After the accident, my brother took his lump sum payment and spent most of it on a giant net. I mean really big, like two hundred feet long and thirty feet wide. He mounted it at the edge of the yard behind his house, where domestic grass gave way to prairie scrub and weeds. He made me follow his hunched limp back there when I visited, and the net had caught so many birds you couldn’t see through them. Starlings, sparrows, wrens, and finches. Corvids, songbirds, raptors, cardinals and jays, together their feathers laid a carpet of color so thick they blotted out the evening sun.
“You can’t blame the birds for what happened,” I told my brother.
“Who said anything about blame,” he shot back at me. “This is about moving forward, my new life.”
I went home and he lowered the net and filled fabric sacks with birds, a pile for the quick and another for the dead. He loaded the living into his truck and drove to the mall and plucked them out of the sack and put them on the pet store counter to walk, dizzy and tired. The manager pushed back his thinning hair and said sorry, but no one was going to pay for birds you could just snatch out of the sky. My brother brought his sacks to our local gastropub, Protein, where the newspaper told us the head chef enjoyed a challenge. My brother tried to interest him in the press he’d get for a pie made from five and twenty domestic birds, but the chef said the bulked mass of my brother’s haul stopped his appetite. He preferred micro-meals, a single perfect bite. Last, my brother tried the soup kitchen, imagining, I imagine, that his bounty could add heft to the wasted frames of the homeless and hungry. Maybe he just wanted to get rid of the birds by then. Even the most lively at first had chirped their last. The soup kitchen called them lousy; they offered a receipt for tax purposes but said they couldn’t use them. My brother had his accident, then he had a settlement, and now he had all these birds. He couldn’t find anyone who was willing to take them away.
Matt Dube's stories have appeared in Parliament, Literary Yard, Front Porch, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-Missouri university and reads submissions for the online lit mag, Craft.