Lost & Found
They weren’t quite a corpses when I found them. they lay there lifeless, unmoving, but I could feel the warmth still emanating, steam slowly curling off the snow. There was a beauty to them; stoic, sad, dangerous.
My first instinct was remorse. Poor fellas, I thought. Someone must’ve loved you very much. I watched to see if they moved, if their loss was merely a visage of my own imagination, the drugs coursing through my brain and clouding realty. They didn’t.
My friends laughed at them, a nervous laughter split between wonder and indifference.
“Come on, let’s go,” they chuckled, their minds already on the meal and festivities ahead.
“Hold on,” I said, my interest piqued.
I shouldn’t have touched them, but I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t stand to see them left like that, hidden in the shadows between the curb and the road. It was undignified. Who knew what might happen if I simply left their stiff visceras lying there. Who knew what sort of people might wander by and pick them up, play with them, or, worse yet, destroy them.
I reached down and gently wrapping my hand around them, cupping with an unearthly reverence. They were cool and solid, as if the forces of nature wanted them frozen in time just like this, their gentle beauty locked in a permanent embrace with time.
I wanted to show them kindness and justice. I wanted them to be returned to where they belonged, though I knew not where that was. Most of all, I wanted them to be safe from the treachery of others, the elements, and the world that had left them lying there.
“I’ll be right back,” I whispered, their form still tucked into the curvature of my hands.
“Where are you going?” my friends queried.
I paused, considering my answer. “Inside. I’m taking them inside. Where they’ll be safe. I’ll deal with them later.”
“You sure that’s a good idea?”
“Fuck it,” I said. “I should leave them lying here?”
They didn’t answer with words, but the look they shot each other said it all: If you leave them, who knows what will happen.
I lost myself in drink and food and beautiful women. I felt only a momentary nagging that I had done the wrong thing.
“Don’t touch them,” I had often heard in my youth. “If you touch them, you’ll get your scent on them and then the mama bird won’t take them back.”
It’s an old wives’ tale. Birds’ senses of smell are terrible. They’re certainly not good enough from them to reject a chick because a human touched it.
But the lie has some veracity. A child who picks up a baby bird is more likely to kill it than to help it. And I guess that’s the point.
The din of the establishment roared back to the fore and gone were my worries once more.
When I returned, they were right where I left them. Their lovely veneer called to me, made me feel a strange morbid desire, speckled with guilt.
On the one hand, I wished I could possess them, hold them tight and never let go. But deep down I knew that they’d never truly be mine. Just approaching them left a pit in my stomach and lump in my throat, the acrid stench of rot, the implication of wrongdoing, wafting through my home. It might have been the fish skin in the trash from dinner the night before. It might have been all in my head. Or maybe, just maybe, the warmth of my home brought the scent directly from them.
It’s like the tell-tale heart, I said, as if their appearance in the road were somehow my fault. I swore I felt the pounding metastasizing from their vestigial forms and flowing, as if by osmosis, directly to my core. My heart rate rose, my friends’ chiding jabs still fresh in my memory. Maybe I should put them back and let someone else deal with them. Maybe I should finish what I started and find them a home.
I wondered if my friends would’ve done the same in my position. Would they have taken in these lost souls and searched for the proper end? Would they have carefully preserved their beauty for their own ends? Would they have left them in the cold for another to deal with?
I didn’t have an answer. All I had was a body of evidence that insinuated my complicity in a revolting act I never took part in.
The fear ate at me.
What if someone found me burying these poor souls? Would they think I did this? Would my words be heard? My pleas believed? Or would I, in turn, be thrust into the grip of unkarmic retribution?
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t possibly follow through on my well-intentioned promises. I was afraid, shivering, wondering.
They sat there for hours, unmoving. I stood there observing, unmoved. The fear grew and then fell, my mind wandering to other responsibilities. With every bump and cry outside, I jumped.
They’re coming for me, I mused, paranoia caressing the fragile edges of my mind. I have to do something.
My Poe-inspired musings became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I picked them up and secreted them away. I hid them from view. Out of sight, out of mind, I told myself. I turned my back and crawled into bed, hoping that dream would whisk me away.
But I could feel them still there, hiding, watching with cold, lifeless eyes. My fears had taken on a life of their own.
It was days until I forgot about them, the nagging guilt ever on my conscience. The roof repairs couldn’t have been more poorly timed, as every bump and creak left me nervous and jumpy. The loud thumps made me wonder if a ghost, or, worse yet, a living being, were pounding on my walls in search of their lost little pets.
But no one came. No one knocked. No one posted signs.
I waited and watched, one side of me hoping that someone would come; that I could say, “here, take them. I’m sorry for your loss.” The other side of me hoped it would all just go away.
Day by day, they became more forgotten, both by me and the world around me, fading from view more thoroughly than any box or closet door could hide them.
And then they were gone.
I don’t remember when I actually forgot about them. It might have been a week or a month. Or it might have been years.
I do, however, remember finding them again, still tucked in that box, dust covering what remained. A pang of guilt washed over me, my beating fear redoubled momentarily. But it was gone in an instant.
What remained was a sadness, an understanding that they had been forgotten. The culprit had forgotten. The witnesses had forgotten. Even I had forgotten.
It hadn’t taken long, but the amount of time didn’t matter. It hearkened back to the promises I made when my best friend died; within a year my resolution to live better in his memory already wasted in my own slackerdom. It hearkened back to the improvement I had promised myself at my grandmother’s funeral; I showed her less respect than I had in life, failing her like I had others before. It hearkened back to my resignation from the lacrosse team; for if I couldn’t help on the field, what use was I on the team at all.
I cupped them in my hands once more, carefully brushing the dust off. With a sad longing, I carried them outside, holding fast to their bodies and memory.
I paused for a moment, the sun’s warmth clawing at my face as I thought about what I held before me.
And just like that, I buried them, their existence memorialized and their fate etched upon my soul.