“Blackbirds” by Karen Heuler
When my grandparents immigrated, they were very poor and lived for a time near a park with some of their children (it would be years before the whole family could be together).
My grandfather went to the park at evening to catch blackbirds for dinner. I guess they ate blackbirds where he came from and it was a familiar thing to do. The blackbirds in this country were very agitated, however; they were New World birds and not used to being eaten. They would dive at my grandfather whenever they saw him, sometimes a dozen birds all together. They would wait in the trees for him; sometimes they’d wait over his doorway. I don’t know how the birds communicated my grandfather’s sins to each other, but occasionally a bird would swoop on him when he was blocks away.
Because of the attacks, my grandfather was forced to buy hats, which the birds ripped to shreds. He couldn’t afford to keep buying hats, so he stopped snaring the birds.
Years, years later, his grandchildren became vegetarians and put out bird feeders and bird baths. By then grandfather had gotten smaller and smaller and his bones had gotten as thin as a bird’s and with the black cap that he perpetually wore, and the way he sometimes stole bright things, we called him Magpie.
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Karen Heuler’s Artist Statement: Karen Heuler’s stories have appeared in over 90 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies, from Alaska Quarterly Review to Clarkesworld to Weird Tales, as well as a number of Best Of anthologies. She has published four novels and two story collections with university and small presses, and her last collection was chosen for Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013 list. She has received an O. Henry award, been a finalist for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award and the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction. In October, Aqueduct Press will be publishing her next collection, Other
Places, which follows women facing strange circumstances on this world and others.