The Broken Bird by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom

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swings ride spinning around high up on boardwalk


In this story, you and I sat beside a shallow pool that shone like a mirror. We saw a young boy chasing a dove that couldn’t fly. He chased it to the edge of the pool, where it fell into the water and floundered there, desperate, until I knelt down and picked it up. The water was cold and I could feel its small heart beating against my palm. That’s the story I’ll tell, and it is nearly true—yes, it was a Manhattan pigeon, and no, I didn’t feel its heartbeat, but I wanted to, the way I could feel your heart thudding through your ribcage when we lay on your mattress on the floor. I carried the pigeon to a patch of grass, away from the concrete and crowds, and left it there feeling that I hadn’t done enough.

On the day you kissed me for the first time, a sparrow ate from my hand in the green respite of Central Park. The leaves were new and we sat at a table cut with a black-and-white checkerboard. The sparrow came close of her own accord and plucked crumbs from my open hand. To you this seemed like magic, made you think I was a princess from a fairy tale. I thought only that if you sit still enough for long enough, even a frightened wild creature will come to you.

But I could never be still enough to calm your terror, your rage, or else I was still in the wrong ways, and when we kissed it never broke the separate spells that we labored under. Sometimes I reminded you of your departed mother, but I was on another page of the book. I wanted to run off with you into the deepest woods, enamored of your apple cheeks and your sharp wits. There were no woods deep enough for me in this city.

The city held other familiar stories of fear and watchfulness. After the election in 2016, when hate crimes spiked, someone dear to me said, Don’t hold her hand on the street. I’m afraid someone will hurt you. One sunny morning in Brooklyn, you and I stood at the edge of the sidewalk to say an affectionate goodbye. A man stopped next to us and loomed too close. He leered and I avoided his eyes. You looked up and asked, “Do you mind?”

He said, “Ladies, I’m just trying to start a conversation.”

“We’re just trying to say goodbye,” you said. He didn’t hurt us, but I was always aware that someone might.

Mostly we pretended to be unafraid. We chased each other through stories, but we could never play the part the other needed us to. I wish I’d held your hand sooner on the carnival swings high above Coney Island. I didn’t have the courage till the ride was almost over. For a second, I took your hand and the city was a blur of neon and steel. For a second, we flew.


ELIZABETH_HART_BERGSTROMElizabeth Hart Bergstrom’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Catapult, Hobart, Fourteen Hills, Fiction Southeast, Soaring Penguin Press, and elsewhere. She was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Find her on Twitter at @Liz_Bergstrom.



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