A Sparrow in a Twisted Cage / by Academy Monthly

       By the window stood a purple vase filled with white tulips. Outside, a man was being rushed into the hospital on a stretcher by two workers; his face hardly recognizable behind the dried blood. They ran by a mother and her young son, who clutched him close to her. The tulips were wilting, losing their color, its petals shriveling and turning grey.

       Richard had left, his workplace demanding his immediate arrival. Outside the room, Mr. Mallard’s sister-in-law, Josephine, sat sleeping on a hospital chair, her chest moving up and down under the rhythm of her faint breathing. Her eyes were red and puffy, from the joy of seeing Mr. Mallard alive, as well as the shock of her sister’s sudden collapse.

       The man who died in the railroad disaster, Brently Mallardson, had his name misspelled in the list of casualties. Mr. Mallard had been far from the event. In fact, he didn’t even know it had happened. Soon, Mrs. Mallard was to have heart surgery performed on her in the next room. If she didn’t, death was likely in the coming years. However, the surgery had a success rate of only sixty percent. Her condition was stable… for now.

       The doctors said that she had suffered a heart attack, from the shock of seeing her husband alive, standing right in front of her. A day has passed since then, and in that time she had regained her consciousness. Mr. Mallard had waited thirteen hours straight as the doctors had tried to stabilize her. When she had finally awoken, Mr. Mallard had rushed from the waiting room to see her. Perhaps it was because he was so exhausted, but it seemed to him that his wife had lost something. She was still quite young, and the faint creases that lined her face had always hinted at the presence of strength. Now, those lines brought upon a sort of dull age; even her grey eyes seemed to have lost some color. Just a few seconds after he began speaking to her, she asked if she could be alone.

       The sopranino song of the sparrows rang outside the window, the same song that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard would wake up to every morning. Now, the resonating high pitch felt strenuous on his ears. He covered his head with his hands. It was a beautiful day, not a single cloud to taint the shockingly baby blue sky.

       He thought he had treated her well. At worst, they tolerated each other. Mr. Mallard wasn’t abusive. He wasn’t a drunk, he had a stable job with a stable income. He had a beautiful apartment, and brand-spanking new automobile. Around two years ago, his wife had asked him if she could get a job, just a part-time at a local shop. He denied her request, though in her best interests. He already made enough money to support both of them. What reason would she have to get a job? She belonged inside, where she was free of the worries of finance and job-hunting and god knows what else. The only thing she has to worry about is fulfilling her role by making sure Mr. Mallard has as easy a time as possible fulfilling his own. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right?

       At this moment Mr. Mallard began wondering why he was asking himself this question over and over. He felt something begin to rise into his chest, something he couldn’t name. It was growing rapidly, so fast that it began to make his heart race. It pushed against his ribs, his collar bone, until it began to feel as though his chest would explode.

       The monstrosity began to take form. He recognized it, and in a crazed panic attempted to suppress it, to push it back to where it came. It was no use. The feeling was growing like a balloon, one filled with boiling water, burning his insides.

       The feeling was contempt. Contempt for Mrs. Mallard’s rebellious nature. Contempt for her disobedience. Contempt for her betrayal.

       As quickly as it had came, the feeling disappeared, popped like a balloon, as something flew through the window. He yelped in surprise and jumped backwards out of his seat, knocking down the window prop. It landed on a cabinet. It was a sparrow, with beautiful grey feathers that were lined with a tint of cobalt blue. They stared at each other for a couple of seconds. In its black beady eyes, he saw something that amused him. He saw defiance. Something as small and insignificant as a sparrow standing up to him? The idea was absurd.

       The sparrow flew towards the window, clearly wanting to fly away. It repeatedly hit its body against the window, rustling up its feathers. The tint of blue on its feathers seemed to call out to the blue sky; it was calling for the bird.

       He sighed, and stood up to release the sparrow. Just as he reached the window, he heard a loud clang from the other room, his wife’s room. Curious, he walked towards the room. He opened the door and saw his wife hanging from the ceiling by her neck, a fallen chair beneath her.

       The doctor had no other reason to explain her suicide other than fear of the surgery’s success rate--a fear that kills.