Birds of a Feather
To tell this story correctly, and so you fully understand the events that have transpired, I’m going to have to start with when I met my wife. It was freshman year in college, and on the first day, three rows up from my seat in my biology class, a girl with long, curly red hair asked a question. The teacher, thoroughly impressed with her, answered and then asked her name. She said it was Janice. I knew right then that I had to meet her. Over the next few weeks, I saw her in two of my other classes as well, sitting up straight, taking notes, the whole deal. She was smart, the type of smart that worked hard to keep it that way. I loved that about her. As I came to realize, intelligence can’t trump emotion. In the end, feelings always win. But that comes later.
November of that year — it was a few weeks before Thanksgiving break — I finally built up the nerve to ask her out. We’d spoken a few times; I’d asked about classwork, I’d been part of a group project with her, but we’d never spoken in a non-school related way. When I approached her in the cafeteria that day, she was wearing a green sweater and white pants. I remember the green matched her eyes, and made her hair stand out like flames in the night. I fumbled my way through a bit of small talk, and she’d giggled at me. That was when I knew it was going to work out. She agreed to a date — I’m not sure if it was genuine or pity for my sorry attempt at wooing her, but it worked either way — and by the actual holiday break, I was bringing her with me to meet the family.
We were married early the next year. While I can’t speak for her, I’d fallen in love hard and fast. On top of being a star student in every sense of the word, she played violin, painted, and loved animals. The first apartment we moved into together had a strict no pets policy, but she brought her dog Juniper and her cat Francis with her anyway. I don’t know if the apartment ever knew we had them — anytime maintenance came by, there was a whirlwind of cleaning and hiding them in a closet or the car — but we only stayed there a year and they never mentioned it. We moved from that place at the start of the final year of college, into a place that did allow pets, and she expanded to another cat (Frederick) and a bird (Callie). The bird was a turning point I think. She loved it. It loved her. They were inseparable. The downside was that while I also loved her, I hated the bird. Birds are nasty, evil creatures that are great at keeping up appearances when the person they love is around. Janice would come home from work — she was a barista at the time — and would call out to Callie, who would sing back. She’d let it out of its cage, it would perch on her shoulder and rub against her cheek and do all the cute bird things that people see in videos. When she’d put it away at the end of the night, she’d stand at the cage and whisper sweet goodnights to it, cover it with a towel, and come ask me if I was coming to bed. To her, Callie was the sweetest pet of the bunch.
I, however, was working from home at the time, doing I.T. work for a law firm that I’d once had hopes of joining. As soon as Janice closed the door behind her every morning, the screeching would begin. At first, I tried to treat the bird like she did, I’d go up to the cage and whisper sweet nothings to it. It would just screech in my face. I’d try to feed it seeds or bits of vegetables, just like Janice did, and it would throw them all over the floor. It would fly at the cage trying to attack me every time I got near. It made work almost impossible. Meetings were constantly interrupted by questions of if my window was open, what that noise was in the background, so on and so forth. Then Janice would come home and swoon over that damn bird. It was like being cheated on with an animal, and I despised it. I despised it so much that one day while she was at work, I opened the windows of the house, opened the cage, and locked myself in my office in hopes that the problem would sort itself out. An hour before Janice was set to get home I clocked out, and emerged from my room to a disaster. The area in front of my office door was covered in bird shit, the seeds and vegetables I’d set out for it had been thrown around the house. The newspaper in the cage had been torn to shreds and scattered across the bedroom. Feathers were everywhere. And that damn bird was sitting on its perch in its cage, staring me down with its black lifeless eyes. I managed to clean up the mess just in time for Janice to get home, but my resentment kept growing. I tried to tell Janice that this bird despised me, but she never believed it. In her eyes, that bird could do no wrong. It quickly became a situation of my word against its, and even though it couldn’t speak, it somehow still won that battle.
