It is a given that my son will be startled and come running when the blackbird hits the window of his bedroom with a forceful, insulated thud, and that following me downstairs, my son will jump and flap and spin on the back porch as I bend to examine the damage; finding a fledgling, stunned.

It is a given that he will wait until bedtime, until we’re lying together in the dark, and I am just about to go downstairs, to murmur bird, and that I, in an attempt to show the way that language can take flight, to model as the therapist would say, will take up the word, brightly, will give a rose-tinted prognosis, outline the bird’s coddled recovery inside the shoebox inside the garage, and I will know, even in the dark, that my son’s face is stiff and inscrutable but that he is listening intently, organizing the information so it doesn’t crash.

It is a given that, having failed to check the bird the next morning, I will spend the day at work thinking about the shoebox, that I will still be dwelling on it at the school gates as the other children come flying out, unfurling surplus streams of words about their day.

It is not a given, so bafflingly unexpected, that he wants to accompany me to the garage, and I feel sick because I know the bird will be dead, that I won’t be able to make up a story about how I saw the mummy bird swoop down and help the baby bird back to the nest, how if we listen carefully each evening now, we might hear the baby bird learning to sing.

So, when I crouch and lift the lid, him hovering behind me, and gently rock the corpse, desperately thinking of something comforting yet sensibly scientific to say, I am not ready for the small, firm hand on my shoulder, for the fully-formed voice saying it’s OK—an offering, his first fluttering step beyond the utilitarian—and now that’s me sent thwack against the glass.

The work of Shelley Roche-Jacques has appeared in magazines such as Litro and The Boston Review. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Prize, Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize and Longlisted for the Wigleaf Top50. She lives in Yorkshire, in the UK, and is Course Leader for the BA and MA Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

Artwork by Barbara Gillette Price