I locked the two cats in my bedroom, so that I could stare at the living room floor in peace.

The birds started small, just like she did. Baby sparrows, fallen from the nest, their nests neatly snapped as Fortuna laid them on before the back patio door. Her kill was almost dainty.

After that, I found a live bird in the garage, nestled in a temporary haven between the step in the concrete and the garage door, feathers strewn around its hiding place. I picked it up and took it outside, and I petted its feathers. Just another sparrow, the kind you’d find anywhere. After a few minutes, it chirped twice and flew away.

My mother blamed herself. We had a bird feeder in the back garden, its post wrapped in metal to keep the squirrels out (ha!). And when the birds would come in, they would pick through the mix of seeds to get to their favorite treat, spilling some of the rest on the grass below. By the bushes. And when the birds would run out of seed, they’d fly to the ground to pick at it there. Our cat was less than a year old at that point, but she displayed talent for the hunt. And she liked birds. Moving from the city suburb to northern Idaho did not hinder this. Especially since, courtesy of our new houses’ last owner, the house came with a series of dog doors.

Fortuna was a beauty. Her fur was short, black, and glossy, her body small and lithe. Some cats chase string when you dangle it. There was nothing that Fortuna wouldn’t chase. She’d go for blades of grass, keys, phone cords, even my wooden practice daggers (courtesy of martial arts training). She’d scratched and bloodied my hands several times, whenever I was stupid enough to try to make her pounce on the toys I offered. Always enthusiastic, never cruel.

We were a dismayed, though, when we found the dead bird scattered around our new house’s bedroom halfway through the remodel. From what I could tell, it had been another sparrow, but this time all we found were feathers and a head. Another followed that, in another room. Then she’d managed to catch herself a starling.

Back to the living room. We had tiled and carpeted the floors. The rooms had gone from a hideous 80’s pink-walls-with-a-green-carpet to boring beige, which in a house of this make was really all that could be done. Asian furniture in cherry graced the corners, and managed to make the giant iron wood-furnace less hideous. Nothing there could distract from the large black duck.

Black, gray, and very dead, it reclined on the new carpet just past the tiled entryway. Its neck held a particular angle that suggested that it had been snapped. Feathers were missing from its tail, torn out and played with all along the hallway.

And to think, I’d been petting that cat…

an interlude

Sleep has never come easily. I remember staring up at the ceiling even when I was very young, watching the shadows of the horizontal blinds move as cars passed by our house, blue and gray walls turning orange and black for a few brief seconds. My bed was tucked beside the wall and away from the path of light and shadow, but I still liked holding my hands up into it, to see the shape they could make as they retreated across the room.

There was one night that I remember distinctly laying in bed, thinking about something I had learned that day, that there were people that spoke languages that weren’t like mine. I was confused, and convinced that regardless, they must still think in English. How could people think differently from me? The concept was abstract, speculative, too far away from my experience. I worked around it. Perhaps, if I learned a new word, I could use that in my thought process. What if that new word happened to be in another language, and I just didn’t realize that? Would I be thinking in words that weren’t my own? Or maybe, just maybe thoughts weren’t words at all. Maybe the images in your head had their own language, a mind-language, that you interpreted as it came to you. That made me feel better, as if I had solved something.

I was five years old. Too young to give voice to the things in my head, aware enough to cry when I heard my parents screaming at each other through the thin walls of our little house, naïve enough to think that making stop signs stopped more than just traffic.

(One of the last writing classes I took in college was on literary non-fiction. It may have been one of the best things for my craft at the time, and I still indulge myself in it now and then.)