by Timothy Gustafson
The boy with the dead bird wished he had healing powers. The boy who shot the bird wished the boy with the dead bird was somewhere else at the present moment. “I wish we didn’t shoot him,” said the boy holding the dead bird. “Ha,” said the boy who had shot the bird. “Should we bury him?” said the boy stroking the side of the dead bird’s head. “In our stomachs,” said the boy with the new gun.
“Give it to me,” said the boy who had shot the bird, putting down his gun. “No!” cried the boy with the bird, turning his back to the boy with the gun while cradling the dead bird. “Give it to me or I’ll sock you,” said the boy who had shot the bird, moving closer to the boy who had wrapped the bird in the folds of his shirt. The boy who had shot the bird moved closer, so close that the boy holding the bird could smell his warmth, could taste his breath. “Give me that bird.”
“What do you even want him for?” asked the boy who was hoping he could somehow breathe life back into the limp little creature—maybe after the boy who had shot the bird took his gun and left. “I want to show my dad,” said the boy who had shot the bird, holding out his hand. “Come on, just give it to me. I’m the one who shot it.” The boy holding the bird didn’t believe the boy who shot the bird. He saw his eyes narrow when he’d said he wanted to show his dad. The narrowing of the eyes meant he had an awful joke in his mind. The boy holding the bird had seen the narrowing of the eyes before. He had learned the hard way. He knew exactly what it meant.
“Geez, give me the bird,” said the boy who had shot the bird. “No,” said the boy who was sure he could make the bird live if the boy who had shot the bird would just take his gun and go. God, make him go, thought the boy who believed the bird was being revived even as he held it close to his heartbeat.
The boy who had shot the bird grabbed the boy who was keeping the bird in hiding by the arm and started twisting, twisting and laughing. “Give me the bird or I’ll break your arm.” The boy who was hiding a hunted dead bird knew the boy who had killed the bird was lying. He wouldn’t break his arm. So the boy who was keeping the bird safe just let him twist for a while. He felt the pain shooting up into his shoulder, then his neck, until he heard a popping sound, “see I broke it,” said the boy who had shot the bird, letting go of the arm, looking a little worried.
But the arm wasn’t broken. The sound of the arm popping was just the sound joints make when put into strained positions. The boy who shot the bird was angry. “Why do you love that bird so much?” The boy was stroking the bird again, now that he had space to bring it out into the open again. “I don’t love it,” he said. “I just don’t want you hurting it anymore.”
“It’s dead,” said the boy now picking his gun back up, “it doesn’t matter anymore.” The boy with the gun pointed the gun at the boy with the bird, “Put it down.”
The boy with the bird felt his heart in his throat. The boy with the gun wasn’t serious; he did stuff like this all the time. The boy with the gun hated losing. But the gun had taken the life of the bird; was it possible it could also take the life of the boy who was holding the bird? “Stop it,” said the boy with the bird. “You’re acting stupid.”
“I shot the bird. I’ll shoot you.” The boy with the gun was shaking with rage. “Give me the bird.”
The boy with the bird was a little nervous. He had never seen his friend so angry. It didn’t matter, he decided, he would put the bird on the ground. It was dead anyway, it didn’t really matter. It wasn’t worth all this fighting. He brought the limp body out from under his sweatshirt and placed it gently on the ground. “Okay, okay. It’s your bird, you shot it.”
The boy with gun pointed the gun at the bird and shot it again. Then again. Then again. Bang! Bang! Bang! The boy with the gun shot the bird until it was hard to tell it was a bird anymore. Then the boy with the gun dropped the gun and walked away, slowly, going back home, going back to the place he had come from, leaving without the gun. All by himself, he was just a boy without a gun.
The boy who had done his best to save the bird picked up the ragged carcass by the corner of what looked like one of its wings and threw it as hard as he possibly could against the trunk of a large oak tree. Then he walked back out of the woods, slowly. All by himself he was just a boy without a dead bird.
The gun and the bird lay silent among the leaves.