Windows make all the difference. Darkness will consume this room, not now, not for some time. But without these windows, east and west, everything would be shades of grey. This life, that I barely live, would hold no color and therefore no purpose. Happiness does not enter this room; it has never existed here. Only me. Jennifer Wheeler comes in twice a day with a meal for me. She slips it through the bars and leaves me without saying a word. Her footsteps make little noise as she scurries away across the oak paneled floor. There is no turn when she reaches the door, no silhouette, no remembrance, no remorse. She goes on with her life and tries to forget about the cage in the corner. She is ashamed of me, I am ashamed of me. When the sun goes down and the windows turn into concrete blocks, no light finds me. I wonder… how can any place be so dark, so black? Has the moon hidden, is there no traffic, no life outside of this prison? If some creature would peer into this room it would see only a small twinkle of light which shines through my iris. But this brightness dims more and more each day. Soon I fear there will be no light at all in this room, even when the concrete turns back to glass.
The door to the north opens a crack, holds, then continues its arching path towards the north wall. A smaller Jennifer Wheeler comes in carrying a small tin tray. My tin tray. Larger Jennifer’s figure floats through the frame in the little one’s wake.
“Now remember, sweetie, just give him his food, and make sure to take a few steps back afterwards. Your grandpa brought him here and he would want us to watch over him, so that is what we are doing. But that is all we’ll do, okay? Now, I’ll go make us some lunch. Please be careful up here, and whatever you do, don’t let him out.”
Little Jennifer is not ashamed of me. She looks directly at me, into me. Her gaze pins me to the back of my cell. She stands and waits, shifts and stares. She doesn’t look disgusted or fearful. She looks almost… happy. She takes a step forward and I am taken aback. She notices my reaction but it doesn’t shake her. She takes another step closer and reaches out. Her small peach hand slides through the bars and towards my face. I compose myself and accept what is happening. I inch towards her hand and rest my face against her warm little fingers. The warmth. It is tremendous. My heart beats strong and in rhythm. She tickles the side of my face and tells me I am beautiful. I am beautiful. I believe her.
The next sun seems to bring a new season. I feel looser, younger even. Crust falls from the corner of my eyes. I watch it fall to the floor. I stare down at it long and hard. Little Jennifer brings me my lunch again and we sit together for a long while. After I clean my plate she opens up the east window. The breeze. The love. I begin to sing. I used to sing all the time, but those times have passed me by, almost forgotten. Little Jennifer seems to like my voice because after the first verse she joins me for the second. The old song and dance.
Every morning, hours after the sun rises, she has come to see me. We sing and talk and look out the window.
“That’s your home out there, isn’t it?” she says. Maybe it is my home, maybe. I haven’t been on the other side of these bars in so long, it almost scares me to think about leaving this cage now. I used to dream of the outside, of the wind and the sun. I turn my head to the side and give Little Jennifer a long quizzical look. She strokes my crest and hums.
“I don’t think it’s fair for you to be locked up like this. You have so little space. I would go crazy.” She is starting to get upset. I peck at her knuckles and then at the little beaten lock. She unlatches the door and I see the room for the first time without its normal copper dissection. I step through the gateway and hop up to her shoulder. Goosebumps rise to cover her neck as I peck affectionately at her tiny pearl earring.
“Tomorrow, when I come to bring you your lunch we will sit and sing, like usual. But when I leave, I will leave the east window open and your cage unlatched. Do you understand what I’m saying?” I look down at my toes, black and cracking.
Jennifer and her little tin arrive as promised, early in the day. She lacks significant color but carries herself in a satisfied manner. This may be the last time I see my only friend. I eat everything off my tin. We stare out the window and sing high but short tunes. A cold chill pushes through the window frame and forces our last moments upon us. She put two little fingers on top of my foot.
“Goodbye, beautiful,” she says.
“Goodbye, darling,” I chirp. Her footsteps make little noise as she scurries away across the oak paneled floor. There is no turn when she reaches the door, no eye contact, no remorse. She goes on with her life but will always remember the cage in the corner.
Now, here I sit, on the window’s edge. Halfway between the cage and the sun, the girl and the wind. The room is completely quiet, perfectly unsettling. My cage does not stir. How very small that cage is. I beat my wings twice leaving dust to settle in the air as I make my escape. Everything is beautiful.
Mike A. Scalzitti writes in Illinois, USA.
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