BY JOHN TIMM
Copyright is held by the author.
IT’S REALLY nothing more than a simple errand. Just a quick trip to the dollar store for what I need to finish cleaning up that little mess I’ve just made back at the apartment. Another bottle of bleach, another bottle of pine-scented household cleaner, a better brush, and I’ll be on my way.
Bleach, cleaner and brush secured, I push my cart towards the front of the store. Mission
Accomplished — almost. The checkout line is long, and, as usual, there’s only one cashier. So we wait. A long trail of anonymous people. Who wait.
I’ve always been a sucker for those animated plastic figures they display in front of the checkouts to snare us while we stand in line. While we wait. Battery-powered daisies that wave in spring. Dancing scarecrows at Halloween. Jolly, jiggling snowmen at Christmas. Impulse items. Tempting, tantalizing things we don’t need, things we don’t really want, but things we end up buying anyway. While we wait.
Today it’s plastic birds, all different colours. The other customers are raving about them. There’s a demonstration model — a red plastic cardinal. You wave your hand in front of it and it chirps. Four or five people step up to choose a bird. There were several shelves of birds when I first got in line. Now the shelves are emptying even as I’m standing here. Waiting.
I’m next. Finally. The red plastic cardinal is within arm’s reach. I fight the temptation to grab one from the shelf. No, too many times I’ve come home with something equally useless.
Too many times Raymond’s thrown a fit. More than once, I’ve tossed something like it into the dumpster behind the apartment and torn up the sales receipt, afraid of another ugly scene with Raymond. I don’t need to be reminded. Not on this day of all days.
The line has stopped moving. Again. The customer ahead of me is having some sort of issue. The manager steps in, and my 15-minute errand is stretching into half an hour. Meanwhile, I swear that the red demonstration bird is looking at me. Staring at me. I turn away. As I do, it begins to chirp. I’m not sure what a real cardinal sounds like, but this one keeps on chirping and chirping. Then, thankfully, a moment of silence. I look forward. The customer, the manager and the cashier are still talking, gesturing. The bird remains quiet a few seconds more; then it starts to chirp again, as if to regain my attention. I try my best to ignore it. The bird persists. The people around me are enthralled with the bird. Me? I’m becoming more and more irritated by the moment at its insistence, at its ceaseless “chirrrp, chirrrp, chirrrp . . .”
Slowly, the chirping is beginning to change pitch and sound more like a human voice. A human voice that sounds like Raymond. I swear it, a lot like Raymond. A ragged, angry chirping. Like Raymond belittling me. Like Raymond berating me. It’s the sort of thing that has made we want to do bad things, terrible things, unthinkable things to Raymond. And now, to this bird, to this wretched, nasty, nagging bird.
The impulse overwhelms me. I lunge forward, grab, and fling it to the floor. It breaks into a blizzard of red pieces that scatter at the feet of the people lined up behind me. Inside there’s a shiny metal mechanism of some sort. And there’s blood. Yes, blood. I see it forming a pool on the floor around the bird. I cover my eyes. I raise my hands to my ears, but the chirping doesn’t stop. No, it doesn’t, and now every remaining bird on the shelf joins in, condemning me with a deafening chorus of “chirrrp, chirrrp, chirrrp.” Their scolding drowns out the indignation of those around me. It drowns out the manager, whose attention has turned from the customer and the cashier to me. It masks the commotion as two officers enter the store and seize my wrists. The birds fall silent.
I look again to the floor and the broken bird. It makes one final, accusing chirp before the batteries roll away and disappear beneath the counter.