The Sparrow, by Ultan Banan. Dystopian literature for discerning readers.

The Sparrow

Indifferent, the sparrow that lies half-buried in the cold soil. The body dessicated, shrivelled, eyes bored through by the earthworm, the tiny feet that have found their final perch. I excavate its corpse and place it in a hole in the tree, a more fitting burial place for the earth’s forgotten. I say the words that I spoke over my dead grandfather, the words of the ancient Persian poet, and I bless myself in the sign of the Christian cross. Softly go, creature of God. Dying is all well.

The tree, a cradle and a tomb. I found a tree in the woods when I was eleven that had within its trunk the fused skeleton of a wolf which had impaled itself on a freshly broken branch midwinter. The tree had grown and subsumed into its own body the skeletal remains of the beast. Now they are conjoined, woven by the years and made one by a nature which sees not a difference in the form and make-up of each. At cellular level, there is no distinction. Now, sisters, they return to the earth in a slow eclipse. Decomposition will take both, and what will spring from their common tomb? Perhaps a sparrow, fed on the young sapling that grows in their wake, unwitting songstress of the earth’s vicious cycles.

My grandfather died and was buried here, in these woods. We planted a young elm on his grave. Now that tree is forty feet high, young but sturdy. In the days following his death, I imagined the decay of his body, saw his skin burst and his fluids run from him, saw the maggots feast and the earthworms exit his open cavities. As the fats and lipids leached from his body so his bones appeared, and all the goodness of him was returned to the earth. But above, the roots of the little sapling had sunk into the soil in search of sustenance, finding my grandfather’s resting place and source of all those proteins and enzymes, and they went to work sapping him up, sucking up his juices, because life is everywhere and in all places sustained just the same. Dust you are, yes, but that is not all. Other things too, juicy things, succulent and oily and rich. Now, when I pass the tree, I say the words that I heard him say all those years around the table, still speaking his guttural German here in the New World: Guten appetit. The old man knows I mean well.

When I was young, I watched him skin rabbits he’d shot in the woods out back of our house, cut them down the middle then rip the skin right off them. The old man knew the order of things:

Alles guten gaben
Alles was wir haben,
Kommt, O God, von Dir,
Wir danken Dir dafur.

Myself, I cannot kill. I buy meat, slaughtered by the butcher. I do not want blood on my hands, but all men need meat. I ran over a pheasant in my car once. It was dead before it hit the ground. I hung it outside my back door for a week then ate it. That is the only thing I have killed. But grandfather’s rabbit tasted good. My grandmother knew well how to prepare it. Boiled in the pot for three hours, the flesh fell off the bone. It is hard to escape the inevitability of it all.

Somewhere in these woods, I too will be buried. Perhaps by a son (not yet born, but who will grow from the same earth that I in turn will be entombed within) who will say the rites that I shall teach him, Persian words and German words, saying them with the requisite solemnity and irony, and black humour too, and when they plant a tree over my resting place, he will pass also and say, Guten appetit. Yes, my son, I hear you. I never wanted for anything in life. Nor will you.

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 ‘The Sparrow’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

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