Two in the Bush
Copyright 2021 by Sam Smith
It was a sunny day in late
April. My sister was at after-school swim practice, and I’d
made a new friend.
Suddenly, I heard the front
door squeak closed on the other side of the house, followed by the
familiar clacking of my mom’s favorite heels. The clacking drew
closer, then further, then further still as my mom searched through
sunroom!” My dad called out.
Then he turned back to me
and snapped another photograph. The low whir of the polaroid was
drowned out by my mom’s gasp as she stepped into the room.
She gripped the black
leather straps of her purse so tightly that her knuckles turned
white, and the purse straps rubbed together in a loud groan.
said. “What’s he doing with that?”
She directed her
exasperation at my dad, but I could feel the fear and surprise coming
off the same way you feel the chill of ice in a soda even before it
touches your lips.
dear,” he said, pinching the corner of the photograph, and
shaking it slowly.
My dad always called her
that — dear — in sharp contrast to all the nicknames he
had for me and my sister. To him, we were prince and princess,
pumpkin head and pumpkin, buddy and baby sister.
do you mean?”
My mom asked, the chill filling the room. “It could be sick.”
They tried not to fight
when both my sister and I were in the room, but when it was just one
of us by ourselves I guess we faded into the background — even
though we were somehow the usual topic of argument. I watched them
silently, like I always did. But this time I wasn’t alone, and
my new friend didn’t seem to mind either the chill or the
Then my dad turned to me.
“Tell her, buddy,” he said. “Tell her about the
I paused, looking from one
parent to the other, then down at the black bird I held loosely in my
hand, it’s feathers rubbing softly against my dirty palms.
I just picked
it up,” I said.
was it on the
ground, sweetie?” My mom asked, switching to a gentler tone. “I
mean, was it laying on the ground?”
I shook my head, keeping my
hands very still so that I would disturb my new friend.
“It was hoping around in the backyard with some other birds.”
My dad beamed down at me
and snapped another polaroid. My mom shot him a look.
did you see it
guess so,” I
said. “I was playing on the tire swing and then I saw these
birds that weren’t there before.”
my dad said. “Tell her how you caught it.”
My mom looked at me
intently, eager to hear how this black bird had found its way into
her house and son’s hands.
I wanted to
see how close I could get to them. And I got really close. And I
wanted to see if I could pick one up.” I raised the bird to
show her that I had, indeed, been able to pick one up.
“I think it’s a
crow,” my dad said, looking at the photograph he’d taken.
“A female crow.”
My mom completely ignored
him. “And you brought it inside?”
I paused, unsure if I had
done something wrong by bringing the bird in the house. We let our
cats and dogs in the sunroom when we pet-sat for our family friends.
Why not this bird?
“I wanted to show you.”
My parents shared a look
that I didn’t understand. For a second I thought they were
going to start fighting again. But they didn’t.
said. “Can you set a timer on that camera?”
read my mind,”
he said, turning a knob and placing the camera on a nearby
My parents crouched down on
either side of me and my bird.
said in unison.
The camera flashed, and my
parents stood up.
my dad said. “Are you ready to let your friend free?”
I hadn’t thought that
I had been keeping it against its will, but I nodded.
My mom opened the door, and
we all walked together into the clover-covered backyard.
set it down
gently,” my mom said.
I mashed down some of the
clover with my feet, giving the bird an easy takeoff spot, then knelt
down, placing the bird’s feet gently on the ground. It let out
a gentle squak, and I pulled back my hands.
In two quick hops, the bird
was neck-deep in clover. It moved its head around, looking up at the
trees, then turned back toward me.
I remained still, watching
my friend while it watched me.
The bird cocked its head to
the side, and hopped out of the high clover, back toward me —
into the space I had cleared. It let out another soft squak, shook
out its feather, spread its wings, and sprung into the air. With a
few quick flaps it was above me. I stood up, keeping my eye on the
bird as it disappeared beyond the trees.
I think about that bird
whenever I visit my parents’ house. Especially when I see a
flock of black crows hopping around. I’ll even admit that every
now and then I try and pick one up. I haven’t been successful
since that time when I was a kid, but one of the polaroids is still
on the fridge. And every year one of my parents says something along
the lines of,
Sam caught a bird when he was a kid?”
And if someone is there
that hasn’t heard the story before, they’ll ask if I used
a net, or a cage, or some sort of trap.
My parents will smile, and
say in eager unison, “Nope. He just picked it up with his
This story, which
Sam recalls very fondly, seemed appropriate for the StoryHouse
writing contest for nonfiction animal stories. He hopes you will
enjoys writing for his friends and family, especially his partner,
who sometimes collaborated with him on a lazy Sunday afternoon. He
has never published any of his writing, but has begun submitting to a
few contests as an exercise to improve something which brings him so
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher