Jason Mullin




     She warned us not to get too close to the nest. But we did not like to hear her, so we chose not to, though it was hard, for our mom did not fall mute with grace. Most of the time, the belt came first. Back then, she whipped us with style. Sparks burst from her eyes, bolts of light on our backs. She could be harsh, our mom, but we were skilled with knives, too, and when the time was right, we were not shy to slice her. As of late, her wrath had grown weak, so we pushed.
     Where is Dad, we asked. Once a day or more we asked her this; each time a smile crept on her face we let loose with it. What have you done with, Dad?
     She shrank.
     Just don’t get too close to the nest, she said. Or the mom will leave them.
     But these were our birds—perched on the sill by our front stairs, their cheeps fresh on our ears. We could not let their first songs drift off to the next house, caught on a wind not ours. Their perch was more than six feet high, so we could not see them. This drove us mad, forced us up on the tips of our toes, made us strain our necks for a glimpse. We fetched a milk crate, stepped up and peeked in the nest, a bowl of trash: string, sticks, scraps of brown bags, leaves, twigs, and dog hair. She watched us, this old bird, from the porch swing next door. She warned us, too, like our mom, but we liked her song and we did not mind that she feared us, not so much we stopped.
     The chicks were nude and their mouths hung wide like sick buds on a limp vine. We showed them our hands, said they were worms, and the birds did not doubt us. The shells sat off to the side, pale white with blue dots and long cracks. We made a point to touch each bird, stroked their heads like new pets. They asked us, in their way, if we loved them. We lied. Then we grew tired. No one but us made a peep for the rest of the night.
     By the time the sun rose the next day, the birds had flown from our minds. We ate sweet grains in whole milk. We watched our shows on the floor with our legs tied in knots. We did not brush our teeth, nor did we bathe.
     On the front porch, the moms wept side by side, ours and theirs, each of them lost in song, the low dirge of failed lives. Soon, our mom would beat us, though not so hard. We think she may have been too tired by then, for she set the belt down one lash in and hugged us, her tears hot on our necks. She held us that way for a long time, and then asked us to fetch the broom.
     We were glad of that, glad to go out on the porch and see them up close. But when we got there we were shocked to find their mom gone, to learn she could do such a thing and then fly off for new skies. We scooped up the dead chicks and did not sleep for days.


Jason Mullin is a fiction writer and playwright who earned his MFA from Cleveland State University and the NEOMFA. Currently, he works as an English Instructor at CSU. Although he dreams of one day escaping Northeast Ohio, he is comforted by the fact that he probably won't. His prose has appeared in Angle Magazine and Dark Sky Magazine, and a satiric play, The Greatest Story Ever Told, debuted at Cleveland Public Theatre in January, 2008.


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