by Lorna Garano

We were not to see it as a sign. On the morning the birds were to be killed the sky was streaked with pink and red, as if God had painted the heavens with blood to show his approval or at least his acknowledgment. Only minutes after dawn the rumors had gotten back to the First Father and he had taken to the community radio to stamp them out.

“A rational community cannot stand speculation, mystification, divination. It cannot abide projection, prophecy, occult nonsense. It cannot accept imaginary channels of knowledge. Idiocy is fecund. It multiplies if not killed early with silence. There is no message in the heavens for you decode, descry, interpret, relay. Turn your eyes not to the sky, but to the task at hand.”

The birds—mostly finches, wrens, and blue jays—lay strewn across the courtyard. They were paralyzed from the poison in the feeders, their eyes open and unmoving, as shallow as tattoos. Across the common area I saw Dennis's blonde head appear in his kitchen window.

My father knelt down in front of my mother and laced up the boots with steel toes and heavy soles; then she did the same for him. She pulled the laces tight, tied them at the top and then double-knotted them. They each tucked their pant legs into their boots.

I saw the wing of finch a flutter. Dennis waved and turned away. It was time. Questions had to be asked. We had decided that on the swings yesterday.

My mother was brushing her hair in the living room mirror and my father sat on the couch watching her.

“Why couldn't we just poison them?”

“We did,” my mother answered.

“No, I mean kill them, not just paralyze them?”

My mother stopped brushing her hair and caught my father's eyes in the mirror.

“Because the First Father says we have to handle this as a community.”

“We could have all poisoned them.”

“That wouldn't be … feasible.”

“Imagine us all out there dumping a little bit of poison into the feeders?” my father put in. “C'mon, a girl at the top of her class can't see that that wouldn't have worked?”

“Some could have done the poisoning, others the clean up,” I said.

Just then mother pulled me in front of the mirror.

“See the scars on your face? Do you the scars on Dennis's face? On your teacher's face, on Betsy's face? The whole community has been ravaged by those damn birds and their sickness. We have to rid ourselves of them.”

“You heard the First Father's announcement about how the birds had spread the virus,” my father added.

My mother's hand was on the back of my neck and she squeezed it until I cried out.

We could hear voices coming from the courtyard.

My parents left and I returned to the window. Dennis wasn't there, but I saw his mother and father in the courtyard. Like everyone else they were dressed in coveralls and heavy boots.

The First Father came over the radio.

“Break into four groups like we discussed. Each group take a corner and work toward the center of the courtyard. Stomp as many birds as you can on your way to the middle. We'll do a review afterward to make sure we got them all.”

The crowd broke apart and huddled in the corners.

“Let's begin,” the First Father said.

For a moment they were as still as the birds. Then my father emerged from the southeast corner, lifted his foot and slammed it down across the breast of a blue jay. Blood spurted around it like a red shadow and its feathers splayed out. Its head was mashed against the floor and pointed right as if it were looking away. The others followed along. They moved in diagonally, stomping down on the immobilized fat breasts of the birds. Bursting them like blood-filled balloons, the delicate innards exploding out in pink tendrils. I could hear the snapping of toothpick-like bones and beaks. Red streaks formed on the floor with bits of feathers stuck in them. Soon the pants of every member of the community were spattered with blood and feathers.

Dennis still hadn't returned.

I ran back into our apartment and to my room. I threw open the window and pretended I was a bird.