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The Bird

The Bird

Runner up for the Sally Manning Award for Indigenous Creative Non-Fiction
By Jamesie Fournier
May 11
2018
From the April/May 2018 Issue

Our myths are man’s experience
So, we do not always speak of pleasant things.
It is not possible to beautify a tale so it is pleasant to the listener and still remain the truth.

Outside in the snow, where am I? My breath curdles and I am staring at a pair of sneakers tied in telephone wires. Faded from the elements, they sway underneath a thin layer of snow. The stuff of memories; of things better left forgotten.

The chill scours my face. At this temperature, the world becomes more defined, more harsh, unforgiving. Heavy wood smoke mars the sky. Pine needles sharpen to poisonous quills. Snow crystallizes like powdered bleach. It is cold and I am standing outside staring at hanging sneakers and wishing they could fly.

In my culture we have a story. A story of a bird. A bird who had stolen himself a wife and spirited her away. Her father rescues her but the bird catches up to them at sea and, in his rage, he conjures a violent storm to capsize their umiaq, a large walrus skin boat. For fear of death, the father throws his daughter overboard and, as she tries to climb back in, he cuts off her fingers and, one by one, the severed fingers fall into the ocean and become the mammals of the sea. The woman drowns in the icy depths and becomes the goddess of the underworld. All the animals of the sea are hers and, by her grace, she allows them, or us, to be caught. From her cavern underneath the sea, she punishes those whom she feels are not living a just or respectful way of life.

It is a story that teaches respect. Respect for others. Respect for animals. Respect for the spirits, the land and ourselves. It is also causal. Actions have consequences, some more inescapable than others.

One night we were all exiting a bar called the Bird. Last call had come and gone and we were let loose, spilling our revelry and madness onto the streets. We stood outside laughing in the neon glow and when we looked up our view was directed pointing fingers. Gasps and laughter followed but were soon replaced by guilty silence. Above, hanging from the stray wires of a streetlight, a gull squawked and cawed into the night. Upside down and panicked, it had somehow gotten its feet tangled in the wires. It flapped its wings and screamed itself raw. We stood in despairing awe. Those who had just arrived pointed and laughed obscenely. It was short lived and eventually the alcohol that coursed through our veins soured into shame and remorse.

This was an injustice more calloused than any other demon courted that night. This was an affront against any security we held in the world. To have stepped out into the night to find this this albatross nailed to our door.

Its cries were heard and someone eventually called for help, someone who could do more than simply gawk and stare. All I know is that it wasn’t me. I recollect being vaguely aware, the sight of the bird had sent me other-wheres, thinking of all the places the gull would rather be. Lakeside, floating, sleeping in dark, calm waters. Anywhere but here, upside down and afraid, screaming into the night. Why did it come here? To this street, this bar, this night? Why had I?

Firefighters eventually arrived on the scene with their ladders and safety harnesses. Cries of joy rose from the crowd as they freed the bird and rocked it in the air, reviving it as you would a fish. The gull’s wings eventually caught air and he sailed off into the night, leaving our nightmare behind him. Perhaps he sailed to calmer waters. Perhaps not. We were left in our hollow glow, robbed of dignity; our folly and ineptitude as humans revealed in the neon glare. There was some redemption due to the firefighters, yet they looked down on us from above. Their eyes scoured over the crowd, us, the huddled, drunken masses; the ones to blame, as if we had plucked the gull from the air and tied it to the lamplight. This unease diffused through the crowd and we slinked back into the shadows to lick our wounds and erase this horrible feeling from our hearts. And, for those who had any talent for it, they never thought of it again. For others, though, the memory would resurface at odd and disturbing intervals, complete with pangs of regret and a yearning for dark, calmer waters.

I look around again, jilted out of mind, breath curling in the air, and wonder why have I come here, to this sterile crossroads withered on the vine, telling Her story again to my shame, lost like a beast screaming into the night.