I hadn’t seen anybody in weeks.
That wasn’t entirely true. I saw Manny every day, if you call peering out the window at the fallen husk that had been his body “seeing.” He’d gotten tired of waiting, tired of wanting something to change, and he’d grabbed a shovel and crossed the lawn to the lichen-covered wooden fence, using the tool like an unwieldy axe to slice and chop and scrape at the lichen, trying to clear an area around the gate to get out. He wasn’t careful enough, I know that much. I couldn’t see what got him – maybe his hand slipped to far down the shovel, or maybe a bit flew into the air and he inhaled it. But I did see him stumble away from the fence, twisting as he fell.
The lichen was already starting to creep across his skin before he hit the ground, and I still haven’t decided if it was blessed or horrific that he never even screamed; he just squirmed and went still, while skin and hair disappeared beneath an uneven layer of mottling green. It crept out onto the grass as well, but once it hit the edge of the cement walk that rings the house, it halted.
Every day I check, and the lichen hasn’t moved from his body; it looks lower to the ground than it was. I’m not sure if its eating him, or if he’s decomposing. That was still unclear even after everything went into lockdown and quarantine, before all the television signals cut out.
Yesterday, though, I saw the bird.
I’ve never been very good with birds. It’s small, and brown, with a black head. I know enough to know things that it’s not – not an eagle, not a cardinal, not an owl, not a blue jay. Wrong size, wrong color. It’s a sparrow, maybe, or a chickadee. One of those small, forgettable birds that’s always there and you never really notice. I noticed it this time, because it was sitting on the fence. It was perched on some of the bare wood, where Many had scraped a swath of lichen off the top, and it was pecking blithely away at the layer of green as if it were made of a smear of worms or something. I watched it, waiting to see the stuff spread across it, waiting for a tiny lump of green to tumble off the fence.
It didn’t. The bird perched and pecked, nibbling bit by bit until the bare spot was all the way across the top of the board, instead of just a small section. Then its small head turned toward the house, and I could have sworn it was looking right at me. But birds can’t see through glass, right? They always flew into the windows when we had the feeders too close to the house, that’s why I’d moved them out under the apple tree last summer. I haven’t been out to fill the feeders since Manny left.
It looked like it was looking at me, though, and then launched itself, disappearing somewhere down the block.
This morning it came back, and it wasn’t alone. There was a second, and a third, and they’ve all been perching on the bare spots of the fence, nibbling and pecking at the lichen, clearing it bit by bit.
Another one just landed next to Manny. That’s why I’m writing this down instead of watching this. I don’t want to see what’s under the lichen there. But I can hear the flutter of wings outside the window, and I hope the birds get to the gate latch soon. I want to see if the whole world is green. If it’s not… I’m going to buy a lot of birdseed some day.
This was written as part of the 31 Things In 31 Days project, being run on the page of the same name on Google+. For more information or to participate, go there.
Day Eight Prompt: