Come and See
Once he had a dream.
His only son was still a child, perhaps twenty years younger than he was before he had perished a skeletal and wild-eyed addict. The boy arrived at the old house where they had spent all those blissful years, and his wife, still among the living as well, was present though he didn't see her and understood somehow that she had passed to another room. The place was as it had been left, empty of furnishings and dusty, yet it seemed that they belonged just there and nowhere else. His son was rolling a wheel, a weathered bicycle rim, with a stick, and he watched this game, feeling he could have gone on doing so forever.
In the upstairs hallway he opened the door, and on the other side were those few steps that led up to the attic. He was amazed to find a vast flock of sparrows had taken up residence there.
"Son," he called.
"Here I am," the boy said.
"Come and see."
So the child came and stood beside him, and he put his arm around his narrow shoulders as they gazed up at the chittering and revolving multitude. The shape of the flock shifted from one form to another as fluently as the flow of notes in a symphony — a rhombus, a trapezium, a heptagon, an ellipse. They listened to the rushing breath of their wings and mused on its untranslatable yet clear message that held a wisdom that was an affront to all that had been commonly held before.
Then he was struck with a beautiful notion.
"Let's plant a peach orchard," he said without taking his eyes from the turning mass. "In the springtime we can sit under the shade of the trees and watch them bloom. And in the summer we can build a stand by the side of the road and sell its fruit."
Without looking at the boy he knew he was smiling.
Then he looked and found him gone, though he still felt the child there like an amputee feels a missing limb. He located him in the hallway rolling the wheel again. It hit the wall and fell, spinning in ever-quickening circles. Then it was still, and the sparrows ceased their twittering all at once as if a predator had walked into their midst.
When he awoke he hurriedly rose, despite his arthritis, and began to dress so he could begin work
on the orchard with his boy. It was nearly a minute before it dawned on him that it had all been a dream
after so long a dearth of them. Only his son's memory remained like a restless wayward spirit.
For a while he sat on the edge of the bed and stared into nothing. He recalled all the hopes he had
once held for his son. He sighed, and the sigh became a moan.
There was little to do but face the tedium of his day; seldom did it vary its course.
He woke and fed his ancient dog, a grotesque animal that would have invoked in others few thoughts of nurture. He read his Bible and turned on the radio which was left that way as a bulwark against the uncomfortable silences of the hours. He took a simple breakfast of coffee and grits at the table on his back porch while he listened, if the breeze was right, to the mystical drone of the Aeolian harp that stood in his yard. Surrounding his isolated house were yawning flat corridors of fertile land planted with rice and soybeans and cotton, and as a daily constitution he and the dog would hobble along the turnrows.
And each day when the shadows grew long, at the innermost revelation of dusk, a black and desolate thing came for him, rolling in without fail like some dismal tide. It waged wars with his spirit,
leaving him so bereft of hope and vigor he lacked the wherewithal even to sigh, and there the pestilence
would remain, far into darkness.
But that evening, girded with the remembrance of his dream, he met the wretched wave with courage, and the night itself no longer felt so inwrought with malevolence, but seemed rather a nocturne of quiescence and shadowed contours. Memories of the things whose distance from him had
but added to his despondency, he now acknowledged with a bittersweet resignation.
Funny what dreams can do, he thought.
One day he heard a faint rattling sound and looked down from his chair to find the dog curled at his
feet, dead. It's milky white eyes stared impassively into the world in which the old man had been left.
It's tongue had rolled ignobly from it's mouth. He reached down and stroked the ragged remains of it's
fur and stared at it for a long while.
In his backyard, at the edge of a field, he dug a hole and buried the dog. He placed a colorful stone he had found long ago on a trip to the mountains at the head of the grave. He spoke a solemn prayer and over the course of the day remembered and assigned virtues to his companion that the dog had never possessed.
Quite often did he recall the mysterious images of his dream, and each night when he returned to his bed he did so solely in the hopes of returning to it, but instead found only the black space that contained its absence.
One morning during his walk he discovered an abandoned hatchling. With one hand cupped over the other he brought it home and concocted a preparation of warm water and crushed earthworms which he fed to the creature with an eyedropper. He placed rice hulls and a jar lid of water in a crate and put the bird there and sat it on the back porch.
Had fate that night seen fit to return him to his dream, he would've found little time to remain, for he awoke every hour, put on his robe and glasses, and went to check on the bird and say kind things to it.
When it had grown, he found it to be a red-winged blackbird and able to sing exquisite songs which along with the drone of the wind harp put him in mind of a Byzantine chant. Whenever he listened, he
felt that he and the bird had gathered in the very shadow of God.
He built a perch from which the bird would often fly around inside the enclosed porch, at times briefly lighting on the old man's shoulder. But he became afraid it might fly into a window screen and burst out so that he might never see it again, for he held no doubt that should the bird escape it would not turn back. Even though the creature was grown and strong, he vowed that he would never release it, even though it was the moral and humane thing to do; he would have preferred it die, he thought, and him as well, than let it know freedom. So he fashioned a tether which he fastened to the perch. When he fitted the bird's leg with it, it flapped madly until it hung upside down pecking at its fetter and raising all the ruckus of a burning cat. As an added precaution the old man clipped away its wing feathers. Through it all the bird continued to rage, and the old man had little choice but to stand there during the constant escape attempts and return it upright to the roost over and over again until it came to understand its endeavors were futile.
The bird embraced its bondage and became the old man's confederate in all things, even on his morning walks, for he made another restraint that yoked the creature to his shoulder.
He came to love the bird, even more than he had loved the dog, and thought of it in the most loving and poetic terms — a tiny heartbeat in captivity, a song from chains, a shining jewel in an immense solitude. And coupled with the memory of his dream, the thing that crept in at gloaming came to hold no more power over him than a gnat might.
One night, much to his amazement, the old man again found himself in their old house, which now reminded him of things he had all but forgotten — a tender look, a heartfelt smile, a loving touch. This time he was quite alone, or so it seemed, looking up into the attic, somehow more cavernous now as though in a vast cathedral, and the sparrows were numberless, a massive wheeling apocalypse far above him, and somewhere in that sea of uniformity, he squinted his eyes at what looked to be a darker and larger bird with a red marking on each wing.
He smelled peaches.
Then there was a great noise like the blast of the trumpet, and he sat straight up in bed and called his son's name, and it seemed as if he could see the boy pushing the wheel with the stick. Then the old man clutched his chest and died with the look on his face of utter astonishment as though he had found himself the brunt of some inscrutable cosmic joke.
The following morning the bird remained silent and was bewildered, in some elemental way, as to why his captor did not appear with sustenance and soothing sounds, but after the wind harp raised its
monotonal lament he began his song anyway.
And the days passed one into the other, and the bird grew more ravenous and athirst and alone until finally it fell from its perch, hanging upside down from its tether. Its wings gave a single violent flap as though in final revolt against the fowler's net in which it imagined itself caught.