An Uncaged Little Bird

David L. Farr

Tap, tap, tap.

The tiny bird jumped from foot to foot, quickly plucking up the ants that crawled along the iron bars of the cell window.

Tap, tap, tap.

Danielle watched the bird, she’d try to feed it some of her leftovers but she was afraid that it would leave and never come back. She didn’t know what kind of bird it was, only that it was the little kind. The ones that nested in rafters, or flittered around public spaces. Never loud and annoying, like the pigeons. She hated the pigeons. They were a disgusting bird, wrought with disease. Annoying, with their strangled gargle of a call.

The loud thump of wood against iron scared the little bird away, and she jumped, throwing the guard a scornful look. She didn’t have the option of flying away, not anymore.

‘You’re gonna want to put those eyes of yours somewhere else inmate,’ the guard said, staring at her.

She looked away instinctively; it wasn’t worth the trouble. She had no power in this place, she’d forgotten what it felt like to have power—control. She thought back to the months before, when she’d had her last taste of “power”. The cunt that challenged her in the showers gargling like a fucking pigeon as she drowned in her own blood.

***

Tap, tap, tap.

Danielle sucked in a quivering breath; the little bird was back. It filled its little belly with the ants that continued to crawl along the iron bars.

‘You’re a gluttonous little thing, aren’t you?’ she about whispered to the little bird.

It stopped, then looked at her as it hopped from foot to foot, tilting its head at odd angles.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she said, still quietly but with resentment behind it. ‘I don’t need your pity.’

The little bird just stared at her for a few moments before it went back to its meal. Danielle lifted her feet onto her cot, lying down on the stale, stiff pillow. She faced the window; it was like a little television airing a program of white buildings backed with darker grey mountains, bars of static running down the screen. It starred the little judgemental bird, but was it the hero or the villain? Were the ants and invading alien force, and the little bird judged them with a punishment of death? Or were the ants the citizens of this white, fluffy landscape, and the bird an overgrown monster, wreaking havoc on their little world?

A loud buzzing sounded, followed by a voice, ‘The inmate will stand with their back against the end of the cell, hands splayed open by their side.’

She did as directed; it was almost an automatic reaction. Looking up, she saw that the little bird was gone.

‘Inmate 27-354,’ a guard called from the doorway. ‘You are to exit your cell, hands out in front of you so that we may place the cuffs on your wrists.’

She did as she was told; it was the same thing every time she left her cell. She was dangerous. She knew and so did they. She smiled as they tightened the cuffs around her wrists, attaching them to the linked chain that they placed around her waist.

‘Inmate 27-354, we are taking you for your final religious consultation. You will be chained to the table. You are to remain seated for the duration of your consultation, and if you are to act aggressively then you forfeit your right to this consultation. Do you understand?’

She nodded.

‘I said, do you understand inmate?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yes, what?’

‘Yes, Ma’am. I understand.’

‘Good.’

The guard shoved her forwards, and she started walking down the bare, faded blue hallway. The cells to her left and right were empty, with the last inmate being taken away over a week ago. When they’d come back from their religious consultation they’d wept for the entire following day. She’d tried to sleep with the pillow over her head, drowning out the whimpering sobs of inmate 27-304. Would that be her, waiting to face the almighty and begging for forgiveness?

She hoped not, it was such a final selfish act. They weren’t crying for what they had done, but because they were facing the unknown. What they felt wasn’t guilt; it was shame. Shame at having to face the creator, knowing that the creator had perceived what they had done. There was no escape from their omniscient perspective, so you felt shame at knowing you would be judged for actions taken in this life. Everything would be laid bare, and you weep for nothing but yourself—

She stumbled, her foot catching the hem of her bland yellow uniform. She fell and cracked her elbows against the cold, concrete floor.

‘On your feet inmate.’

At least it wasn’t her head that hit the ground.

‘I said, on your feet,’ and the guard yanked her up, hard.

She jerked away from the ground, the last lingering scent of hospital grade cleaning solution pushed out of her with a sharp exhale. She was on her feet again.

‘What are you playing at inmate, you think I was born yesterday?’

Danielle just looked at her, hands splayed.

‘Keep moving, child killer.’

Danielle rolled her eyes once the guard was safely behind her. She’d killed one child, and only because they’d seen her face. Kill fifteen adults, and you’re a murderer. Kill one child, and you’re a monster.

***

The religious consultant was already there when they brought Danielle in, sat her down and chained her to the desk. She had the ability to stand, if she wanted to, but the instructions to remain seated echoed in her mind.

The consultant sat across from her, protected behind a thick sheet of Perspex. She was young, younger than Danielle in any case. Standard suit: professionally dressed, hair kept neatly and tied back. It wasn’t in a bun though, which was interesting. Most suits opted for the professional bun, but this was a casual ponytail.

‘Inmate 27-354, Danielle Caster. Would you prefer Danielle?’

