Today is the day that one thousand blackbirds came to rest in the tree in your front yard. You don’t know what has brought them here, and neither does anyone else. You’ll wait for them to leave, as birds often do. But they’ll remain in hordes of hundreds, nested in the tree.
You can’t sleep past sun rise, when the birds begin to sing. Weeks pass, and still the birds stay. After two months, you start to pick fights with your wife over things you hear the birds say.
Houses on your street slowly begin to lose property value. Your neighbors gather in small clusters on the sidewalk to talk about you and the birds, never allowing themselves to look directly at your house. Over time ‘the’ blackbirds become ‘your’ blackbirds, your noisy delinquent children.
The tree’s losing leaves, and you hate to look at it, branches drooping with the weight of the birds. You hate to look at it so much that you’ve stopped venturing outside. The grass stands three feet tall, and your car is always covered in bird shit.
You contemplate extermination. But every phone call you make, fingertips skimming the Yellow Pages, is met with tones of disgust from Pest Control experts at being asked to kill the blackbirds. You stop dreaming of a way to rid yourself of the shame and the strange, unsettling shadow the birds have cast.
One day, you came home from work to find your wife shoving duffle bags into the trunk of her white Civic. You looked at her and she began to speak. You walked inside, your head bowed low, deaf to her justifications.
She could no longer handle the torture of the birds’ constant fluttering presence; she could no longer tune out their terrible songs. They’d come to her in a nightmare; she screamed and woke to silence. And she knew that she had to leave.
Six months pass from that red autumnal day. You wake up before the birds, alone as you always are, and you take an axe to the tree in the early morning sunshine. The constant heavy, dull thud of the axe wakes your neighbors before their alarm clocks get the chance. They appear heavy-lidded and dressed in bath robes in their kitchen and living room windows, hands hovering over foreheads, attempting to shield their eyes from the unforgiving yellow sun.
They pile into their sedans and mini-vans, heading off to work or school or yoga class, driving a little faster than usual, hoping to ignore the scene that you’re creating. The children watch you with noses pressed against the glass, leaving hot circles of breath where their mouths hung open.
You are alone on the street with the birds, their cries resounding louder and louder against the tar of the deserted cul-de-sac. You long ago gave up any hope of hearing your own thoughts; you work with the determination of a brave and dying man.
At one point, the axe heavy in your skinny arms, the sun high overhead sending cruel beads of sweat into the creases of your eyes, the screeching din of the birds threatening to swallow you alive, you pause.
And then you pick up the axe for what you already know will be your last effort in ridding yourself from the relentless scrutiny of thousands of black eyes.
The axe meets the trunk of the tree without enough force to sink in. It bounces off, and you are fleetingly glad that there is no one here to witness your last feeble attempt at sanity. But as the axe lands somewhere in the tall weeds, you hear the blood pulsing through your own veins, then silence.
It doesn’t last. Squinting, you look up into the branches of the tree. You hear the sound of thousands of long-dormant wings rushing to meet the brilliant blue sky, and you feel the warm breeze from the birds bursting from the tree without intention of return.
You left the axe where it landed, under the bare arms of the crooked dead tree. At night, you hear the branches creak and moan, alone but never lonely.