“An Audience of Feathers” by Jared Povanda

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I arrange the birds in an archipelago.

They stay still for me. The sparrows. The crows. The parakeet I borrowed from Mr. Thomas in 10A. All still. All silent. I crouch, haunches bunched tight, as it begins to snow outside. Gentle, so gentle, these March snow flurries. Goosebumps raise on my arms. I try to ignore the pain from the scratches, the pecks, the long, red, meandering talon marks.

“My grandmother taught me this,” I tell the audience of feathers. “It’s for conjuring. For bringing something into the world.” A large crow cocks her head, but she doesn’t leave her position at the front of the procession.

“You should understand, crow. It’s your kind who hold funerals for their dead. It’s your kind who practice necrophilia. Stop looking at me like I’m the weird one.”

I stand, muscles raw, back sore, arms stretched to the ceiling. I’m shirtless for the effect of it, and the goosebumps trail down me, make my hair stand on end. The windows in front of me collect snow on their sills.

There is a desk to my right, and it’s piled with letters. Harvey’s letters. I almost cross the room and pick the newest one from the pile. The paper isn’t yet yellow and cracked from over-reading.

“Ready?”

The birds stare at me with their beady, bright, bounding eyes. None of them move.

I nod and take a breath. Take a breath. Take—

Latin spills from my mouth. Words with round edges and sharp curves. Words that make my tongue itch.

It’s March 15, and Caesar’s ghost has dropped through the ceiling to watch. Caesar and Brutus, friends again and grammarians. I can hear them correcting me, and I want to shout at them, they’ll scare the birds before I’m done, but if I stop, everything’ll surely go to Hell.

I have to trust. I have to take trust between my hands, cup its shape on my palms, and stroke the letters until they trust me back.

This is for Harvey. Harvey, Harvey, Harvey and his letters. Harvey and his hatred of strawberries. Harvey and that piece of hair of his that’d never stay gelled down an entire night before springing up again. Harvey, the journalist. Harvey, my best friend. Harvey who loved the ocean. The sand. Harvey, my piña colada man. My little-pink-umbrella-in-a-drink guy. Harvey and his smile. The way he stood tall, protecting me from bully-punches, a grin on his face. Harvey, the brother. The son. The prince of his family. My king.

I remind myself of this as the Latin rolls off my tongue in foam-tipped waves. I remind myself of this as the parakeet begins to shake, feathers erect, and then blinks from existence. The other birds do not move. Do not panic.

One by one, as Caesar and Brutus look on, quiet now, the archipelago implodes. The avian islands sink into the air, into nothingness, into the syllables spinning in the breeze like last autumn’s leaves.

The blood, the bones, the beaks, all for Harvey. For his long, hairy legs and his arms and broad chest and the way his nose hooked. Harvey, and his loamy eyes. I plant the spell in each iris.

His body unbends, unfolds from that same nothingness, levitating feet off the ground. The bullet’s entry wound closes. His lungs knit back together.

When we were children, who could have guessed he’d be dead at twenty-eight and I’d be building a new Harvey out of bird bodies in my living room? Who could have known the ghosts of Roman emperors would watch me, and then pick through those letters, the letters he always insisted on writing—email was too impersonal for him—when we were states apart, in college, and then after, both of us traveling separately and too often for work? Who could have known the bullet would strike him dead on impact?

Who could have known I would eventually cradle his bleeding heart to my broken one?

My mouth is dry. My lips crack from the cold of the snow. There is only the last crow now, and she goes to open her beak, goes to say something, but the world is unfair to women of every species, and my spell rewinds her into the void with all the rest before she can do it.

The Latin dies.

The ghosts look on, Brutus gripping Caesar’s shoulder, and I wonder, fleetingly, how many times Brutus has apologized to his king for what he did.

The snow is on a soft descent outside.

Harvey drifts to the ground with it. Perfect Harvey. And I smile. I smile, and I start to laugh and bounce up and down.

“You’re here! Harvey, you’re here. Open your eyes, man. Open your eyes.”

I crouch by his naked body, haunches bunched tight, hope a sky we’re both flying through. His heart beats a steady rhythm. Wing flaps of an eagle.

I wait. I wait. I wait, and the ghosts wait, peering over my shoulder, and even they smile when Harvey’s brown eyes stare back at me.

I wipe away a tear. “Harvey, god, Harvey. It’s so good to have—”

He jolts up, sudden, fast, and fast-forward, like a video of an island being born from the sea. Like a bird, launching into flight.

“CAW!” Harvey shouts. “Caw, Caw, Car—lack! Car—lack, caw! Caw!” His hands are on my shoulders, and his nails embed themselves in my skin, and I’m bleeding, but I can barely feel it through the tears.

“What? But I did everything right? I did!” I’m shouting, trying to stand. Harvey’s cawing, trying to keep me down, and we’re a tangle of messy limbs and blood and feather-bits and bits of bone and we crash into the table with his letters.

Something cracks, but I don’t really feel that, either. Papers float down all around us, all around— white, white, white, snow on the inside—and I look into his anguished face, those eyes of his, and he keeps squawking. Keeps pointing at his throat.

Caesar retracts into the ceiling, I hear him, and I understand his English.

“Every year, I tell people to beware the Ides of March, but do they ever listen? Do they? No…”     

“I’m sorry,” I coo to my Harvey. “I’m so, so sorry. But I can fix this! I can! Trust me. Trust me.”

I reach a hand out to him, praying, but he just stares at it with beady, bright, bounding eyes, uncertain and unmoving, the start of a new archipelago, maybe, but also just a man. A man who’s looking at me now as if I were his great betrayer, as if I wanted this. As if I plunged a knife deep into my king’s back on purpose.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, sobs shaking me. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

Harvey tips his head up in answer, muscled arms spread wild like wings, and lets out one final, piercing cry.

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