A year passed, and while I’d slowly given up on my idea of being a hotshot lawyer, I did end up gaining a few promotions in I.T. and making a reasonable salary. Enough that, after two years in the cramped apartment full of screeching and the stench of bird shit, we were able to buy a house. Janice and I both loved the outdoors, and we settled in a large ranch style home in the country, backing up to three acres of woods and with no neighbors in sight. It was magical. We set up a studio for Janice to paint and play music, an office in the basement for me, and at night we’d sit on the back deck and look out into the woods, sipping wine and listening to podcasts. She’d moved on from being a barista and was working at an animal sanctuary — go figure — but she was making decent money and she loved every bit of the job. She’d come home and tell me stories of the animals she’d hung out with that day. A fox one day, a bobcat the next, the list went on and on. She came home one particular day and fawned over an owl for hours, telling me about how smart it was and how cute it had been acting. She told me she wished she could get one. I was glad she was happy, but I couldn’t bear the thought of another bird in her life. Juniper died a few months after we moved out there, which was a tragedy. We both loved that dog and it loved both of us, and we were shaken up for about a week when it happened. At least we had Francis and Frederick, which was good since Francis was hers and Frederick was mine, and at night we’d curl up on the couch, both with a cat in our laps, and watch TV.
The bird remained as well, but I managed to keep my distance from it, and it from me, and for a while, everything was kosher. Then it started to pull out its feathers. At first, Janice thought it might just be stress from the move, but after a few months that no longer seemed like the case. Even at my peak of hatred for the thing, it had been a beautiful bird, bright green with a yellow breast that would shimmer when the light hit it just right. Now it was a bald, grotesque looking thing, a bony sack of wrinkled skin, like an alien from a sci-fi movie. As much as I had hated it before, I hated it even more now. I told Janice we should get rid of the damned thing, but she never budged. Instead, she took it to the vet multiple times, but they’d always say the same thing. “Health wise, Callie is fine. It must be something environmental causing the stress.” She moved it’s cage to three separate rooms in the house, but nothing changed. Eventually, she started blaming me for the bird's stress. She said that it could tell it was in a household that didn’t love it. She made up wild scenarios in which I would antagonize the bird all day while she was out of the house, in hopes that she would finally give in and get rid of it. In one particularly heated argument about it, she told me she loved that bird more than she loved me. I’ve never forgotten that. I think that night, that single sentence, was when she started to drift away. Finally, she hired a bird specialist to come in and see if they could help. His name was Ron.
Ron was a picturesque man. Buff and chiseled, he went to the gym three times a week, ran marathons on his vacations, and drove a luxury car. We wore tight shirts and tighter pants, and from the first day he came into our house, Janice was swooning over him. Giggling at every half-assed joke he made, following his every word about the possible causes of this bird’s stress. At night, we’d have conversations about how the day's visit had gone, and 90% of her side of it would start with “Well, Ron said…”. I quickly grew to despise him as well, just as much as the bird. I could tell that I was losing her to him, and she knew it too. Sometimes, I wonder if she was doing it on purpose. Some kind of sick, twisted revenge on the bird's behalf. She was smart, and if she wanted to cheat under the radar, she could have done it easily. This was blatant. It was as if she was making a silent ultimatum: Love the thing I love, or I’ll find someone who does.
Time went by, and Ron started becoming somewhat of a staple at our house. It had started with weekly visits, checkups and tests to see how the bird was doing. Then it became twice a week. Then three times. Eventually, he was “joining us for dinner” at least two times a week, and at our house double that. I watched, helplessly, as they talked about animals and their jobs, laughing at each other's anecdotes from the day they’d had. They’d excuse themselves from dinner and go out on the back deck, using a pair of binoculars that I’d bought Janice for last year's anniversary to scan the tree line for birds, cheering and hugging when they spotted one they hadn’t seen before. She came in from the deck one night and grabbed a bottle of champagne we’d been saving for some distant special occasion, smiling from ear to ear. I asked her what the celebration was for, and she said, “We’ve got a barn owl.” I made a joke that we didn’t even have a barn, and she scoffed at me and headed back outside. I sat inside on the couch, listening to that ugly, crumpled, fleshy monstrosity throw itself around its cage.
