Exercise 5: “Write a scene that involves bird feathers.”

He knows that bang with a pang in his heart. He hears it, winces to hear it again, only not so hard, and hastens from the kitchen table to the picture window in the living room. Yes. There is the small oily imprint of a bird, wings spread, on the glass. Down feathers swirl in the October wind like Christmas snowflakes, away from the window and into the garden. The dog stares at something he can’t yet see but she tells him instantly what he needs to know.

Seconds it takes him, to register everything and burst out the door in bare feet, onto the cold, wet grass and to the garden. A female house sparrow sits on the brick ledge, resting her belly on her feet, dazed and thus unperturbed by his proximity. He edges closer, he deliberates, as he always does: will he give her a heart attack if he attempts to help her, or should he bring her down to the ground, give her warmth?

Her eyes slowly close. “Stay with me. Please don’t die,” he says. This happens often enough, has happened all his life—as kids, his brother and he rescued stunned birds and put them in shoeboxes lined with dishtowels—and yet each time is new and plagued with uncertainty. He reaches, lifts the bird gingerly, goes and sits on the porch, cups his hands around her in his lap. Her feathers are so soft, she so weightless he barely feels her. He sets her on the cement beside him.

Such a delicate thing; he thinks that at any moment she may keel over. He prods her because she’s leaning to one side. “Listen,” he whispers. “Hear those other birds out there? They’re like you. They’re calling to you. Stay awake. You’re okay, you’re okay, you will be okay.” The dog watches intently from behind the screen door; she sniffles. The sparrow’s eyes grow small.

Another sparrow, flying close, catches her attention. She opens her chestnut brown eyes and swivels her neck. Within seconds she becomes alert. He marvels at how close he can be now, how he can study her details. He moves to touch a wayward feather.

And then there is a hop, a lopsided attempt at flight. She waits as though catching her balance, her breath, hops again. And suddenly she is gone, indiscernable from the others. He looks to her imprint on the window.

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