‘Sure.’

The consultant smiled. ‘Danielle it is.’

Danielle just sat there, watching her. She fidgeted with her restraints, slowly sliding her hands from left, to right listening to the chink, chink, chink, chink, as it slid through the iron loop welded to the desk.

The consultant’s eyes flicked from Danielle, to the chain, and back to Danielle. ‘You understand why you are here?’

‘Yes.’

‘I am a consultant of the all-faith. Is there a particular religion that you favour?’

‘No.’

‘I see, well I can make some—‘

‘I just don’t see the point.’

‘In confession?’

‘That too.’

‘Then what?’

‘I don’t practice a religion. I haven’t once in my life. Why would picking one now make a difference.’

‘Would it make a difference to you?’

‘No.’

‘You don’t have to pick one, we can just talk.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’ The consultant smiled again. It wasn’t condescending, it was inviting. It was composed, designed to placate her before the final big-sleep. Danielle hated it. ‘So, how are you feeling?’

‘It’s another day,’ Danielle replied, she wasn’t giving this woman any form of satisfaction.

‘It is.’

They sat in silence for a moment, the consultant flicked through her paperwork. It was likely Danielle’s file, a list of sins from both before and after this place.

‘Well?’ Danielle asked.

‘Well what?’

‘Aren’t you supposed to try and put my mind at ease, seek repentance, and help me find forgiveness?’

‘Are you looking for forgiveness Danielle?’

She was about to reply, but then paused to think on the question. Did she want forgiveness? Did forgiveness matter? The families of the people she killed wouldn’t forgive her. They were just in her life by happenstance; they could easily be any other person, in a different time and place.

‘Danielle?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because it is meaningless.’

‘Forgiveness?’

‘No, the idea of forgiveness. It’s selfish. It’s for me, to give me peace,’ she said, toying with the chain that bound her. ‘We look to God, it doesn’t matter which one. There we look to find forgiveness for ourselves, so that we have peace when it comes time to go.’

‘To go?’

‘Execution.’

‘Ah, so you think you don’t deserve that peace of mind?’

‘Deserving or not, I don’t want that peace of mind. At the end of the day, it changes nothing.’

‘That’s…’ she paused to think about what Danielle had said, ‘fair enough. I’m not here to force forgiveness upon you. I respect your decision, it’s a perspective that I haven’t heard before.’

Silence began to creep between them again and Danielle looked to the digital clock embedded in the wall. ‘We’ve been in here for exactly fifteen minutes.’

‘We have.’

‘How long do I have to stay in here with you?’

‘As long as you need. Well, we have until close of business today.’

‘What do you get from this?’

‘I suppose,’ she mused, tapping the desk with the end of her pen, ‘I get satisfaction from helping inmates find forgiveness within themselves.’

‘So it’s selfish, you get gratification from it.’

‘You could look at it like that. I wouldn’t put it down as a negative, would you?’

‘No. If you spend your entire life worrying about how you affect the people around you, then you don’t ever truly live your own life.’

‘That is an interesting perspective.’

‘It’s not a perspective, it’s fact.’

‘Then why not seek forgiveness, from whatever entity will give you peace before the time comes to die.’

Danielle considered her words. She had allowed herself to be outmanoeuvred by this woman, and that was a problem. Or was it?

‘I don’t need to seek forgiveness.’

The consultant waited, tapping her pen patiently against her wrist.

‘I won’t give anyone the satisfaction. I will leave this world as I lived in it.’

The consultant nodded, ‘As you say.’

***

By the time Danielle was returned to her cell, the sun was setting and her last day on this planet was coming to an end. She had her final meal delivered to her cell; it wasn’t anything fancy. Just some take-away from her favourite fish and chip shop.

She sat on the edge of cot, the oil-soaked butchers paper unwrapped in her lap, and looked out the window. The channel had changed to a sea of bright orange, with indicators of a subtle pink invasion. The bars of static remained, but the little bird was gone.

She placed a chip on the lip of the windows edge, just outside the bars. She told herself it was a surprise for the little bird tomorrow, but as the tears began to squeeze from the corner of her eyes she wished it would bring the little bird back to her.

***

In the morning, the chip remained. Untouched. And after she’d been taken away, a pigeon flew down, and took the chip.

David L. Farr is a third-year creative writing student, stay-at-home dad, and motorcycle enthusiast. He served seven years in the Royal Australian Navy and now regularly DM’s games of Dungeons and Dragons. His favourite class is a Paladin.

Steph Blinco is a third year Bachelor of Fine Arts student. A local Brisbane emerging artist, her practice makes statements about everyday life through collaged imagery. Intertwining psychedelic patterns to create collisions of colour and era, Steph draws influences from autobiographical contexts, ranging from her childhood to her experiences now as a young adult. You can find her on Instagram @stephblincoart.