The Trapped Bird

December 18, 2008
By Amanda Lukas, Independence, KY

I wonder if anyone would try to find me. Probably not; my mother already showed me off, as if I am some trophy, so my job is done. I can imagine her right now, a beautiful blob of red in a sea of off black, navy, and white. Her dark hair—dyed black—pulled elegantly into a high ponytail. She stands in her red four inch heels leading to her towering above everyone else, somewhere people will notice her. However, it is hard not to notice my mother; if not anything else, my mother is a beautiful woman with every feature a man would sell his soul to have, and the type women would murder over. She may be fake to the bone, but it never shows. She contradicts that beauty is only skin deep. That is all she has, but the contradiction never shows in any way.
I can smell her perfume from here. It is a mixture of a brand name that a person has to pay out the rear for, and a vanilla kind that comes from Wal-Mart. Her shoes, that make a clacking sound as she walks, match her fire truck red lipstick, perfectly circling her mouth and of course, none on her teeth. The last touch is the thing that will make her look perfect and fitting to her new position of poor, mourning mother—intentionally smeared eyeliner around her grey blue eyes. My mother floats around the room, making talk to everyone. A fake smile, one of those half smiles where one side is paralyzed—my mother is an expert at that—is plastered on her face, as she tries to be ‘strong.’ She would have made a perfect actress. Maybe this is her chance. Hopefully, there is a talent scout in the audience. She might get her ‘big’ break—apparently, she already had that, but she had to give up the stage for some reasons…

Mother, with a dismissive flick of her wrist, decided that it would be a good idea to move anything ‘undesirable’, including that stupid bird that likes to poop on the floor, into the sitting room. That is why I am in here right now. Why stay out there, listening to gossip and laughing, when all I want to do is sleep? The forest green, old-fashioned couch, with the wooden legs that resemble the legs on a tub in the 20s, is in the middle of the room looking comfortable, even though it is as hard as a rock, but when life gives you lemons… you deal with what you are given.

That stupid bird is right near the glass window that takes up half the wall over looks the trash-filled back street that no one ever uses, unless some business person is late to work and needs to skip the traffic. Since we live in the city, even the good part of ‘town’ is dirty. In the alley, which is worse than the street and a little better than the park, there is trash everywhere, even though there is a big dumpster in the middle. Tires and half of a bicycle lay against the wall, and I think a bum lives in the dumpster. The decaying food and wet cardboard make a great bed apparently. I have a perfect view of the mess from my place on the couch.
This bird that’s in my view doesn’t seem to have a lot of brains. It flings itself up against the cage. A cloud of red feathers and what I think is bird skin gathers around the cage, soon falling to the ground almost gracefully. Remember, dancers are graceful and elegant. My mother’s voice rings in my ears. She used to be a dancer. Constantly, I see her standing on her tip-toes for no reason other than years of habit. However, for some reason, when she was eighteen, she quit, but ever since she has been making me do it. That is the reason some people have children, I think. They want the children to fix their mistakes.
She is always there in the worst moments. “Go away.” I say out loud, even though no one is here, except for that stupid bird. It doesn’t stop its movements.

My eyes are glued to the bird. I can’t look away as my head lies awkwardly on the edge of the most uncomfortable couch in the world—the floral wooden edge pattern will probably leave a red indent on my pale forehead. The bird isn’t just flinging itself up against its cage, it is screeching, which makes my eardrums vibrate in the middle of my head. The sound is so horrible, and so loud, it causes the blood to flood my ears freely.
I’ve never heard a sound like it before. This screech can only be described as a hollow plea. The bird sounds as if it is in pain—which is completely understandable due to the fact that it is flinging itself up against metal bars that could give sand paper a run for its money, and left sizable cuts on my long, spider-monkey fingers when I moved the “undesirables” into the room—but it is more than that. The sound doesn’t stop at pain. Mixing with the pain, there is a pleading in its voice. It is begging. It knows that it can’t get out, and no one will listen to it, but it begs anyway—a hope that is useless.