When he wasn’t there, we spoke less and less. She’d sit in the room with Callie, talking to it while it cooed back. I’d attempt to start a conversation but they always lead down the path of “Well, Ron said…”. I broached the subject of an affair only once, at around the halfway point of their friendship. She’d exploded on me, accusing me of cheating, and when I explained that I loved her more than life itself, she’d retorted by screaming, “And now you know how I feel about Callie, and Ron understands that!”. After that, we were like ghosts occupying the same house. We’d eat meals together, sometimes we’d watch TV with Francis and Frederick, but the majority of our time was spent in separate rooms, rarely speaking. She’d stay with the bird, and I’d sit alone on the couch.
And now we get to the point of the story, the reason I’m writing all this down. Last week, I went out to the store to pick up some food for the cats and some supplies to start a garden. It’s spring, and Janice always wanted a vegetable garden. I thought maybe it would take her mind off of that damn bird, and at the same time, Ron. He was there when I left, and I had told her I’d be gone a while, but the trip ended up shorter than I expected. When I walked through the kitchen door, I heard the unmistakable sound of my wife moaning. I’d had my suspicions about this from day one, but I trusted Janice with all my heart. The next few minutes are a bit blurry, but I remember that I went back to the garage, opened the gun case and grabbed the Glock 19 my father had given me as a graduation present. I headed back inside, strolled down the hallway — they wouldn’t have heard me anyway with the noise they were making — and threw open our bedroom door. In the bed that we had bought together not a year before, there was my wife, the love of my life, her fiery red hair flowing down her naked back, straddling the buff bird man. The worst part, and the part that sticks with me the most, is that in the corner of the room that wretched alien baby was watching from it’s cage, bouncing up and down on its perch, as if to encourage them. I shot my wife in the back before she was able to turn around, and as she slumped over onto the bed, I shot Ron in the face. The bird stopped dancing and screeched. I shot it too. In the movies, if a bird gets shot, there’s an explosion of feathers. That didn’t happen with this one. It just splattered on the wall, like a giant zit being popped.
I had a brand new shovel in the trunk of the car that I’d purchased during the day's shopping trip. I went out and into the woods behind the house and dug a massive hole. It took hours, and by the time I was done with it, my hands were bleeding and blistered. I went back inside, wrapped them both up in the bedspread, and drug them out across the yard to it. The sun was starting to set, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was broad daylight, there was no one around to see it. I dropped them in the pit, went back to the house and collected the bird cage and what remained of the creature, and tossed that in as well. Then I covered them up, despite the pain in my hands. As the last shovelfuls of dirt went back into the hole, I heard it for the first time. A loud, piercing screech, reminiscent of that god awful bird. I spun and spotted it, the barn owl on the branch of the tree above me. Brown feathers, a white and black stippled chest, and a heart shaped face with black, pinpoint eyes. It was staring down at me, watching what I’d done. I almost couldn’t believe it was real, until it screeched again, directly at me. I dropped the shovel and ran inside to grab the gun, but by the time I made it back out to the woods, it was gone.
That was a week ago. Since then, the owl has been haunting me. It screeched nonstop the night I burned the mattress and my clothes from that day. It screeches every time I go outside. Four days ago, I woke up with a lifeless mouse on my kitchen windowsill. Its eyes had been plucked out of its head yet it seemed to be placed there to stare at me. I buried the gun in the woods as well, and yesterday when I woke up, it was sitting on the railing of the deck, covered in mud. Another lifeless mouse was left beside it. The owl must have dug it up. I took it back and cleaned it, ran some rounds through it to make sure it still worked. It did. I spent hours sitting outside last night, listening to the siren screech of the owl and letting off shots into the woods, hoping to hit it. To shut it up. But it didn’t stop.
When I woke up today, the owl was sitting on the railing of the deck, staring into my kitchen window. I froze when I saw it. It screamed at me, and as it did it dropped the thing it was holding in its mouth. It was an eyeball, the same color green as that sweater Janice had worn in the cafeteria the day I’d asked her out.
So there you have it. My confession. My note. My story. Whatever you want to call it. The owl is still sitting on the deck, screaming. The gun is still loaded. I’m going to go out there and confront it. It’s either it or me. If you’re reading this, the owl won.
May 15th, 2018