Blackbird, by Alisa Alering

The man had lost his son and wanted to get him back. He was troubled because he wasn’t sure exactly when he had lost him. This morning he had been fertilizing the azaleas and realized he didn’t have him anymore. He pinched a few aphids and went inside.

He looked in all the closets, under the bed in the guest room, and in the kitchen drawer where he kept the rubber bands from bunches of broccoli, old birthday cake candles, and packets of ketchup from Burger King. His son wasn’t there.

Next, he looked in the old record albums in the living room cabinet. For a moment, he thought he found his son in the gatefold cover of a Beach Boys double album, but it was just an old piece of his first marriage.

His son wasn’t in the house. The man pushed past a clutch of withered apologies to the back door and scuffed down the unpainted stairs. His son had never liked the garden—he said it was hot and dirty and didn’t grow anything useful like chocolate bars, dirt bikes, or a way out of this town.

Still the man creaked his corduroy knees into the wet mud and scratched bare-knuckled through the cucumbers, the hairy leaves pricking dread from the backs of his hands.

A blackbird flew down and settled among the tall stalks of corn. The man couldn’t believe the nerve of the bird. He had grown the kernels—broken the ground, coddled the seed, watered it with attention, straightened its stalk. And now to lose it all to a sharp, greedy beak. He waved his arms, yelled and cursed.

The bird stayed on the stalk. It turned its head and fixed him with its black eye.

“Where can I find my son?” the man asked.

The bird took flight and the man flew after it across the shingled roof of his house, across the neighborhood of other red-brown houses, above the town with buses and smokestacks and radio towers. They flew over high school proms, prenatal yoga, and senior square dancing.

They flew over the sewage treatment plant on the highway outside of town, and pigeons flew up in the man’s face. He flapped his arms, and moving them, realized he couldn’t fly. He flapped harder, faster, frantic, dropping out of the sky. Above him, the bird rose higher.

He was going down, right down into the sludge pit. He hit the black surface, and filth filled up his eyes, his nose, his mouth, his ears. It was dark, silent, heavy. He sank down, his eyes open to blackness.

He settled on the bottom and felt his way on his hands and knees. He crawled. He rubbed his hands in front of his eyes, this way and that. The black waved and smeared, but stayed black.

Then his collar jerked, and he was shooting up, hauled fast through the thick black, and spat out on the cement. His son was standing over him, one hand black and sludge up to the elbow.

Alisa Alering lives in in Indiana with a patchy cat, a wrinkly dog, and a squid in a cat suit. Her short fiction has appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 4, Drabblecast, and Writers of the Future Vol. 29, among others. She has never misplaced any of her family members. At least not for long. | @alering

<– This is the Part You Hate, by Eric Shattuck

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