Kelly stumbled upon the bird’s nest as she was ordering her imaginary servants to fetch her some tea for her meeting with the King. She was skipping towards the river, preparing to freshen up for the meeting. She was only a few feet away from the rushing water when she noticed the bright white out of the corner of her eye. She caught her foot at the last minute, the tip of her toes touching one of the three eggs that had fallen to the ground. Kelly leaned forward curiously, looking at the mess. The twigs and leaves that had once made a secure home had come undone, leavingthe eggs vulnerable to predators.
Kelly plopped herself on the ground. She looked closer at the three, reaching a hesitant finger towards them. There was not a speck of dirt on any of them, all were white and smooth on the outside.
“What are you doing out here?” Kelly immediately recognized her brother’s voice and turned around.
“I thought you were punished,” Kelly replied. Joe’s fists were shoved in his pockets and his shaggy hair brushed his forehead as he approached her.
“I don’t even deserve to be punished,” he said. “But if you tell her I’m out here, I’ll tell her you’ve been using her lipstick,”
Kelly frowned at the threat. She had only used the bright pink one; it was the one that her mother never used. Her mother rarely even wore make up anymore, not since their father had been away for most of the summer.
“What are you looking at?” Joe asked, peering over his sister’s shoulder. “Some dog shit or something?”
“Nuh-uh,” she grumbled. She cuddled the eggs protectively. “They’re bird’s eggs. I just found them here.”
“That’s boring,” Joe sighed. He walked around to face her while kicking some rocks with his shoe. He was tall for fifteen, towering at a height of five foot eight inches. It was surprising to see him out at such an hour; he was usually locked in his room, punished or not, with loud music blaring from the crack under the door. “Let’s go swimming or something.”
“You know I can’t swim,” Kelly said.
“Why? Are you stupid or something?”
“No!” Kelly shouted. “Daddy was supposed to teach me,”
“You’ll probably never learn how to now.”
“That’s not true,” Kelly argued, petting one of the eggs gingerly with her fingers. “Mommy said—“
“Mommy doesn’t know anything,” Joe said. “She’s just as stupid as you are. Dad left; I saw his suitcases.”
“Mommy said,” Kelly continued. “that he would be back for Thanksgiving.”
“Yeah, right. Unless he suddenly decides to leave Sue, I don’t think so.”
Kelly ignored the remark. She remembered Sue, her father’s assistant. Kelly had always admired her long blond hair and big blue eyes whenever she came over– which happened to be when their mother was out with her friends.
“Look at how pretty it is,” Kelly said. She turned one of the eggs slowly to display its smooth surface as Joe started throwing sticks into the river. “And there’s a little birdy in there too. I think I can feel its heartbeat.”
“No you can’t,” Joe said. He leaned against the trunk of a tree, looking out at the river. “There’s probably a yolk in there or something, like the kind we eat.”
“Nuh-uh,” Kelly said. She knew the baby was in there; the fluffy little spec of bird with its tiny beak trying to crack at the shell. She gave the egg a slight shake and felt the inside jiggle with the movement. “Joe, here! I swear it’s inside–I felt it!”
Joe took the egg from his sister, watching her eyes widen with excitement as she lifted another from the ground. Joe was jealous– all he saw was an egg. He felt hungry, thinking of the fresh scrambled eggs their Dad would make for breakfast.
“What’s the big deal?”
“You don’t think they’re pretty? Or cool?” Kelly asked, rubbing one against her cheek with a grin. “They’re so warm!”
Joe rolled his eyes but leaned in, giving the egg a shake.
“Nothing’s in there,” he concluded.
“Yes, there is. Maybe they like me more than you,” Kelly replied, looking up at him. “They jiggle for me,”
“Shut up, they do not. They’re just dumb birds,” Joe said. His fingers tightened around the delicate egg. It felt light and thin under his long fingers. “It doesn’t matter what they think.”
“Everyone always likes me better,” Kelly instigated, taking up the last egg in her other hand. This one had a tiny, jagged slice running down the middle. She frowned at the imperfection and turned to look at the other egg. “I have more friends than you. I have Rebecca, Tyler, Carol, Nora and Maria.”
“They all told me they didn’t like you,”
“Who did?” Kelly asked. She looked up at him expectantly, her bushy red hair framing her round face. “You’re always making things up.”
“It’s true. Dad thought you were annoying,” Joe said casually. “That’s why he left,”
“You said it was because of Ms. Sue,” Kelly said. “Daddy loves me.”
“He never even taught you how to swim, and you’re six! He taught me when I was five,” Joe said. He looked out at the river again. It was wide, almost ten feet across. Their father had pushed him in the water abruptly, yelling that he would learn no other way as Joe tried to scramble up to the surface for air. Joe remembered how scared he was when he crawled back onto the shore, gasping for air, dripping wet with his hair blurring his vision.
“No, Daddy never liked you,” Kelly said. She started to get mad. Her dad always loved her. He was going to come back; Mommy said so. “He hated you because you kept stealing his magazines from under his bed! He told me once, he said, ‘Kelly, I’m glad you don’t steal from your father like your stupid brother’.”
“He never said that!” Joe yelled. “Stop lying Kelly, no one likes a liar!”
“He said that, he really did!”
“Kelly, you better shut your mouth before I shut it for you,” Joe said. He glared at her, his fingers pressing down on the egg.
“No you won’t! I’ll tell Mom!”
“Mom’s not going to do anything,” Joe said. “She didn’t even see me leave the house before, she just sat in front of the window and stared out at the street. She doesn’t even make us breakfast anymore, Kelly; I put those pancakes on your plate every morning!”
“She still tucks me in,” Kelly answered after a moment, refusing to look at him. “She reads me stories.”
“Yeah, for how long? Five minutes? Dad used to read them to you for an hour.”
“Mommy made me lunch yesterday,”
“No, I did. I made you that peanut butter sandwich; Mom put it on your plate because I went over Billy’s,” Joe said, referring to their neighbor down the road. “All she does is takes away our tv time! She sits in front of it all day, hogging the remote! She—“
Joe looked down at his hand and tightened his fingers, squashing the egg into pieces. The mucus of the egg and the baby bird slipped through his fingers to the ground. The bird’s body was limp, covered in slime. It was a soft pink and had no feathers. It didn’t have much of a beak either, only a small tip coming from its head that signified there was going to be one if it had more time to grow. The body was contorted in dramatic angles from falling, and the broken shell was scattered around it.
“Joe!” Kelly yelled. She let both her eggs slide softly to the ground. She couldn’t stop crying as she crawled over to the broken egg. “You killed him. He was going to grow up to be a big bird and eat worms and stuff!”
Joe looked down at his feet. He felt no shame for what he had done. He watched his sister, slowly getting agitated at her crying.
“What’s your problem? It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just an egg, Kelly.” Joe walked over to the other eggs and quickly scooped the cracked one up. Kelly bolted towards him, realizing that he may hurt the others.
“Stop it! Stop you bully!” she cried out.
“Get off of me,” he growled, trying to shake her off. “You’ve never cried like this before! Birds are nothing to cry over; there’s a million more in the trees.”
“They’re only babies. They don’t deserve to die,” Kelly said. She couldn’t bear to look at the dead bird anymore and fell to her brother’s feet, smothering her face in his pant leg.
“Deserve it? No one deserves half the shit that happens to them!” Joe said. “You care more about these stupid things than–” He was unable to finish. He forced the egg into Kelly’s view, waving it in front of her as she cried. “What’s so special about these? Are you being their new mommy? You care about them so much you think you’ve laid them or something? No one gets a new mommy, Kelly, not even birds.”
“Maybe if we kept one,” Kelly said. She was quiet as she spoke, her head bent to the ground to avoid her brother’s glare. “Mommy would let us hatch it at home and if it grows up to be really cute, Daddy would come over to see it.”
“Kelly!” Joe shoved her off his leg. “Dad’s not coming back! Did you even listen to me? He’s gone! Forever! No bird is going to make him come home!” He reached his arm up and pulled it back. Kelly shrieked as Joe released his stance and threw the egg into the river. It happened so quickly that Kelly barely had time to get up from the grass. Joe stood for a moment to look down at her then shuffled to the last egg.
