Sport 34: Winter 2006
God's brain and the souls of birds
I'm starting from birds. They're flying up out of trees all down our street because Dad's standing in the road shooting at them. Dad and the birds are underneath me like fish underwater in the dam.
Then he hits one. It's a magpie and it was coming up to me but it goes down again. The sky down there has feathers, like those ashes that go flying out of the incinerator when Dad's burning off. The bird falls on the road and then Dad kneels down and puts the gun on the road and it's the same colour. Bitumen. Like a swear word but it's okay because it's not. He picks up the bird and holds it near his face to look for something but I don't think he can see it because he's crying. If I went down there I could help him look but someone started whispering and I went away.
Well Mum was talking but I couldn't see her because it was so bright. She was using her church voice. She said, do I have to prove I can watch my child suffer because He could? Is that what He wants? Then Father Brunetti told her off. He said, Maria, why you try to guess what's in the mind of God? Why this one, why not this one? Nobody can answer. He sees everything, He offers everything—why you think you can pick and choose like you were in the supermarket?
So maybe I'm at mass except I'm lying down and the lights are making my head feel slippery. There's stuff on my face it's too hot, get it off me. Mum said, darling? in her Mum voice, so I said turn the lights off because they were melting my head. Then I got a needle, that's how I knew I was in hospital. I could hear them shutting the curtains and that must be where the light was coming from because after a while I could see and it was actually night. I looked at Mum but something was wrong with her face. I said, Mum are you crying?page 152
And she said, sorry. When I was looking at her I had to keep moving my head because my nose was in the way. I told Mum I could see my nose and she said, Oh darling, and she tried to hold my hand but it was too hot. I was feeling a bit sleepy and then I remembered about Dad.
I said, Dad shouldn't stay on the road, should he Mum? Because he might get run over.
In my hand I felt her jump like she got a fright and then she said, Daddy's at work, darling. You must have been dreaming.
Then she went away and it was cold and dark like floating in the dam face down and all the dark went inside my ears and said,
There's a TV right above my bed and a remote control so I can watch anything except if the nurses come. Well at home we have a TV but only sometimes and in the ads we go outside and run around because Mum says our brains will rot. But at hospital you have to just lie there and not move your head fast or all the lights come on and you might explode.
Dad came to see me on his own. Mum said he came before but I was asleep and then he had to go to work. I was waiting to ask him if he found what he was looking for but he squeezed my hand so hard I forgot. He said, did I know why he worked so much? And I said, so me and Brendan can go to a good school. He said that was right but now he realised there were more important things, like keeping me and Brendan and Mum safe so nothing else bad happened. I said but you're not allowed to just pick what you want because you don't know what God's thinking. Which is true because Father Brunetti said so but straight away Dad got angry. He said, I would take my children's pain on myself if they would let me, why have you begun to look at me coldly? I've seen it though your mother denies it. Denies it. I've watched you with your friends, making a show of the happiness you refuse to display at home. Wilful. Perhaps it's your brother I'm page 153thinking of? He was told to look after you and now he sees the result of his selfishness.
It was weird when he was telling me off because he looked like he might cry. At the end he sat down and squeezed my hand again and said, I am the head of this family. It's my responsibility to take care of you all, do you see?
I've got one eye because God took the other one. Sometimes when I'm waking up I can feel my other eye opening too but the doctor said that's just my brain remembering and after a while it will forget. Where I got hurt was called the cornea and they tried to fix it but then it got infected because the bird had germs on its beak. The doctor said I would still be able to see fine with just one eye but it would get tired at the beginning and I'd have to do exercises to make it stronger. I don't want my brain to forget about my eye. Being dead might be when your brain forgets about your whole body.
Well my brother Brendan got confirmed last year. It's when God descends from heaven as a bird on fire and lives inside you and burns you up so you become new. It's a sign of His love but only if He decides you're ready. I told Brendan he should wait and get more prepared because he takes the Lord's Name in vain and he also smokes cigarettes. But he said I was a retard and if you waited you wouldn't get any presents. I wish Brendan would come and see me.
Before I was in hospital, I used to go to the chapel at school and wait for God to give me a sign. I'd do the Stations and imagine how Jesus suffered for me and I usually could make myself cry. Another thing I would do was prostrate myself before the altar like Father Brunetti. I usually only did it if no one was there but once Sister Anthony came in and I pretended I was praying too hard to notice and then I got up quickly and was embarrassed. And afterwards she asked me in front of the whole class if I was going to join the convent and I got hassled page 154and everybody called me Sister for about a week, so God would have definitely seen me suffer. Mum says I have to learn to be humble and open my heart to God in small ways. But I think He knew I was ready and that's why He descended as the Holy Spirit and took away one eye and gave me a different one. When He came for me His wings sucked up all the air and His voice sounded like a gate opening. So I've suffered and now God lives inside me and shows me what He sees.
Dad came to hospital again in his work clothes, he doesn't come at normal times like Mum. He said, how are you feeling? Then he held my hand and didn't say anything else, just looked at me. It was sort of embarrassing because I thought he might cry again and also he shouldn't have got angry at me before, so I pretended to go to sleep. There was something moving like wings underneath all the colours and it started being a headache. I noticed Dad had let go of my hand, so I woke up and he'd left a present for me. And I opened it and inside was the magpie.
When I was little at the beach one time I nearly drowned. I kept getting dumped by waves until I didn't know where the air was anymore. I tried but it was bigger than me and that's what this is like. It hurts so much it doesn't fit inside. The magpie just lies in the box and looks at me with one eye and maybe it would like to see out the window, so we go over and have a look but then I noticed that its eyes aren't real and I fall through the window into the sky and stay there looking down. It's just like in the dam, everything around you is thick like cream holding you up and everything else is soft and dark and really far. I don't know where I start or finish because I can feel everything and it all feels the same except for one shiny thing down there which is our house. Then Brendan climbs out the window of our house and I try to call him but he goes out of the light, then he's gone. And I want to go down there, I try, but the sky won't let me.page 155
I used to play in Brendan's room but now he's in high school so I'm not allowed. He shuts the door because he's doing homework and he only comes out at dinnertime. Well once Dad went in his room and Brendan wasn't even there, he'd gone out the window. When he came back they had a fight, Dad said from now on Brendan had to leave his door open all the time so Dad and Mum could watch him. Brendan said, you can't make me but Dad said, as long as you're under my roof you'll do as I tell you. Then Mum came and stood in the doorway and said, Kevin.
I keep the magpie under my bed to look at when the nurses aren't there. After Brendan ran away I couldn't see anything for a while but then they gave me a needle to turn the lights off and now it's all right again. Usually you only see dead things on the side of the road that are squashed or mostly eaten. It has feathers that are a bit untidy and there's a line down the front which is where Dad took its insides out and stuffed it. Because birds have one eye on each side of their heads it means both eyes would see different things. I want to ask my Dad if birds have a soul because Mum says animals don't, only humans, but how does she know? When you die your soul still remembers being alive even if your brain forgets and I think the magpie has a soul that remembers about flying.
The nurse said, you had a visitor while you were asleep. Your big brother came to see you.
Well they sent him away, why didn't they wake me up? The nurse said, don't worry sweetie, you're going home in a couple of days, you'll see him then.
And Dad was here again, sitting in the chair in the dark, talking. His voice was slower than normal like he was sleepy. He said, perhaps I was wrong to correct him. Your mother thinks so. She's always with her priest but she can't find it in herself to forgive me. And soon your door will be closed and you will be lost to me too. Then he didn't say anything for a while and I thought he'd gone to sleep.page 156
Then he said, I drove him away. He cried a bit and then he started talking again. He said,
It's always been difficult for me to say these things. But I took the life of the bird so you would know that you are safe. A life for an eye. Nothing will hurt you again because I won't allow it.
