Returning from Dunkin’ with my daily order of large iced coffee with cream and sugar, large iced matcha with whole milk, everything bagel with strawberry cream cheese, hash browns, and the little bag they fill with small strips of seasoned bacon, I’d envisioned a Saturday spent watching the last half of the last episode of Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist then working on writing until it came time to sleep, but the sparrow that appeared on the ledge had other plans. I can’t pinpoint why I was in the kitchen but I was, the window wide open without insect screen. The sparrow and I sized each other up in a sick twisted game of What Happens Next? I itched for it to do something other than sit and swivel its head because I wanted to milk it for a more interesting image—it didn’t budge. This is an autofiction novel so I can invent sparrow fiascos whenever the hell I want but everything on the page so far, save an inconsequential detail or three, has been true, so it didn’t cross my mind to ascribe actions to a bird that hadn’t performed them; I started to craft a sentence about disappointment—then, in an awkward flapping fit, it pulled itself to the dish rack, did a shit, and flung itself inside the drop ceiling. It got in through the missing section under the fluorescents and I watched it skitter across the other plastic panels, splattering them with well over a dollar’s worth of dime-sized defecations. My amusement waned when it hopped out of frame and became a day-long chore. I asked my roommates for help: Will wasn’t home, Julian was tied up, Frank Price spit ideas while waiting for his lunch to thaw. I tried: guiding the sparrow back to where it entered via a sequenced and strategic series of taps on the particleboard panels with a broom, playing from YouTube the hoots of owls and rattles of rattlesnakes to make it think its life was at stake if it didn’t make a fast escape, placing both halves of a stale bagel on the sill in case it got hungry, running the faucet in case it got thirsty. I took Frank Price’s suggestion and removed more panels and opened the smaller window above which I hung a fresh bagel from a nail. I googled “how to get bird out of your house” and one of the first hits was a website called theartofmanliness, as if getting a bird to vacate your living space were a task exclusive to the masculine, which called to mind the dialogues I’ve been having with male friends the past few years about the need to construct a new masculinity. A website, not the mansite, said birds abhor garlic so I cooked some cloves on the stove. I realized my trial-and-error must’ve confused the shit out of the sparrow; there was food, water, but there were also owls and rattlesnakes wanting to rip its head off and slurp its guts, and a 26-year-old man bashing the butt of a broom against wherever it felt safe, which meant it hadn’t felt safe since this began. We both wanted the same thing, this sparrow and I, but my attempts to speed it up only brought harm. I pulled up sparrow calls on YouTube, both as apology and new strategy, left my camera phone on the ledge, and sequestered myself in the pantry with its darkness, the fridge, some pots and pans. Holding the doorknob tight because the door would swing open if I didn’t, I felt like Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet watching that sinister scene unfold from the closet, trying his hardest not to be detected, except I was the sinister thing unfolding, peeking through the keyhole to see if the sparrow had become comfortable enough to leave. The sunlight licked my eye and I felt lonely and restless then meditative. Through the wall, I heard Frank Price tell someone through his gaming headset he’d recently watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which he described as “arty,” but I couldn’t tell from his tone whether the adjective was condemnation, praise, or just neutral. Sacred Deer was Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow-up to The Lobster, a film set in a future where being single is illegal and if you’re caught you have 45 days to find a lover or else be transformed into the animal you’ve selected; I saw The Lobster at the 2015 New York Film Festival and felt inspired by his consistency at eschewing genre, as with Dogtooth and Alps, to create something entirely his own; during the post-film Q & A, a woman lambasted him for the depictions of animal violence in his work and when the moderator, Kent Jones, picked me next, Lanthimos repeated my question intentionally incorrect as a dig at her: Which animal would I SHOOT? Well, any animal I could eat! No, no, okay, what animal would I choose? Some kind of bird, he said and mused on the freedom it would afford him. Two years later, I enjoyed The Killing of a Sacred Deer but left the theater bereaved he’d abandoned his freedom to lean into the pigeonholed tropes of “psychological thriller.” Staked out in the pantry, I could no longer hear Frank Price, the fake sparrow song from my camera phone, the real sparrow’s scuttle across the panels, just the hums and whirrs and clicks of the fridge, my irregular breath. I worried a mouse would come in from wherever they enter and mistake my toe for food; I worried the stale bagel on the sill, the unstale bagel on the nail, and the full openness of now two windows, would invite a flock of sparrow friends. I came out of hiding, climbed out the window to our ladderless fire escape, and sat with my legs dangling through the bars, committed to doing nothing; the guy in the apartment adjacent popped out to smoke tobacco from his pipe and I told him about the sparrow and he showed me the gnarly scar on his arm and told me the story of the skateboarding accident that caused it—he’d eaten shit at an intersection and a car rolled its window down to ask how he could be so stupid—we spoke generally about lack of empathy and he told another anecdote about an old woman who’d slipped on ice while he was waiting for the bus, how seven other witnesses stood frozen when he walked past them to lend her his hand. I left my camera phone aimed at the window to record video while I sat in my bedroom; I felt I’d earned the satisfaction of seeing the sparrow’s departure. I vidchatted Sarah a bit from my laptop and she said a bird flying inside was an omen far worse than a bird smacking against window glass. When I thought enough time had elapsed, I went back to thumb through the footage but there was nothing aside from the beauty of sunlight bleeding down a brick wall. I assumed the sparrow was still up there, so I tapped each panel to check; then I assumed it dead and poked my head through the empty space by the bagel wreath. It was stuck to a glue trap a previous tenant must’ve put up there and it wasn’t moving—I grabbed the sticky casket with an inside-out Ziploc. I took in its majestic wingspan, the postmortem wink in its eye, the rotted feet it’d always walked on finally looking like they belonged. Freshman year of college, I had a pet Siamese fighting fish named Leigh-Cheri (after the protagonist princess in Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker) who one day I found dead by way of a knucklehead thinking it funny to spike her home with vodka; I forewent the tried-and-true toilet flush for a wooden tea box repurposed as a coffin, penned the best damn eulogy my 17-year-old self could, and carried her down the hill to the campus pond where I failed to pull off the funeral pyre I’d imagined, but it didn’t matter because the thought was enough—the sparrow’s sendoff was nothing like that, I chucked it in the dumpster. Before heading back up, I sat on the stoop and watched highly modified cars drag race.

 

Steven Arcieri lives in Boston. He is writing a sentence about himself every day for a decade. Read em and weep, boys.

One response to “Decade: July 2020”

  1. Ashley Socktoucher says:

    <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *