Jeremy Colangelo is the author of “The Fox Beneath the Statue,” a short story published in The Puritan Spring 2017.
When I was very young I would sometimes wander out of the house on cloudy days and walk meanders through the neighbourhood, pooling eventually at the empty playground behind my school. These walks lacked purpose but not direction: as a stream will flow downhill I flowed toward the playground. I think it was the emptiness of the yard that pulled me. I was so used to the way the teachers policed the space, how their presence traced a grid across it, that to visit while the school was sleeping felt illicit in a way that few children can resist.
This story happened in October, when I was about eight. The school’s rain gutters through some strange coincidence were broken in such a way that even the lightest touch of rain would cause water to pool on a windowsill beside a chain-link fence. The building formed a natural bird bath, and so back in the day if you walked by after a shower you would often find a line of tiny birds all with their tail feathers up in the air, standing on the fence to bathe and drink the water up. Birds are obsequious guests, partaking in hospitality only until they see the approach of another. I remember when I would walk closer for a better view and scare the birds away I would assume that they, polite, were making room for me.
Like your tongue on an icy pole it stuck, the mad beats of its wings only deepening the freeze.
One year there was a cold snap just after a rain storm, and the next day I walked by the school and saw a pair of fetid toothpick legs on the ground beside the fence. I have no idea where they came from, but here’s the best story I came up with: the bird, expecting kindness, took a quick bath in the water and then landed on the fence. Like your tongue on an icy pole it stuck, the mad beats of its wings only deepening the freeze. Then perhaps a fox, perhaps a cat came skulking by and with a prayer to the kindness of the pole tore the poor bird, helpless, from its legs, which remained upright through the evening and until the morning’s thaw.
I cannot say that the event disturbed me, but like silt stirred in a river the image flowed with me, and when I think of water often to the surface of my mind it rises up. I try not to see more meaning in the scene than it deserves.
Jeremy Colangelo is a poet and fiction writer living in London, Ontario, where he is working on a PhD in English. His work has appeared in such places as The Dalhousie Review, Popshot Magazine, and ditch, as well as several academic journals.