BY JESSE MOTTE
We don’t shoot the airsoft pistols at each other. No one has to tell us this. We don’t shoot the airsoft pistols at Finway, Mark’s dog. No one has to tell us this, either. We pop pine trees, knick the petals of Mrs. Buyck’s begonias, barely miss the thick, buzzing power lines above us, electricity crawling across the air.
We are twelve, thirteen, maybe even older than that, climbing down from the deck of a treehouse. Jesse, Palmer, Mark.
The pistol I have is translucent. The spring, cylinder, piston, even the magazine—all very visible. Mark has around fifteen-hundred different colored BBs in big bottles with caps on them like the nipple of a baby bottle.
I remember that something was wrong with my particular, translucent Airsoft pistol. When I pulled the trigger—ping!—the BB spit out of the barrel and immediately darted to the left, like a strong wind from a sly, Greek God was summoned before each shot. Why do I remember this?
And then, of course, there is the bird.
The logic between Palmer and me is that the bird is already dead. Finway has torn it open. And yet, I can see it breathing. For some reason, there is no blood. But I can see—God help me—the pink of an exposed organ, lung, maybe the heart.
And then, of course, there is the translucent gun, the cylinder, the spring, the magazine, the leftward-slipping trajectory of the BB.
An Airsoft pistol is not a real gun. And, for some reason, this eludes my friend, Palmer, and me. Mark is inside the house, yelling at his mom, maybe. The basketball goal is looming over us. The sun is on. The summer is there. The BBs lodge themselves in the bird one at a time. One after another after another. The bird doesn’t make a sound. Just inhales and exhales. Chest rising, falling. And by the time we realize that it is not going to die, that we are not in fact putting it out of its misery (is that what we thought we were doing?), there is nothing more to be done. The only option is to stop and go inside Mark Buyck’s house and watch him play Civilization on the PC and wait until the right moment to announce we have to go home.
* * *
Last month, I almost ride my bike over a baby bird in my backyard. I must miss it by inches.
Jaimee and Evan appear at my house so quickly. But how when they live so far away? We put the baby bird in a box, with a blanket or towel at the bottom, and all it does is cry. And then we are all in the car. Jesse, Evan, Jaimee. Soon, I will make them pull over at the McDonald’s so that I can pee. I have to pee. I must pee. And when I get back in the car, relieved, again all I hear is the baby bird crying in Evan’s lap.
The girl at the Wildlife Refuge Center is around our age, mid-twenties, and she speaks with such pretty, convoluted authority. She picks up the baby bird from the box with her bare right hand and examines it, like a living fossil.
“Bird’s perfect,” she says. “It’s really in great shape. I would just put it back and see if the parents come and get it.”
“Are you sure?” I say, incredulous. Maybe I say this because I’m concerned for the bird. Maybe I say it because we came all this way.
When we get back to my house, Jaimee assembles a basket, some dry pine, and makes a little place for the baby’s parents to come get it. I grab a hammer, Jaimee puts a nail in the dogwood, and we fit the basket to the nail. The bird has now stopped crying. A mourning dove. That’s what it is, a baby dove.
And now it is no longer my problem.
It is only when I go to let the dog out at one in the morning that I remember the bird. I shine the flashlight from my phone into the basket.
There are ants crawling all over it. And it’s still very alive.
I see it wince.
Why then, why, do I go back inside?
In the morning, when I wake up, the bird is dead. There are ants all over the body now. I can hardly see that there is a bird at all. Just a moving, red mass; a swarm.
When I view this memory, I do so almost as if from the end of that same translucent Airsoft pistol. Looking into the memory is like looking into a black hole, everything around it, the periphery, being sucked into a vanishing point.
But in this case, I don’t have a gun. I don’t have a trigger. I am the trigger. There is no Jesse, Palmer, Mark; no Jesse, Jaimee, Evan. Just Jesse. What should I say to the God at my puja table now? I’m sorry? Impossible. What is possible has already happened. What is possible is the truth of now: a tiny skeleton in a basket nailed to a dogwood tree in my backyard and the sound of rain pummeling my house.