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​​christine stocke

Magic or Dead Birds

The day high school ended, as I sat with my bags finally packed, ten thousand Red-Winged Blackbirds fell from the sky. Not rain drops. Not softball-sized hail. Blackbirds. Not one. Not seventeen. Some people stopped and stood and speculated lightening. Some imagined other adverse high-altitude weather conditions, and some said that early Fourth of July fireworks had frightened the birds into dying. They’d have known not to be out there on the Fourth, a man in town reported. Oh, they’d have known all right, said another. 

The important part was that no one understood. Maybe we should be thankful it was only blackbirds, not Robins and Eagles and Chickadees to boot, a local woman said. Perhaps there was magic in the falling, in the mystery, or in the small northern town’s reaction to the raining fowl. Fifty-year-old men and sixteen-year-old girls alike donned yellow kitchen gloves and placed plump black birds into green gallon buckets. Perhaps there was no magic at all. 

With my backpack, a black rolling suitcase and a brown duffel bag patched together with duct tape on one seam, I sat at the Park and Ride next to handfuls of dead birds. I’d already walked back to the car several times to tell my mother she could leave before the bus arrived. Oh, I don’t mind, she insisted, and so the two of us sat twenty feet apart. She waved almost constantly. I pretended to watch the street cleaner sweep birds away in the distance. 

With my head turned, at the end of a long sunny day of bird cleanup and my mom waving for nearly an hour, if there wasn’t any magic, then days and months and years later when the news articles ended and the townspeople died, then they were just dead. But if there was a feather of magic anywhere in the whole entire story—one tiny hair—then maybe there was something that just wouldn't.

It’s not the kind of magic you’ve always known exists. And it’s not the kind you’ve always known doesn’t. I plucked a blade of grass and stared at the ground beyond it. The most beautiful thing about this magic was that you didn’t have to believe it. If you watched the magician pull scarf after scarf out of his closed fist, it was okay you knew the cloth came straight out of his dirty sleeve. Smile, or don’t. Take it, or leave it. Take to the road in a greyhound bus and don’t fall from it. Don’t even trip down the big final step on your way out. Choose to believe parts and forget others, and no one sitting in any of those seats will think any less of you. Hopefully. Either way you have to help pick up the birds. 

Christine PS Stocke grew up fishing on a small lake in Wisconsin. She didn’t become an architect, because someone told her it involved calculus. So now, she observes. She takes notes. She asks inappropriate questions. Christine received her bachelor’s degree in English from Washington University in St. Louis and her master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Other works by Christine can be found in several literary journals, including Rio Grande Review, Wisconsin People & Ideas, Structo, and the Best New Poets anthology. In 2013, Christine was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Follow Christine at www.christinepsstocke.com. She currently lives and works in The Netherlands.