Chirp.

The biologist folded the newspaper under her arm as she put on her sunglasses. She wasn’t set to meet anyone, and she wasn’t in a rush. Although she was excited for a day off, not working made her feel uneasy, like she was sick or untethered to the ground. She needed coffee to stabilize herself.

She was headed to the park, where she’d find a nice bench and read the paper, a luxury she hadn’t afforded herself in weeks. Who can spare the time? She’d have a cappuccino and immerse herself in ink and air.

The small stall where she had purchased the paper was out of coffee, leaving just one coffee shop in the town. Ever since the mine collapsed and closed two years ago there wasn’t much of an economy here. She’d have to walk through the crisp park before rounding back to her idealized bench. Luckily she’d brought her scarf. 

She walked through the park, watching the orange leaves fall and twirl towards the ground, slicing through the sunlight on their final descent. Piles had been made by an unseen hand days earlier, though there was no one here on a Sunday to collect the newly fallen. A couple had a picnic on a plaid blanket, eating sandwiches and giggling. 

Their dog, a large golden retriever, ran in circles twenty yards away, chasing its tail. Somehow he did the impossible and caught it. Even he seemed surprised at this fact; he froze as it happened, and then sat down, apparently content with his efforts. The biologist smiled, curling only the left side of her mouth which it had always done, infuriating her mother and teachers. It wasn’t until she’d gained the confidence they accused her of that she learned not to care.

When the mine accident occurred, she found herself sad not for the miners, but for the canaries they’d doomed with them. She was sad for the miners too, of course, but had always had a soft spot for birds. From an early age she used to walk through the park and nearby forest and go birdwatching. 

Coffee in hand (plus a croissant she hadn’t planned on), she finally took her place among the trees and wind. She placed her croissant on the napkin she’d been given, and rested the coffee on the wooden beams next to her. The couple was gone now, and she was the only one left. They left no trace, leaving the biologist to wonder if they had been there at all.

She started a few articles, but could never make it past the first few paragraphs. Her mind wasn’t in it that day; fogged for some reason. Maybe too much coffee, or not enough.

She was preoccupied by work, even away from the lab. Birds had been falling out of the sky in any decently sized town across the country, as well as overseas. At first they’d thought it was an avian flu, but nothing had been confirmed. It mirrored the colony collapse facing bees; no one had a cure, so everyone had a mystery.

She placed the paper beside her with a sigh, and grabbed her coffee with two hands. She held it to her face, and looked at the shaded park through the rising steam. Leaves fell slowly. She heard a chirp, and looked behind her but saw nothing.

She ran through the ornithology knowledge she possessed, and decided it was either a type of goldfinch or a canary. Someone’s escaped house pet? She looked to the branches. 

Another chirp. She looked onto the brick path in front of her, and saw a bright yellow canary motionless on the ground. Its wings were folded against its body. She thought it must be dead, but surely it had just sang?

The coffee would have to wait. She got down on her knees and leaned into the bird. It blinked. She gasped softly. She reached in with both hands and attempted to lift it, but as her fingers touched the bird it flew off.

She stood to watch its drunken flight, wobbling in the air, before slipping beyond the canopy and her vision. She felt lightheaded and turned to find her bench once more. She slumped onto it, gripping the armrest next to her tightly, breathing deep. 

Leaves continued to fall. Autumn was here.


[Artists] keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.
— Kurt Vonnegut

On Writing - Part One

Afterglow.