Did he sound like that? They said that he didn’t die right away; he just hung there, his eyes bulging from their sockets. His neck didn’t snap when the rope jerked... the “experts” said the rope wasn’t thick enough to do much damage. When the police walked through the front door the female cop gasped—yes, gasped!—,and both were surprised. The male cop stated that he was shocked the rope, the jump rope, didn’t snap due to the weight it had to support. Instead, he just strangled to death. Did he scream? Could he scream? If there is no air, sound can’t be made. Sound waves don’t work in a vacuum when there’s a nonexistence of air. So he couldn’t logically scream, but when had things like this ever been logical?

The questions, questions I asked myself then and ask myself now, start a chain of other questions. Ones I can’t answer, ones that I don’t want to answer. Why that jump rope, the one we used together… no, I can’t. A nauseating lurch churns my stomach. I can’t think about it.

Despite my best efforts to turn off my thoughts, I am brought to the year I was six years old. I almost drowned when I was six. My mother decided it was a good idea for me to go swimming. Well, actually, I begged her to go by myself, and she wasn’t paying attention. With a flick of her wrist she told me to ‘go have fun,’ so I went. I never went in any swimming pool other than the kiddy pool, which was not more than three feet, but I thought swimming in the twelve foot lake would be a good idea. I was doing well by dog paddling with my small arms. That was until I got tired. I couldn’t move any more, and I was in the middle of the lake. I remember the coldness of the brown lake water; how my skin erupted in goose bumps. I couldn’t touch, and I couldn’t tread any longer; my body felt stuffed with rocks, and my limbs became coated in lead. That’s when I started going under. Shockingly, I didn’t start panicking. I just held my breath as I slipped under. I think I was waiting, expecting someone to save me. Of course, my hero did come at this part of the story… but not before I felt what drowning was like. It’s not like getting the air knocked out of my chest—that is a totally different situation. Instead, no air exists to lose. If, at the moment when my lungs were burning, I breathed in, my chest would have filled up with water, and I would have died at that moment. Not at all like losing breath; at least air is there to be sucked in. So at the pivotal moment, when I almost couldn’t take it any longer, and I almost surrendered to the black tunnel drilled into my eyesight, my hero came. He pulled me out of the water, and petted my wet hair with his clumsy, oaf hand, as if I was a sad puppy he had to save.

If only I could have done the same for him. Why… why right by the front door? Was it so we knew that it was our fault he did it? I wished, even a few days later, that I hadn’t stayed after school that day. Those “experts” said it wouldn’t have helped, but I don’t believe them. How could it not have helped? Couldn’t they be wrong and it was my fault? He was hanging off one of the support beams that held the penthouse above from falling on us like Dorothy’s house did to the Wicked Witch—if only I was so lucky… I could take those amazing red shoes my mother is wearing right now…. His face was a light blue, and there were cuts on his throat as if….
My eyes are on that cage, but I can’t see the bird anymore. They are focused somewhere else, anywhere else than the tortured bird. The neighbors across from us are the perfect family, and I just noticed. They seem to talk to one another. They sit down in their 60s style kitchen at the wooden and glass kitchen table with big smiles and laughter, but that is probably all a lie too. I no longer believe that the screeching is from the bird. I think it is the sound of all the lies that seem to drip from the father’s mouth at the head of the table. He is probably cheating on his wife. The son, who’s probably laughing like a banshee, might do drugs. The daughter is probably a prostitute, and the mother is miserable, since I don’t think she ever leaves her apartment. If that is happiness, deal me out. If that is a ‘functional family’, I like mine; at least we have character. There is no such thing as the perfect family, with the screeching as proof.

One single yell erupts from the living room. My guess is a glass dropped. Now, the world will come to an end with all the glitter and fire, because the room goes almost completely silent for a full thirty seconds. Wait, wait… no the world started spinning again, because there goes the chatter. Good, I almost got worried there for a second. Can’t have the world end, now can we? Their laughter is giving me a headache. Can’t they stop for a moment, a second? Maybe their silence turned off my brain.

The stupid bird still hasn’t stop screeching, flinging itself against its cage. Why is it doing that? Cars weren’t flashing past the road below, so it can’t be that. What is bothering that bird? The people who were party… mourned out in the other rooms, filled with the latest technology and modern furniture throughout, must be able to hear it, shouldn’t they? I swear I can hear one man asks the person is with him, “What is the matter with that damn bird? Do you think it is being tortured by her?” The way he says “her” is revolting. This “her” has a name, but he probably would forget it by tomorrow. His words sounded slurred to me. They will run out of alcohol any minute.

