“A sparrow sits on the railing outside my window twitching its head spastically. It’s raining, and I wonder if birds have eyelids. The same bird has visited me every morning around the same time for the past month. I’m beginning to think we’re friends. Should I give it a name? No, birds don’t need names.”
I wrote that note in late July — nearly two months before I witnessed a murder from my office window. It’s been hard to shake. Such a gruesome act sticks with a man.
One morning in early September, as I was waiting for my feathered friend to arrive for our dawn pleasantries, a loud bang shocked Associate Editor Suzanne Cheavens and I from our work.
People who are more in tune with the universe than I am believe a bird flying into a window in front of you is a precursor to your death. Death erases debt at least. The act can also symbolize some type of ending in your life — a relationship, a difficult phase, etc. The most logical explanation is birds see the reflection of the outdoors in the window and, you know, don’t even know what a window is. But if I die soon, I blame the building’s maintenance crew for my untimely death for cleaning the windows so well.
Some feathers and an outline were left behind from the impact, then I saw it. There, on the ledge below the railing, my birdie lay on its back, panting. He seemed to be paralyzed as only the eyes and breast moved.
Then a magpie perched itself on the railing. Suzanne said, “He’s thinking about breakfast.”
“What? Birds eat birds? Cannibals,” I said. I thought about jumping out of the window and staving off the bloodthirsty magpie. I could nurse birdie back to health, I thought, even if I had to make him a special wheelchair or tape his head back on. Pretty bird. But nature runs its course, with or without human intervention. It happened so fast I barely noticed. The magpie murderer was on top of birdie, plucking the feathers from his chest in small tufts, faster than I could comprehend. Birdie may have been screaming, but I couldn’t hear anything.
Then the killer threw birdie to the sidewalk and finished the job. Like I said, gruesome. I joked that avian cannibalism is pretty metal, but I was shocked and heartbroken.
Two other coworkers came to the window to watch the magpie murder after hearing Suzanne and I comment on the situation. We chatted casually about the cruelty of Mother Nature. None of us have ever witnessed a train wreck, but we agreed we were under a similar spell that day.
“It’s like I can’t not watch,” one coworker commented.
“I hate this,” I said.
The magpie left birdie’s head and feet, the least digestible parts. But the smell of blood must have hung in the air, as a tiding of magpies gathered at the scene and disposed of the rest of the carcass. One grabbed its feet. Another had the head in its mouth and flew to a nearby fence to feast.
One mangy looking character poked its head into my open window and pecked at the papers on the edge of my desk before I shooed it away. No magpie is going to kill my friend in front of me and then terrorize me at my desk.
I was heated and wanted revenge. God knows what I would have done if that malnourished trash bat — it was molting, as Suzanne explained to me — came within my grasp. Images of Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off of a dove came to mind.
After the initial excitement died down and everyone returned to their desks, I continued to watch the crime scene and mourned. Birdie’s gone. Several magpies, late to the party, hung around the sidewalk and railing area as if they were waiting for the second course to be served. Then the ravens arrived. There they are, I thought. The raven is my spirit animal. I can’t explain it, but I’ve had numerous encounters with ravens throughout my life that were too spiritual to be considered coincidences. I feel they watch over me, to a degree, and welcome me wherever I go. For example, I moved into a new spot recently, and as I was unpacking my truck, a caw caught my attention. I turned towards the sound, and there on the condo complex’s roof sat a raven. “Hello, friend,” I whispered. People think I’m screwy when I tell them such tales, but there’s a reason I have two raven tattoos scarred into my flesh forever. At least ravens are physical creatures and not some amorphous spirit hiding in the clouds.
After birdie’s demise, the magpies were manic to satiate their blood lust. The ravens surrounded the magpies on the railing and sidewalk, but didn’t confront them. The murder of ravens was restoring order to my world. They must have sensed my pain and confusion. I gave them a head nod thank you.
We’re mowing each other down with machine guns every weekend, while birds peck each other to death. Goddamn, I thought, this world is a mad place to make it.
If anything, the incident proved how ignorant I am to nature’s ways, but I still miss my birdie.