I found the red-winged blackbird behind a pickup truck in the apartment parking lot. One wing bent and bleeding, she crowed defiantly as I approached. Blackbird stared me down with dark, round eyes, her feathered breast heaving, her mouth cracked open. It was summer in Texas, and the air near the concrete ground shimmered. I ran inside and returned with a towel and shoebox. Five minutes later, we left the parking lot in my Monte Carlo from the nineties, heading to the wildlife rehabilitation center thirty miles away. I hoped that somebody there could rescue Blackbird or, at the very least, provide a calm death. The working veterinarian gave me papers to sign, release forms that gave the center permission to treat Blackbird, as if she became mine when I interfered with nature’s plans.
“Will she pull through?” I asked.
“Maybe,” the doctor said.
She died two hours later. I felt her ghost’s bodiless weight land on my chest and sink. Blackbird made a nest inside my heart and lingered there. With time, she learned to see through me. The inky black circles that resemble my pupils are actually her defiant eyes. New colors appeared: ultraviolet and something brighter, the color of ghosts. When I look in the mirror, my chest and eyes glow like Jack-o-lantern features. And I’m not alone. A toddler-sized light clings to my neighbor’s leg. The mailman carries a swarm of pinprick lights with him; they revolve around his head, like stars in a galaxy, and it did not surprise me when I learned that he was a hobbyist beekeeper. I once passed a stranger on the beach who led a procession of lights. Like a parade, the line stretched past the horizon. What did he do to deserve that following?
Why do I deserve mine?
Blackbird once remembered freedom and flapped her wings violently, battering around my rib cage until the futility became exhausting. I wonder if my bones will still imprison her when they’re all that remain.
I wonder if they will imprison us both.