They descend in clattering droves, sag telephone lines, drip from the tulip tree like rotten fruit. You watch from the window, push your nose against the pane. Your mother tells you about a sudden spring snowstorm, about a speckled egg found on the doorstep. How she candled the shell and saw a sleeping girl tucked inside. Saw the shiver of her mustard seed heart. How she knew this day would come.
When the cowbirds come to carry your sister away, it all makes sense to you now: your sister’s penchant for heights, her constant preening, the way she greets each day with a song. Your mother buckles your sister’s shoes, smooths the stubborn wings of her Peter Pan collar. Kisses the top of her head as she sends her out the door: What a pretty girl, such a pretty girl. Your sister looks back at your mother, blinks her bead black eyes.
When the cowbirds come to carry your sister away, they hook her in a tangle of claw and beak, swallow her in a cloud of beating feathers, then disappear—a tight fist into the gloaming. You rip the curtains, tear the sashes. You cry for your cowbird sister until your mother claps her hands, shushes you quiet. It’s then you catch your reflection in the darkened glass—the press of pointed teeth against your lower lip, the twitch of ears when your mother pats the sofa: Be a good boy, come sit.
Audra Kerr Brown lives at the end of a dirt road in Iowa. Her short fiction has appeared in the Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions list. Her debut chapbook, hush hush hush, is available at Harbor Editions.
Show Audra some love via paypal at @audrakerrbrown.