His meditation was interrupted.
He’d decided at the office that he would meditate as soon as he walked in the door. Before Coleen was home. It felt rude to meditate when she was there, when they had so little time together. It was also embarrassing. Just the thought of Coleen looking at him sitting lotus made him blush.
He was self-conscious and shy, violently so. He’d always been this way with everyone, not just Coleen, but she took it personally. And he was too shy to explain things. This was a problem, he knew, but it wasn’t going away, so he accepted it. He once woke to her looking at him, pillow-to-pillow, and he almost broke up with her.
“What the hell, Coleen!” he’d whisper-yelled.
“What do you mean, ‘what the hell?’”
“Are you gonna murder me?”
“No, I’m watching you sleep.”
“It’s romantic. You looked so peaceful!”
Sometimes Coleen was too much. It gave him the willies when she came on too strong. When she wanted to be all eye-contacty or overly supportive of his dreams. It felt like a hot breath in the face, all her emotional solicitousness, and he panicked. In the beginning, his panic meant not calling her for days and Tinder-chatting other girls. As they got serious, though, especially after she moved in, it became harder to find places to hide. They shared one bathroom, one bedroom; basically, only one of every room and of everything.
He rushed home from work, Mr. Rogered out of his jacket and slacks into his pajamas, and went to the deck, where he sat cross-legged and pinching his thumbs against his middle finger into the appropriate mudra. He didn’t believe that this hand gesture had any effect on his body, but he did it anyway out of respect. He took some rushed, deep inhales and held his breath until his muscles went a little woozy. Then he started his meditation app timer. It used gong sounds instead of a buzzer. It still made him half-scream last night because the volume was up too high.
So he started, unguided…It’s so funny, he thought to himself, I never decide what I’m going to do before the timer. I should stop it and decide. No, don’t. Just decide and do it. Okay, I’m going to do a body scan. A quick body scan…head, neck feel my neck. That’s enough. Now follow the breath. And sounds. No, if you focus on both you’ll end up focusing on nothing. But there are too many sounds. It’s rush hour. It would be ridiculous to try and ignore sound…See: a horn. A motorcycle. A little bird chirping, and fuck, forgot my breath…I wanna feel my whole body breathe. I want that tingly sensation that is absolute proof that I am just a cluster of cells, and that those cells are 90 percent emptiness, I want to be buzzing emptiness…more birds. Wow…Birds….
There was a flutter of wings—close, loud and large. He opened one eye. He saw a crow and two other birds dive-bombing at the crow. They were small, wren-like birds. Are they playing, he wondered, do birds play tag? Then he watched the crow land on his neighbor’s deck chair. He dropped his mudra and stood. The little birds kept diving and nipping at the crow.
Then he saw that the crow had something in his claws, pressed against the deck chair. He knew but couldn’t believe it. The crow began beak-shredding the little wrens’ baby. The wrens were losing their shit, flying in desperate loops, nipping at the crow’s back when they could. Nipping and chirping to save their baby. Their baby that was half gone, like pulled pork on a deck chair. Their chirps were screams, but at the same time sounded like every other bird chirp a human would hear and think, “Oh, I love happy little songbirds.” Wrens don’t have despair in their vocal range.
He watched the annoyed crow lift up, leaving the baby parts on the chair. It flew away with the little daddy wren on its tail. The momma wren flew back to the nest. A game of tag continued for about fifteen minutes, until sunset. The crow was it. It occasionally tried to swoop back down to the deck chair for another bite or into the nest for another baby, but the wrens were fighting for their lives. No…they were endangering their lives. The crow could beak the shit out of them (not the time for puns). They were fighting for their babies. They were risking their lives. Was this love or instinct? Was love instinct? They couldn’t cry but were grieving and screaming in their tweety way.
He started clapping the crow away. His claps did very little. He knew it was wrong to get involved with nature, but these were his neighbors, the Wrens. And they loved their children; instinctively probably, but also fiercely. He felt awful for them. And then he felt awful for the crow. This was its life. This was life. He was confused. If we were just clusters of 90 percent empty cells, then why did those cells instinctively kill and protect, love and hate. Why didn’t all the cells in the world just connect and chill and sing cellular kumbaya?
He heard the door. Coleen was home. “Come here!” he yelled. He showed her the baby bird parts on the deck chair, pointed out the crow and wren battling in the distance. She cried for the Wrens. What a feeler, that Coleen. She felt everything. Maybe her empty cells were highly connective. She looked so pretty in the gloaming light.
“I want to marry you…right now.”
He looked at Coleen for five seconds; the longest they’d ever held eye contact (even counting sex). In the stillness, with his breath suspended, he felt a spreading woozy warmth against the coolness of the air. He was tingling. And then he took a breath.
“But at other times I have my doubts. Like, it could be a disaster. But I overcomplicate things out of fear and overwhelm, until I feel nothing, but know on some level, I must have a feeling. But I don’t know. That’s why I sometimes withdraw, just to have room to feel…but I want—”
“Are you proposing? Over a dead baby bird?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
What the hell was he doing? Coleen looked horrified. Hurt. He watched her do the psychological math. Was she being symbolized as the baby bird, or the wren wife…or the crow? In many ways she was the crow to his baby bird of an inner life, the hungry crow. He was the Wrens (mommy, daddy, and baby), futilely flapping her away. For so long. For so many years. Until his wings hurt and he just gave in. Or was she his lady wren? Did he instinctively love her enough to fight for her? Probably, maybe. But it was hard to say. What did he want? What were they doing? Why couldn’t he open to her? She was too close, too much.
“Aaah!” He screamed, which made Coleen scream. Even the birds were startled.
“My meditation timer.”
“Okay. Let’s pause the talk. Let’s just eat…not the roast chicken. Let’s get a pizza.”
Coleen stepped inside. He gave her a moment then followed. The sky was now inky and a few stars were visible. The crow paused on a branch a few yards away. It was getting tired.
Rachel Sondag is from a tiny farm town in Central Illinois. She has worked as an actor in Chicago and LA, on stage and screen, and has written television and film projects. Her short film was selected for the 54th New York Film Festival in 2016. She’s delighted to have Burnt Pine Magazine publishing her first short story.