darn important about the weather? Every time a cloud floats by, these people come unglued. And heaven forbid if it rains on the weekend. There is something very frightening about the idea that the weather was invented for their personal benefit. I mean, letís be realistic, folks. This is a planet weíre living on, a planet that is rotating on its axis and circling the sun, which will someday burn out forever. If we put our minds to it and work really hard, I think we can adjust to a little wind and rain.

Suddenly there are more explosions. This time, both bands have suffered major casualties. The air is filled with the voices of men crying out in agony and the sickening sound of helicopters. Dozens of cameras are slowly panning the scene, recording the carnage. The street is running with blood. The sky is growing dark. . . .

What on earth happened? I didnít mean to write a tragedy.

And my little bird waits . . .

Please, believe me. I just sat down to do my work.

. . . for a sweet, silent morning, and for a spring that will never come.

I hope you can forgive me.

And now the parade is over. Summoning my courage, I go outside. But instead of finding one dead bird, I find thousands and thousands.

Why did I have to be a writer, anyway?

I bury them all, one by one, deep within my heart.

William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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