Tyler caught his breath and cleared his throat. He took another sip of his cooling coffee and turned away from the calmness of the lake and back toward the lake house kitchen. He considered making some breakfast, some sort of real country breakfast, eggs and ham and hash browns, orange juice and a slice of toast. His stomach grumbled at the prospect of such a heady breakfast. Maybe he’d just have some bran.
He stepped away from the quiet of nature and back inside the lake house. He closed the sliding glass door behind him and placed his coffee mug on the kitchen counter. He was stepping toward the cabinet to get himself a bowl and cereal when he heard a dramatic thud on the side of the house. It made him jump and cry out. He’d been a little nervous about staying in this rural setting all by himself. He had visions of a hatchet wielding murderer breaking in and hacking him up slowly, because it would probably take a while with a hatchet. He worried about some redneck locals getting wind of his stay and taking it upon themselves to introduce him to their way of life, whatever that way is. The thud on the side of the house only seemed to fuel his fears. The breakdown he’d had in the city was still very fresh on his mind.
A sickly squawking caught Tyler’s attention and his fears of a hatchet wielding redneck breaking through the doors quickly faded. He guessed some sort of bird had probably crashed into the house. Maybe it was confused by the morning mist or some other thing about nature which a city boy like Tyler just couldn’t understand. Tyler went to the side door of the house and slipped on his tennis shoes. He grabbed his light jacket off the coatrack. He opened the side door and stepped outside onto the concrete walkway that led around the house. He felt the chill of the morning still lingering and caught a light whiff of something wet and moldy in the air. He felt a shiver but pressed forward toward the sound of the desperate squawking.
Tyler turned the corner of the large lake house and looked up at the cedar shake siding and could see a large blood spot just under the first floor windows. His eyes followed the facade of the house down toward the grass below and he could see a very large black clump of feathers heaving and floundering. He felt his stomach turn a bit. The bird was so large. Larger than any he’d ever seen in the city. It was still alive and making a terrible noise. Tyler looked out toward the long gravel road that led up the house. There wasn’t another house or building for miles around. This lake house was a very reclusive location.
Tyler stepped through the grass, clutching his coat closed over his chest. He was reminded of the time he was eight and Jimmy Logan and he found a dead dog near the train tracks. It had clearly been hit by a train and Tyler figured it probably hadn’t suffered. Jimmy Logan poked at the dog with a stick and Tyler got mad at him for doing so. Tyler’s father had always told him to let sleeping dogs lie, and this dog was certainly sleeping. He swatted the stick away from Jimmy Logan’s hand and told him he shouldn’t do that to the poor old dog. Jimmy Logan had just laughed at him and called him a little queer before running off. Tyler stared at the dog for a while. He just didn’t know what to do about the dog, so he left it there, but it never really left his memory.
The bird cried out and rolled around on the grass. Tyler stepped back from it. He felt a wrenching rising in his throat. The bird was bloody on its right side, like it might have escaped the clutches of a larger predator before fleeing madly into the side of the lake house. It cried out loudly again and its black eyes looked up at Tyler. The bluish, black feathers were matted with bright red blood and Tyler could see a patch of feathers were missing. The bird tried to get up but clearly couldn’t. Tyler didn’t know what to do. The eyes, the eyes looked so panicked. The bird seemed to be begging Tyler to do something, to help it. Tyler felt the cruelty of nature. He felt the cruelty of his own crashes. He had a new understanding of why he had hurt Mary so badly with his craziness and why his bosses had sent him on this sabbatical. The bird’s eyes seemed to reveal all that nature could do, to a bird, to a man’s soul.
The bird flopped on the grass, as if trying to fly. Tyler stepped back and looked toward the landscaping shed. He had a clear vision of what he had to do. He walked to the shed and unclasped the small hook lock. He peered inside its darkness and found what he was looking for hanging neatly on the wall. The landscapers were sure diligent about putting tools back in their proper place. He took the shovel down and walked back to the flopping bird. His resolve started to waver as he got closer. He started to doubt his action. “Maybe it’ll get better,” he thought to himself but he sort of knew it was a lie.
“I’m sorry little guy, but it’s for the best,” said Tyler and he swung the shovel up over his head and brought it down as hard as he could on the bird’s head. He held it there for a moment and felt his eyes tear up. He lifted the shovel up gently and saw the sad bird’s smashed head. The bird had stopped crying. It had stopped everything. The lake house was quiet again. It was a pure silence; a silence that seemed too quiet, like an echo of silence.
Tyler started to cry. He kneeled down into the grass next to the bird and cried. He cried for what felt like the first time. It was the sobbing of a child into a pillow and it was start of Tyler’s return to honest living. He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his jacket and stood up. He turned back toward the shed to look for a trash bag, and then to dig a grave.