“Cardinal Sin” by Jennifer Fox

Julie stared at the cardinal laying in the snow outside her living room window. It was like fresh crimson on white porcelain tile which made the small horizontal scar on her left wrist burn. Is it dead?

She chewed her lower lip. It’d been years since she stepped foot outside the house, but with the increase in delivery services and her modest, yet steady income from Esty, she never had a need to. It was safer this way. People always let you down. Left you. Inside these walls, she had everything she needed. But cardinals were her favorite and this was the first she’d seen in a long time. Her mother told her once that they were a sign of good things to come.

The bird lifted its head, trying to stand, but collapsed back into the snow. Julie paced between the door and window. It’s injured. It’s cold. It won’t survive.

She went to the sink, pulled her long dark hair back into a loose knot, and splashed cold water on her face. You can do this. It needs you. It flew into the window because it wanted in. It wanted you.

The cold air pierced her lungs as she opened the door. Her eyes darted up and down the street, but it was empty. She scooped the bird up tight to her chest. Snowflakes fell like soft, icy kisses on her skin. She lifted her chin to the sky and welcomed them, but the faint sound of a baby’s cry startled her. She scanned the street again and saw a woman exiting her house two doors down with a car seat draped in a pink polka dot blanket. A deep ache grew within her womb. She ran back into the house and slammed the door behind her.

She pulled a blanket from the hall closet, laid it out on the table like a makeshift nest, and set the bird down. It was still. She rubbed her finger up and down it’s chest softly, but there was no movement.

“Don’t worry. I’m gonna love you forever,” she whispered, then scooped it up and headed downstairs to her craft room.

Shelves lined the walls with various crafting materials and half-finished Etsy products. Julie covered the worktable in the center of the room with plastic and got to work. It was easy when they were fresh like this.

With a scalpel, she made an incision from the base of the tail to just below the beak, then pulled everything from the inside out, just like daddy had shown her. Once everything was gutted, she washed the cavity with a borax solution, stuffed it with cotton, and sewed it shut.

Small animals took no time at all to do. The others took considerably longer. Especially mommy and daddy. It took days to thaw them before they were ready to work on, but most of that happened in the back of moving van on the way to their new home here in Colorado. It was a fresh start for all of them.

She pulled a hand painted birdcage from the shelf, one of her bestsellers on Etsy. It had red roses that matched the feathers almost perfectly. She stuck pins through its feet to secure it to the perch and carried the cage out to the family room to show everyone.

“Isn’t she lovely?” she beamed.

Mommy and daddy sat beside one another in their rockers, expressionless. The freezing had made their skin less pliable, and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t get their faces to set into a smile. She knew they were proud though.

Christopher was different though. He never had to be frozen. His gorgeous smile beamed at her from the couch, arm out, always ready to hold her. They’d only gone on two dates but she knew he was the one. They’d been inseparable since.

“Yes, I know going outside was risky, daddy,” she said, scowling. “I was careful though.”

She curled up beside Christopher on the couch, draping her legs over his lap. The glass fitting in his left eye socket started to slide so she pushed it gently back in place. It was slightly darker than the gunmetal blue eyes he had when they met, but it was the closest she could find.

“I think we should have a baby,” she whispered in his ear, giggling. “Yes, a beautiful little girl would be perfect, don’t you think babe?”

She leaned her head on his shoulder and dreamt of nursery colors as the cardinal sang its silent song from the birdcage.

Jennifer Fox is a western New York native and MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. She is a staff reader for Thirty West Publishing House and has had work featured in Across the Margin, The Daily Drunk Mag, The Write Launch, Disquiet Arts, and Anti-Heroin Chic

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