I feel trapped. Mother wouldn’t notice that I left, but I can’t leave right now. I am the only one here who is actually mourning. I am the only one wearing black, not navy or an off black. I am the only one wearing all black. So I can’t leave him alone with the people who don’t care. I feel enough guilt for it being my fault. I don’t need more guilt over leaving him to do the rest of the drowning alone. I can’t leave him the way he left me. So I am stuck here, trapped in a cage alone, and it is his fault. Not just in this room, and not just in this apartment, but in the cage we call humanity. I wonder why more people aren’t ashamed to be humans. We are sick creatures. We shun those who are different, and then wonder why they decide to kill themselves. It is shameful that we insist on infesting the world. I am stuck here forever, because I have more courage—or is it stupidity?—than him. I can’t just leave. “We don’t quit!” I want to scream, but someone might hear me. Another concern of my mother’s I wish I could banish; worrying what people care about me is a waste of my time. Their voices shouldn’t be in my head. Instead, their concerns make my ears bleed, much like the screeching of the bird.

I think every single one of us is trapped. My mother, who always wants more, is trapped as a mother, however horrible she is. She didn’t want this life anymore than I wanted her as my mother. We got stuck with each other. Her scream, however, is silenced more than the rest of ours with the help of her paralyzed smile, but her scream is there. I see it every time she peels off her makeup at night, and listens to Safka Melanie with her cup of coffee.

All this time, I have been looking at the bird but not really seeing it. I haven’t watched it tear itself apart. Now, I look at the bird, still flinging itself up against a cage, but can’t hear it. My head, long black pony tail and all, get sucked into a vacuum. The screeching finally stopped. I watch the movements of the bird. The movements are jerky, and I recognize those movements. They belong to a caged lion trapped, pacing back and forth in a cage that is forty times smaller than its hunting ground. The bird is trapped just like me, but it’s even more pitiful, because it doesn’t choose this life, but I choose to stay. It doesn’t want to be in the cage, but can’t say anything about it. His voice is in my head instead. “Birds aren’t supposed to be in cages, you know? They should be flying free, right? So why do we put them in cages, Nat? Why do we do that?” His voice was one of a curious four year old that day. He sounded so sad, the day we finally got a pet we had been begging for.

“I don’t know, Mattie.” I remember telling him. I just blew him off that day with a dismissive flick of my wrist. At the time, I sincerely didn’t know why we did that, lock birds inside cages, or maybe, I did know why, but I didn’t want to expose him to the world or expose myself to it yet. He just stared at me with the big blue eyes that were more sea colored than my gray ones. They were so full of innocence, even though he was older than me. He towered over me, and due to his physical maturity, I couldn’t give him an answer. I guess I was trying to save him from the harsh reality and keep his mind young.

I finally get up, my muscles stretching with my movements. My bare, painted black feet slip onto the cold, fake tile floor. Slowly, I walk to the bird cage. My mother is going to kill me, but why do we keep them locked in cages anyway? The noise from the street soon blocks out the horrible song that plays during the party and the chatter. The cold air fills my lungs. “Come on, Butt,” careful not to squish him, and not to hurt his already painful wounds—now that I am up close they don’t seem as bad as they looked from where I laid on couch— I carried him to the window. “Bye, Butt.” I don’t want to fling him, so instead I open my hand. It doesn’t seem he gets the idea at first, but soon, the weight is gone. All that’s left behind is one bright red feather that shines in the sunlight bouncing through the window.

“Nat, we ran out of alcohol! Can you run downstairs for it? You know the routine, right?” My mother’s voice rings through the now open door as she stands beautifully with one of her spider hands on her hips and her makeup and her perfect shoes. Wow, she found me. Probably took her a good ten minutes. Wonder how long the party’s been dry? “And why is the window open? We have the heat on and it’s cold outside!” Then, she is gone with a flick of her wrist.

“Good going, Nat.” A voice rings in my head.

“You are welcome, Mattie.” I reply with a smile, before I go do my daughterly duties as bar girl.

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