Before Dad killed the magpie, it was alive. Maybe the bird part went inside me as well as the God part. He said, a gesture of faith, do you understand?
I said, do you mean in God?
He looked a bit surprised, I don't think he knew I was awake. Then he said, what is God? Only something that will take an eye from a child. Have faith in me. Promise.
But if I promised, that would be denying God and then He would think that I wasn't ready after all.
After Dad left I got out of bed and timed how long I could kneel with my arms stretched out. St Kevin prayed like that to remember how Jesus suffered on the cross but the church was so small he had to stretch his arms out of the windows and he stayed there so long that a bird made a nest in his hand. Well when he noticed he just stayed still so she could hatch her eggs in a safe place and then he kept waiting and not moving until all the baby birds got big enough to fly away.
I counted on the clock and the magpie watched. Actually it was harder for me because I've been quite sick and I didn't have anything to rest my arms on. After one minute and seventeen seconds my arms started to really ache and the floor hurt my knees like church. I thought about birds getting born and flying out of your hands, it would be a miracle but you'd have to be patient. Then I started to get a headache. It filled up both my eyes one at a time. I went for nearly two and a half minutes but then my arms were burning and I couldn't keep them up any more. My brain started floating around in my head and I got dizzy and that's when I could notice other things, like stars are falling out and burning holes through the black and this time when I fall the sky does let me and it's like sinking with the page 157wind inside my lungs and bones and even my eyes, all the way down to where my house is.
And I can see everything, inside all the rooms. Even Brendan's empty room with the sliding cupboards, where we used to play secret pirates. And Dad's standing in the hallway holding a screwdriver out in front of him like a torch and way over on the other side of the house in the living room, Mum's on the floor, crying. And in between is just open doorways. Because all the doors in our house are gone, there's nothing left just the hinges.
My room is high up. Mum took the magpie away but sometimes there are birds outside the window.
I asked Mum where Brendan was and she said, the doctor wants you to stay in hospital for a little bit longer. You had another headache, do you remember?
They tested my brain while I was dreaming but they don't know why it hurts. Well Father Brunetti says no one can hide from God but that doesn't mean God can't hide from someone, even a doctor.
Dad's in hospital too. I asked Mum if I could go and see him but she said a different hospital. First I waited for God to show me where Dad and Brendan were and then I decided to go and find them. I did the kneeling with my arms out for ages and I even added extra things like staring at the light and trying not to blink but it didn't work, it just got too hard and I had to stop. But then it sort of did work because Mum said we could call Dad on the phone. He sounded sleepy again but he didn't tell me off, he just asked if me and Mum were okay. He started saying something about Brendan too but then he must have forgotten what it was. I asked him how long he had to stay at his hospital and he said for a while. He said his hospital has a garden and there's a bird that comes every day and has a fight with the other bird it can see in the window because it doesn't know it's just a reflection. Dad was worried it would hurt itself from flying into the glass like that and he page 158thought it would be his fault for not opening the window. Actually he tried but I think it was stuck. Well then he had another idea, which was go outside and hold some bread out in his hand to make friends with the bird. So far it keeps ignoring him but he said he'll just wait. He said the reason he wanted to see everything all the time was to know if it would be all right but he forgot about wait and see.
Well another thing is, God isn't always looking. Sometimes he's hiding and sometimes he's just floating in the dam, thinking about something else and things happen anyway. Like Brendan not coming back. God can see more because he's looking from higher up but nobody sees everything. And I thought everybody had to see or it didn't count but it still does.
Mum's taking me home soon. The doctor said I could and Mum says if I want to I can have an eye-patch to wear like a pirate. When I look at the sky I know how God feels hiding inside my brain and I wish I could let him out but here the windows don't open. So I think I have to keep God inside me for a while and he can show me things when he sees them, and when he doesn't see maybe sometimes I'll show him.