When my grandpa had a seizure, he left the assisted care facility as a bird. Not one of those eagles or falcons, since his house is too small. Not a dove, either, since that’s only for priests. No, he became a blue jay, the same kind that would sit in the tree outside my room and screech in the morning.
I go to watch him for the afternoon. He’s tweeting to the tune of Sweet Clementine while he’s perched on his rocking chair’s armrest. The room is stuffy even though it’s winter. The heater is running and its subtle brrrrr runs throughout the house. His Chihuahua is curled up in a ball on the couch, and he stares at the dog. Whenever he tried to flap over to her to pet her, she barked at him and ran away. He doesn’t try to get near the dog anymore. He just stays in his chair.
I sit down and pull out my laptop. He’s staring at me whole the time, chirping along to a commercial’s jingle. He tells me that he grew up in Virginia, had to walk twenty miles to school. He tells me that again after sitting there silently for twenty minutes. I nod along, since I’m just here to give my grandma some time to go shopping.
He falls asleep. I’ve been here three times in the last two weeks, and he always sleeps. He squirms and shakes in his chair sometimes, his blue feathers pooling on the hardwood floor. I pick them up and toss them in the garbage can, since the vacuum cleaner will get clogged with them.
He wakes up, lifting his head up real fast. He opens his beak to take a yawn, and then he tries to get up. His wings flap, but he’s not moving anywhere. I tell him to stop, but he can’t hear me over the beating of his feathers. Eventually, he gets up, and he’s flapping all over the house. He’s on top of the TV, chirping along with a pre-recorded Jimmy Fallon. He opens the refrigerator door and comes out with cheddar cheese hooked onto his talons. I think he’s smiling, but I’m not quite sure since I don’t know how birds smile.
Then he perches up on the windowsill, scratches his claws against the glass, and stares up at the sun. He tells me that when he was six years old that he was a bird. A seagull, he says. That’s why he went into the navy. That’s why he asks for glasses of water even though he doesn’t drink it. He tells me that he’s going to fly to San Francisco. He’s going to Fisherman’s Wharf, sit on top of the old submarine exhibit there and listen to the sea lions.
I tell him that I can take him there one day when he gets better. When he’s not a bird. He’s quiet and says that he doesn’t want to stop being a bird. He likes to fly. I nod, since even though I’ve never had wings, I always wondered how it must feel to be perched up on top of a power line. To be just a little bit closer to the sun.
He says he wishes he was always a bird. He likes the way wind flows into his beak. He tells me he does miss petting his dog though.
I ask him why and he says he wishes he was always a bird. He keeps chirping, repeating that wish over and over again, his voice frail and tired.
I open the window up for him. He looks at me and I tell him that a bird isn’t supposed to live in a house. He nods, asks me to tell Grandma he’s sorry for him, and flies off. He leaves a feather behind and I pocket it.
Each morning, I hear a blue jay outside, chirping. I know it’s not my grandpa because we live too far away from the ocean. But, I still grab the feather on my nightstand and hold it close to my chest. I try to listen to the bird, try to understand what it’s trying to say, but I can’t. There’s something about the way wings work, about how the wind gets in their eyes and brain, that I just won’t ever understand until I’m flying with them.
Austin Conner grew up in the East Bay Area near San Francisco. He started writing deep in the bowels of the Internet in a weekly flash fiction contest called ‘Thunderdome’ where he receives (and gives) critiques to other writers. Currently, he’s studying Biology at UC Merced while also pursuing a Creative Writing Minor. He has been published previously at Vestal Review, Dualcoast Magazine, Five on the Fifth, Manawaker Studios, and Flash Frontier.