Meat from a Carcass: The Bird in the Barn

This is a self-contained entry, an ultra-short story I wrote several years ago for online publication. In my meat metaphor, this would be considered a slider. I’ve always liked The Bird in the Barn because I like the characters of Max and Charlie – they feel like kids, and they feel like brothers. I visited them at least one other time. The lazy possibilities of their uncle’s farm seemed very comforting and familiar. I also liked the kids’ concept of fairness – it’s a concept I wish more people shared. They’re good boys those two.

THE BIRD IN THE BARN:

“Do you think it’s dead, Max?”

I said I didn’t know and to hush up.

The color drained out of Charlie’s cheeks until he was as ashen as the wind-worn slats on the barn. He pursed his lips tight.

In the trampled hay, placed as delicately as a freshly laid egg, a bird rested, his wings tucked at his side and his eyes black and open. The bird was still.

My boots cracked the dry hay as I slunk towards our find. Charlie stayed put. So did the bird. I held my breath as I forced my hand towards the animal’s tiny head. 

“Max?” Charlie pleaded.

The bird was soft as I stroked its back with my thumb.

“Yeah,” I said, “It’s dead. Probably has been for days”

I walked over and gave Charlie a hug and I felt the front of my shirt grow damp.

When Charlie was through, we exited Uncle’s barn together and latched the big, wooden door. Neither of us talked. As we reached the grass, Charlie broke out in a run towards the house. I took the dirt walkway.

By the time I entered the farmhouse, Charlie was already on Mother’s knee and she had heard the whole story; she kind of smiled and brushed Charlie’s dirty hair away from his eyes.

“Why did the bird have to die in our barn?” Charlie asked.

“Everybody is looking for a place that’s warm and safe to lie down in,” said Mother, “even a little bird. And the barn is as good a place as any.”

“There are spider’s in the barn. It should have died in the house,” Charlie said.

“Spiders don’t bother the birds,” Mother assured, “it knew what it was doing.”

I asked what we should do with the bird – another animal was likely to find it if we left it in the barn.

Charlie’s face soured, and he looked like he would start up again.

“I think a funeral would be best,” Mother said.

Charlie’s eyes grew big and he smiled so that we could see all his teeth.

“But not tonight,” she said, “A funeral at night, just doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Charlie and I agreed.

That night, we scoured Uncle’s heavy encyclopedia by flashlight for a bird that looked like ours – I did most of the looking because Charlie doesn’t read big words yet. The excitement of our search waned and we fell asleep at the foot of the bunk.

After breakfast, under the tall walnut tree, we prepared the bird for his funeral. Charlie dug a hole with the little spade, and I wrapped the bird in tissue paper and placed it in a preserves jar. Mother said some nice words and we buried our friend. Charlie looked real proud to be the one to cover the grave with dirt and pack it tight. I was glad that he didn’t cry.

All that day, I tried not to think about the bird, but that never really works.

When the sun had set for evening, and the stars and fireflies lit the dusk, I walked the pathway to the old barn; Charlie was already inside lying in the hay.

“There aren’t any other birds, Max. I already checked. Six spiders, a mouse, and a couple of June bugs, but no birds.”

“That’s good,” I said.

Charlie nodded, but without much behind it. He had collected all his foundlings into a neat pile.

“Should we have another funeral tomorrow?” Charlie asked, his eyes round as copper pennies.

“No,” I said, “I figure those kinds don’t really get funerals. Just birds, and dogs, and cats, and those-likes.”

Charlie got squinty for a long while like he was trying to sound out one those long words from the encyclopedia. Finally, he tapped me on the shoulder.

“Max,” he said, “That doesn’t seem quite fair.”

“No, Charlie, it doesn’t, but that’s just the way it is.”

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