No one knows how the birds got in. But as we switched on the lights and fired up the machines, setting off the rat-a-tat-tatting of compressors and sheering metal, the birds all rose up at once. They screamed, black wings flailing, beating against the bright windows.
“We should shoot ‘em,” Frank said. He adjusted his coveralls and closed one eye against a shaft of morning light. God’s light, we called it back home; how it cut a clean line and washed everything in possibility. The dark birds cast moving shadows over Frank’s face while he took mock aim with steepled fingers. “Bang!”
I flinched. Told them about Dad making us shoot crows back on the farm. The powder smell that stuck to my fingers. How they dive bombed us from then on. “Took a chunk off my brother Paulie’s ear.”
Donny laughed, that high-pitched squeak of his, and slapped my arm. “Imagine you, shittin’ yerself over some wittle birds.”
I shrugged him off. “You see me cowering now? Nah. I seen worse since.”
“Like what?” Frank wanted to know, but I shook my head.
One by one, I shut off the machines and threw open the doors. Figured maybe the birds would catch some breeze and see their way free.
We waited outside a good twenty minutes, Donny smoking through yellowed teeth and Frank, sitting in his truck, clicking through radio stations. Still those birds didn’t budge. Some had roosted up on the sills and on the machines themselves. One or two circled, came within a couple feet of the door, but shied away when Donny got the broom out.
“You gonna help or what?” Donny asked.
“Nope.” I leaned against the open doorway while Donny whooped and yelled, jumping up and down, waving with the broom.
“They ain’t cows, Donny,” I said, and he flipped me off.
That’s when Frank came in carrying a piece. “Screw this shit.”
He cocked and took aim.
The shot exploded in my ears. Smell of the powder taking me back. Not to the farm, but after that, to the church. God’s light glinting through the colored windows, confusion, and the rat-a-tat-tat worse than a hundred compressors.
I wish I could say I jumped on Frank. Held him down, wrestled the gun away from him. But I was no hero. Never was.
When Frank finished shooting, he kicked at my boot. Called me a sissy, said, “They was just birds.”
But swear to God, when I peeled myself off the concrete and opened my eyes, through the wetness, all I saw were people.
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