- The Witness
My cat killed a baby bird after killing its mother.
The baby bird had a small hole in its head. The head itself was very small. The bird was still alive when I found it.
It kept dozing off – a second or two later it would awake with a spasm. Its eyes opened and closed, opened and closed. I was torn, uncertain what to do. It seemed evident that the bird was not going to make it. But I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know enough about baby birds.
I watched it for a few minutes. Then I left it and went on with my day.
What was the baby bird thinking?
In its dreams, it was briefly able to fly – something it had not learned in life and would never get a chance to learn. It flew over the backyard, enjoying a glorious experience first, followed by an abrupt loss of control, as if the texture of the air itself had changed. The fall was terrifying, with an immense void opening up below, ready to suck everything in.
When I checked back in about an hour, the baby bird had moved a few yards. Its condition appeared the same. Drowsy eyes, the body fighting, unwilling to give up, shaken by an occasional spasm.
With each dream, each fall, the confidence required to continue flying was bitterly fading. The gigantic void was getting closer.
The bird’s eyes were so small I could not distinguish the pupils. I didn’t know what to do. I took the baby bird in my clumsy hand and placed it in a less accessible location, by the fence, where the cat would not notice it. I was still hoping that the bird might survive. And if not, I wished it an easy death free from further aggression. [End Page 61]
Once again, I left it and reentered my life.
Now the bird was determined to escape. With this singular notion in mind, it overcame the inviting drowsiness and moved on, in one direction.
When I came back about an hour later, it had made it through the gate and was in the front yard, still shuffling ahead in slow, spasmodic increments. If only it could find its mother! She would take care of everything, just like she always had: all that effort put into building the nest, warming the egg into life, supporting the being that had come out of the egg.
This was the last time I saw the baby bird alive.
Half an hour later, I looked out the window, and the immobility of that tiny organism was strangely stunning. The most efficient of flies had already discovered the new opportunity. I went to get a garbage bag.
It’s when I came outside to pick up the baby bird that I found the mother. She was lying nearby, worms well at work on her body. I packed both birds together in the same bag and threw them away. My cat had killed them both, after all.
Newly departed from the body, the baby bird’s soul floated around for a while, trying to comprehend what had happened, to learn a lesson.
“It was not my fault. I was not unprepared,” it said to its little bird god, to its mother, to me, so hopelessly stunned by its death. “I wasn’t a bad bird. It was just an accident. I will try harder next time.”
But it had not been an accident. It was my cat. I had been feeding it every day for quite a few years.
“Is there a next time?” the bird asked after a pause.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t know.”
I couldn’t lie, not now. [End Page 62]
Three years have passed. Today we buried the cat who had killed the birds. She was hit by a car. Judging by the state she was in, it must have happened instantly. Cars travel fast. She must have gone out in one enormous scream. She didn’t experience the agony the little bird had gone through, and I didn’t witness her death. It was not her...