“No, Joe! Stop it! They didn’t do anything to you!”
“There is nothing these birds can do,” Joe replied. He stared at his sister, yelling at him as he cranked his arm back. Kelly jumped up to try and reach his hand. She remembered how she was always able to reach her father’s hand whenever he teased her. He would lower his elbow slightly so Kelly could grab the item from his grasp, running a victory lap and bursting out laughing as her father chased her down to grab it back. As she tried to reach her brother’s, however, her fingertips barely reached the bottom of his palm.
Desperation kicked in as Kelly stomped on Joe’s toes, screaming incoherent words at him then succumbing to calling their mother with a one last piercing cry.
Joe ignored all the protests. Their mother didn’t respond to Kelly’s call. Without blinking, he threw the last egg into the river.
“You bully! You’re so mean, Joe. I’m gonna tell,” she cried. “I’m gonna tell that you killed those poor animals.”
“Who? Who are you going to tell, Kelly?” Joe asked.
Kelly pulled her legs in to her chest and buried her face into her knees. She couldn’t answer as she heaved on the ground, trying to suck in oxygen. She heard the rush of water from the river behind her muffle her brother’s voice.
“Come on Kelly,” Joe said after he had heard enough of her sobs. “Get up.”
“No.” She curled up tighter into a ball.
“Kelly, get up,” Joe ordered more forcefully, stepping towards her. “It’s not that bad; it had to happen.”
“No! Go away! You’re going to throw me in next!” Kelly screamed. She kicked her legs violently as Joe got closer, his arms outstretched to pull her to her feet. Kelly was successful with her kicks as she thrust her heel straight into Joe’s kneecap. Howling, he hunched over to nurse it with his hands while cursing his sister.
“Whatever, Kelly,” he muttered. Joe rubbed his knee with both hands in a crouched position. As he paused, praying the throbbing would stop, he stared at his sister. He couldn’t see her face as she buried it deeper into herself. He felt a sudden urge to leave, to run back to their house and shut the door to his room. Joe followed his gut and turned around. He slowly limped back towards their house without looking back.
Kelly watched him leave. She was unable to call after him, but followed his lead. She slowly got up. Her legs felt like jelly, and she felt heavier than before. Her body weighed her down as she walked home.
The river was only a few feet from Kelly’s backyard. She could see her house nearby. She walked to the back door. The screen on the upper half of the door was tearing at the sides and swaying in the slight breeze. Kelly saw that there wasn’t even a doorknob attached.
Pushing the door open, Kelly walked into the kitchen, then the living room. Joe had been right; their mother sat on the couch, her back facing Kelly.
“Mom?” Kelly asked. Her mother’s hair was curly like Kelly’s, and just as red. Her mother had gotten thinner within the past few months. Her skin was tight against her bones, and it seemed to be paler then before. Kelly remembered when her mother used to threaten her with no dessert if she didn’t clear her plate at dinner.
Kelly walked in front of the television. Her mother’s eyes continued to stare until a few moments passed, then they flicked up to Kelly’s face.
“What are you doing, Kelly?” she asked. “Scoot! You’re blocking the tv.”
Kelly frowned. New tears started to form as she shuffled to the side.
“Mom,” Kelly said. “Joe was being mean to me outside. I found bird eggs and then he just threw them into the river. He killed the babies, Mom.”
Her mother didn’t answer. The people on the television laughed.
Kelly waited a few more seconds before turning her back to her mother. The climb upstairs to her bedroom was long. Each step she took echoed throughout the silent house. She passed her brother’s room. There was no music playing and no light filtered underneath the door. He probably snuck out of his window, or walked straight out the door to hang out with friends or wander around town. Kelly knew she was alone.
As she reached her room, Kelly didn’t feel like crying anymore. Her room, scattered with posters of kittens and puppies, and stuffed animals lining the top of her bed, all seemed wrong. The pink bedspread seemed too bright. The dolls lying on her dresser no longer inspired imaginative scenarios. Kelly walked into her room and shut the door quietly behind her.