The Weight of Feathers

Lindz McLeod

Writer’s Note: Near my home, there’s a high tunnel where pigeons nest; whenever I pass through it, I wondered whether the fluttering was in pursuit of a fight or a mate or something else entirely. The character of the soldier with PTSD came to mind as someone who might understand that fluttering, and might be able to decipher it in senses rather than words. Some things, after all, can’t be explained, only felt.

‘The Weight of Feathers’ paraphrases Shakespeare’s ‘Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,’ from Romeo & Juliet. The title is at once an oxymoron and a true description, because often the burdens that weigh us down most heavily are not physical things, but instead memories and experiences. I interspersed the violence of war with the soldier’s memories of things that once brought him comfort, like childhood baseball games and his favourite bar—these all blend together until he’s unable to tell friend from foe, in the language of fluttering.

              In the metal rafters above your head, the smell of wings beating defensively is an ultraviolet smear; pigeons coo whether they’re fighting or not, whether they’re living or dying, like everything is one and the same to them, and maybe—for a pigeon—the line between one and the other is a spectrum rather than a yes or no answer.

              The taste of a crackling trash fire, orange with shame, while old newspapers smoulder under the weight of a dozen naked, rheumy eyes. Cars driving over the bridge feel like the buzzing of thousands of hungry bees under the worn soles of your cheap boots. Low and dull and drab. A khaki-melted void, edged with tan; a small place where you carved out small memories and submerged them, bare-handed, in a barrel of gunpowder. Not buried, for the dead often rise again, but drowned, water-logged and weighted with the acrid tang of smoke.

              Gravel crunching. An egg splattering on the ground. Old men, clearing their throats. Teenagers, moving in a pack. The hum of a neon bar sign. The stink of unwashed flesh, singing with fear. A bullet, zinging past your ear. A bullet, thudding into the wall behind you. A pockmarked house, wounded but still standing proud. A bullet, hitting home. A bat, smacking out a home run. A high, caprine shriek from the enemy’s side. Blood on sand, pooling slowly. Victory, echoed on a dozen lips, slapped onto a dozen backs. A headcount, afterwards, much lower than you’d hoped. A medal, glinting brightly on someone else’s chest. A handshake, firm but fair. Vision, bright and dull, bright and dull, fading in and out with the thrashing of wings.

Lindz McLeod is a queer, working-class, Scottish writer who dabbles in the surreal. Her prose has been published by Catapult, Flash Fiction Online, Pseudopod, and many more. She is a full member of the SFWA and is represented by Headwater Literary Management.