I couldn’t have imagined a better birthday gift. I thought it expressed my acute interest in him, and I also thought it was a spot-on emblem for so many of life’s perfections and mysteries. And besides, he’s the one that wished he was a bird.
Unfortunately, he didn’t share my enthusiasm. I showed up on his front step, with my package neatly wrapped in hand-crafted wrapping paper (dad’s scraps of vellum, my drawings in Indian ink). He had actually been at home sick for about a week from school with the measles, so I wasn’t expecting a huge show of appreciation. But I really didn’t expect this.
I rang the doorbell.
“Oh hey, Lorne,” he smiled.
“Happy birthday,” I smiled back.
“Want to come in? You can, I’m not contagious.”
“Sure. I have something for you,” I said as I walked into the foyer, and pulled the parcel out from behind my back.
He smiled with his eyes. I was always fascinated by how he could do that. We took a seat on the living room sofa. A terribly uncomfortable piece of furniture. The room was well lit enough, a nice sky light over head. I always feel way more at ease in natural light. But the colour scheme of the room hardly made any sense, and I was just about to probe him for details on what his mother was thinking when he reminded me of the gift.
“I love surprises. I never get surprises anymore. It’s like, you turn 13 and your parents decide that it’s time for life to become less interesting. They gave me a bank account for my birthday. Isn’t that weird?”
“Definitely weird. Sorry about that one. Maybe this will make up for it,” I handed him the pretty little box, and took a deep breath.
He carefully unwrapped the gift, taking care not to tear the paper, and told me how cool it was that I drew beetles all over it. He opened the box, took out the small item inside, and removed the tissue paper.
“Is..is.. this real?” he asked, growing pale.
“Yep. The day after our walk through the woods a few weeks ago, I went back to the same spot, just to see if they were still there. But, they weren’t. They’d all flown off somewhere. Except for this one – it was just laying on the ground, as if it had just teetered off the branch in its sleep and never woke up. I knew right away that I had to preserve it. Such a pretty creature, with nobody to remember it, nobody to appreciate how distinctive it is. It made me sad that things just fall away like that, without any warning. And then what happens? It just disappears forever, rots into the ground? I guess that’s life and whatever, but – but I really thought you would appreciate it. I mean, that day, you told me how you’d love to be a sparrow. So I wrapped it up in my cardigan, and brought it to the taxidermist right away. It’s just so fascinating how real it looks now, isn’t it?”
“Nick? Are you alright?”