A Bird Begins Again - I. The Nest
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I. The Nest

Ava sprawled on her stomach. The cement was warm, even after the rain, and the damp soaked pleasantly through her shirt.

Mom pulled up all of the impatiens last week, leaving the flower pots and garden beds full of nothing but bare, black soil. Tiny green weeds were sprouting there. Ava reached to pluck one, and it came out, roots and all. The root was a single squiggle with white hairs. There was something else in the dirt— pale, feathering fuzz that wasn’t attached to anything. She broke clumps of dirt apart with her fingertips, looking for more.

The screen door squeaked open. The latch snicked softly as it was closed— not slammed. Ava didn’t need to turn around to know who it was.

“There you are.”

A pair of white, unscuffed sneakers appeared, followed by her sister’s knees and frowning face. Ava said nothing. She picked up one of the fuzzy lumps of dirt and placed it on the pavement between them. Abria sighed at the sight of her grimy fingernails.

"That’s mycelium."

“What’s mice—?”

“Mycelium is like the roots of a fungus. The mushroom is just the top part.”


Abria straightened and pointed sternly to the sandbox lid, half-filled with rainwater.


Ava sighed, but rolled to her feet and stuck both hands out in front of her.

“I found something really cool in a ficus bush, yesterday,” Abria said, scooping the sun-warmed water in her own hands and over Ava’s, squeezing. “You’d better use a nail brush before dinner.”

“What? What did you find?” Ava shook her hands, flinging grey droplets, and wiped them on her shorts, as Abria cringed.

“Ew. Go put on some shoes, and I’ll show you.”

The sky looked like pulled-apart cotton balls. The sinkhole-pocked road was spotted with puddles, each one gleaming sunset pink. Abria stepped carefully around them. Ava, just as carefully, slapped a sandalled foot in the middle of each one. Greyish muck swirled around her toes. From the right angle, the fading light showed twisting, translucent rainbows. When she looked up, Abria was some ways ahead.

“Where—” Ava puffed, trying to catch up, “Where is it?”

Abria pointed to a ficus hedge just off the road, squeezed between two mobile homes. It had been trimmed into an unnatural rectangle, now lopsided with new growth. Ava lurched forwards, but Abria grabbed the back of her shirt and hissed,

“Be quiet. You’ll scare them.”

Too overcome with mystery to argue, Ava nodded. Abria led and she followed, stepping gingerly into the wet grass.
Abria pushed gently at the leaves, bending and craning her head sideways, looking up and down. Ava heard her sharp intake of breath.


“What?” Ava hugged herself, trying to keep still.

Her sister was looking at something on the ground. She was upset. Ava became aware of movement under the hedge. She took a step forward. Abria glanced at her, nervously, but didn’t protest.

Flies were busy over a lump in the dirt. The lump was shapeless and pink, pimpled like unskinned chicken, with some clinging grey fuzz. Ava leaned closer.

It was a dead baby bird.

The flies were very loud. They lingered over what looked like never-opened eyes with a leggy dedication that made Ava blink her own eyes, rapidly.

“What happened?” she whispered, fingers pinching her elbows.

Abria reached out to rub her shoulder. “Sorry. Maybe it fell out. I don’t know.” She pushed at the leaves some more and pointed. “The nest is empty.”

Ava looked up long enough to see that yes, there was a cup of twigs lined with something brown and soft, and yes, it was empty. Then her gaze sank back to the ground.

Flies moved in and out of invisible entryways. They looked different from any flies she had ever seen. They were such a bright, bright emerald green— shiny, like metal.

“Where’s its parents?”

“Maybe they flew away to make another nest.”

Ava nodded.

“Come on,” Abria sighed. “Let’s go home.”

“Was it sick?” Ava didn’t move.

Abria hesitated. “Maybe. I don’t know. There’re lots of ways baby animals can die. That’s why some animals have a lot of babies.”

Ava nodded again. She stared until she felt Abria pulling at her shoulder. She turned, her gaze following the rest of her body reluctantly. They walked down the road in silence, pinched close to the berm to avoid the cars of neighbors coming home from work. The light had gone out of the puddles.

“We didn’t bury it,” Ava said. “Does that mean it will become a skeleton?”

“Well…” Abria paused. “It won’t become a skeleton, it had a skeleton inside all along. But if insects and things eat everything on the outside, all that will be left are bones.”

Abria always answered her questions truthfully. Ava reached out to hold her sister’s hand.

“Does that happen to people?” she asked.

“Yes, to everything.”

“Even though we put people in boxes?”

“In coffins, yeah.”

“But not to mummies.”

Abria smiled. “Like in your book? They didn’t look exactly like the pictures when they were alive. The Egyptians had a special recipe to stop bacteria and stuff. Egypt is hot and dry, too, so the mummies lasted a long time. Even their skin and hair.”

Hair, Ava thought. That's what was in the nest. Her flip-flops were loud. They left ghost-prints on the damp concrete. She looked over her shoulder to watch them fade.

“I’m not scared,” she said. Abria squeezed her hand.

Ava let her sister scrub her fingernails before dinner, instead of hiding the scrub brush under her pillow. Afterward, when she was curled under the covers, she wiggled her toes and felt sand between them. She thought about puddles, and how some of them had little drowned worms at the bottom. She knew why worms drowned. It was because they had to breathe through holes in their skin.

Some big feeling was keeping her awake— like the excitement before a special day, with none of the happiness. The moon was high in the sky when Ava fell asleep. She dreamt her bed was made of sticks and soft, human hair.

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