by Debbie Moorhouse
A bird this deep in the heart of the city was a wonder enough for one day.
At first blink, it was a scrap of fabric or cardboard worn out of shape by heat and rain. At second blink, a sparrow. Trailing my fingers along the blistering shopfronts, blinking eyes open, eyes shut, I almost didnâ€™t notice it had feathers in time to avoid treading on it. A dirty cock sparrow, grey with accumulated layers of dust, its eyes still wide and bright.
No sign of any struggle; it lay crushed and spent in a bend where the pavement was wider than normal. The hot wind, or perhaps the ceaseless movement of the crowd, had pushed it into a gap between two paving slabs.
I shuffled round it, opening my eyes only the fraction necessary to see where it lay. This was the shortest route to the hospital, but it took the full brunt of the sunâ€™s glare.
At third blink, I saw the bird was alive.
â€œMoron,â€ someone whispered as he elbowed me aside. Despite his aerator, the word was clearly articulated. I caught a glimpse of his eyes above the mask as he glanced at me; red-rimmed, they wept the grit driven on the wind.
Nobody I cared to see.
The bird hadnâ€™t moved, though perhaps it had blinked, or turned an eye. Its broken wings were still.
Head down, arms jerking to and fro at his sides, another man walked straight into me. The strap holding his aerator stuck up out of his hair like an unexpected tail. He inched along me, his breaths rasping in his throat, then resumed his march.
A sirenâ€™s despairing wail reminded me I was on my way to see Chris before he died.
What was keeping life in this bird? Why didnâ€™t it just give up and let go? Like others Iâ€™d rescued from cats, which had quivered and pulsed on the edge of freedom, then died in my hands. I wondered if I should stamp on it and put it out of its misery. But was it suffering? Its bright, quick eye gave no clues. Maybe I was too much of a coward, anyway. I walked on, leaving it lying there, alive.
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"Sundown" is roughly 6000 words.
Debbie Moorhouse is a British writer who also takes photographs. She reads slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and is always writing a novel. Her website is at alternatespecies.com, where you can read stuff, look at photos, and generally hang out.