Brains of Animals
Kathryn Scanlan

When the car broke on the dark roadin the rainand me still in my dressy clothesmy fickle phonemy cross to bear againyet againrefusing to turn on even to light upno bones thrown for me but figuresyesterday I dropped it in a bucket of varnishnot on purpose not my faultit slipped from my breast pocket and ploppeda perfect hole-in-one.Tried pushing the buttonsmy fingers steeped in varnish nowthe air in the car all varnish vaporno clean breath to be foundso I got out though the rain was really coming downturning to sleetand me swollen in clothes that suddenly didn't fitpinch and itch oh bare legs hobbled feetheels sinking in roadside gravel. I looked away unseeingover a dark fieldwhat to do seemed all was lost all for naughtwhen a station wagon pulled up behind my car an old model with a bad mufflerthe wagon not my carplenty of room in back for a bodythey'd find me in this bad suit my underthings, my hair maybe not as clean as they could bebut a woman stepped out and she looked nice, a very nice-looking woman, she smiled and said I looked like I needed help and I said yesoh yes pleasethank youand got in her wagon.In back not bodies but birds in cagescooing or chirping or purringnot sure if the sound was happy or sadthey had no room for standing and I thought I knew how they felt. They're game birds said the woman, for huntingI'm delivering them to a farm where men from the city pay to come and rent dogsand we set the birds loose and they shoot them or the dogs get themin which case we set them loose again and then the men shoot them.That doesn't seem very fair for the birds I saidmeaning to be sternbut it came out more like a jokeand the woman must have thought so too because she laughed, I know, she laughed, and what's worse iswe take each bird out of its cage and spin it around before we release it so when they fly off they're dizzythey're scaredthey don't know down from up! She laughed. The rest of the way to town we listened to the birds the sounds they made not gentleI don't want to say gentle because who knows what was on their mindswho knows what the brains of animals are likeI certainly would like to knowoh mystery of mysteriescan you imagineI imagine it like abstract paintingor atonal musicbut foreign in a way I can't imaginecan you imagine something you can't imagine?Their sounds not gentlebut the effect they had on me made me feel gentle like they were sanding my edgesmost of the time I feel as though I am honing razorsbut they made me feel gentle and I sat looking at my hands while the woman drove. She made sure I got someone on the phone before she leftwaving and smilingthis person who probably saved my lifethe walk to town was more than ten mileswhat would I have done if she had not stoppedI do not knowI do not wish to consider it now that I am safe and warm and dryat homein soft clothes and thick socksbut I do wish to consider this: have I just been handled and spun around and let looseand am I falling or am I risingand what swift bullets are now tracing my path?