[An early chapter of an unnamed novel]

The timing was pretty terrible. It happened right about the time I started seeing the headshrinker, which is a pretty unholy coincidence, but, basically, it was enough to push admin over the edge. I was walking into the building, a Tuesday morning, just trying to figure out how I was gonna make it another four days, and found the two security guards standing near the front door, staring at their jackboots. As I got closer I realized they were looking at something on the ground, something smallish-just standing there, looking. From a few feet away I realized it was a bird, dead.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“This bird flew into the window,” said Pot Belly.

“Big ol’ thud, man. Fuckin’ stupid bird,” said Glasses, giggling like a schoolgirl while imitating the thud noise, spittle landing on his badge.

“What are you gonna do?”

“I ain’t doin’ shit,” said Glasses.

“I think they already called the building super,” said Pot Belly. “They’ve got the maintenance contract. They’ll handle it.” By handle it he meant some boss would send some lackey to pick up the carcass and throw it in the parking lot dumpster.

“Better be quick,” said Glasses. “It’s grossing everybody out right here.”

“The building super will handle it.”

I went inside.

Two hours later I went out the front door for my morning break and found the carcass still sitting in the same place, untouched. There were flies buzzing around it, and the beautiful little thing looked like it was suffering even though my mind told me that was impossible. I couldn’t take it. I looked around for someway to pick it up. There was nothing, the world covered by concrete. There was no easy way to move her. I don’t know anything about birds, but I just felt it was a female bird-a bird that now left an empty nest somewhere, unguarded chicks, a momma bird out looking for food or stray bits of cotton or fluff to make the nest warm and comfortable. Like I said, I just couldn’t take it.

I reached down to pick her up. Just then Glasses came outside, a guttural groan from his stupid maw, apparently disgusted because I was a touching the poor thing. I picked the bird up and started walking. Behind me I could hear Glasses telling Pot Belly that I’d ‘just picked it up’ with my bare hands, ‘just like that.’ I didn’t have time for it, I had to find her a little place. After walking around the concrete and asphalt hell for a few minutes, I finally happened on to a dirt parking lot, the first actual earth I could find. Among the trash in the wind-blown corners I found a splintered mop handle. I knelt down and began to dig. The mop handle loosened up the cold gravel and the dirt okay, but didn’t scoop it very well. I had to dig it up with my hands. After a minute or so, I finally had a small hole. The sun stung the back of my neck and sweat began at my eyebrows, behind my ears, my neck. I dug deeper. I felt the stares of the occasional passer-by, people wondering what the hell that crazy man was doing. I became faintly aware of a noise I was making-something like a grunt and like a sob. It accompanied each drag of the mop handle.

Deep enough, I dropped the beautiful little dead bird into the makeshift grave. I passed a few kind thoughts about the transitory nature of things, the calamity of this imperfect world we live in, and hoped, if this was a momma bird, for the best for that nest of chicks. I hoped they’d be adopted by a larger flock, one that would teach and protect them. Then I covered the carcass with the fresh-dug earth, patted it down with my dirty hands. Then I found 5 stones, each slightly smaller than the stone before, and stacked them up-a crude headstone. I felt like crying for the whole stupid world, for every-damn-thing and everyone. I was about to. But the noise that came out was a kind of chuckle instead, a little laugh. A desperate, anguished giggle that then broke into a quick, short cackle. I gathered myself up and walked back to the office, past averted eyes of a few co-workers, past stupid ol’ Glasses just dying to ask me what I’d done with the bird. My fingers were black with soil and some kind of goddamned salvation.

My fifteen minute break was over.

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