Author: Amanda Hard
Scarlet and orange leaves, chips of autumnal tree paint, fell on dry grass as the phoenix in my bird bath lifted his tired eyes.
“Damned,” he squawked, before flashing bright white, a blur of sparks and feathers of gray ash that floated to the ground like an early snow.
He’ll rebirth in a few hours under the ginkgo tree, in a soft nest of banana yellow fans and pink fruit that smells of feces and decay. He’ll drag his top-heavy, round-breasted chick body over to the concrete bath and peck drops of water and forgotten seed. I’ll sit in my chair watching the rising of Orion’s stars as they mark out the approach of winter, wondering where the phoenix roosts and what he does in the darkness.
Last year, as he burned, he took out a cardinal, its brilliance obliterated in a blinding instant of heat; its bird thoughts extinguished, leaving behind nothing but a sour, sulfurous odor that remained in the leaves for weeks. The bath stayed empty that year. Even the pigeons found more cheerful places to be.
Once, I caught him in the early hours of his renewal. I thought I saw him watching me from under a bush, his forward-facing bird eyes unblinking. I crawled slowly closer, on aching knees and calloused hands, and rested my chin in the cool dirt to look at him. To really look at him.
Curiously, where his beak should have been was the same dead nose hole as on my own skull. In that moment, before his regeneration began in full, I saw us reflected in each other’s eyes, mirrored in perpetuity, an infinite regression of one image: he the chick and me the old man, nothing but flesh-wrapped skeletons, one and the same. The fluff of down he wore now, before his adult feathers could come in, was my skin, row after row of soft wrinkles in paper-thin tissue. Both pairs of our eyes were hard and cold, the fire of our passions tempered by the repetition of years.
I told myself one day I would fill the basin with gasoline. End this stupid seasonal ritual. Maybe I’ll do it tonight, standing quietly by in the early morning with a cigar, my own spent years before me as a shield. Burn the little bastard’s soul before he can flaunt his youth in the brilliant lights of his self-immolation again.
Yes, I’ll burn him tonight, I decide. While he’s still a chick. Then I can go back to feeding the blue-gray pigeons who dumbly bob their way across the yard to the bath, as constant as the seasons; hatching and dying, getting old and fat, all of us sharing the same puddle of memory in a shallow concrete basin.
The bitterness oozes through. Well done.
Beautifully grim and yet so true and assessable and insightful. Lovely work, really impressive.
Flamboyant decay. I’m not really sure if I should be happy or sad about that, but it’s a lovely story.
I love how the story built up the melancholy tone. Almost like aging.