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My name is Morgan Delgado, Junior. I was eight when Maddy Baxter, our nearest neighbor, began calling me Finch. The bird she named me after hit our front window a couple of days after my father left. It sounded like someone had thrown a clod of dirt.
Momma jumped sky-high and turned from the stove. “Jesus, Morgan, what was that?” Her hair was coming in all soft and fuzzy. “Chemo hair,” she called it, curly instead of straight the way it had been before the treatments. The ceiling light made it look like she was wearing a halo.
I’d been watching TV and got up to see what happened. There was the powdery print of a bird’s breast and wings against the glass. The longest feathers were outlined like angel wings, ghostly and beautiful on the pane.
I looked at Momma. “A bird hit the window.”
Her eyes filled with tears. Everything made her cry back then.
I unlocked the front door. “I’m gonna go see if it’s dead.”
The bird lay on the deck in the blaze of light from the living room lamps. I thought for sure it was dead, but when I picked it up, little clicking sounds came from its open beak like it was struggling to breathe. I could feel its heart beating against my palm.
“Take it down to Maddy,” Momma said when I came into the kitchen carrying the bird. “She’ll know what to do. I’ll call and tell her you’re coming.”
Momma held the bird against her cheek while I put on my knockoff Uggs and a coat. She handed me the bird and a flashlight from the kitchen drawer.
I clamped the flashlight in my armpit and ran down the road to Maddy’s driveway with the bird cupped in my hands. Her porch light came on when I got near the house and the front door opened. Maddy is really old but knows everything there is to know about wildlife.
“Let’s see what you’ve got.” She put on her glasses.
I opened my hands and held up the coldcocked bird.
“It’s a female house finch.” She took it from me.
“What was it doing flying at night?”
“Something probably startled it and it flew toward the light. Were your lights on?”
“Uh-huh. Momma don’t like it dark anymore.”
Maddy looked at me over the tops of her reading glasses like she still has a habit of doing when there’s a lesson to learn. “Doesn’t like. She doesn’t like it dark anymore.”
I ducked my head. “It hit real hard.”
Inside Maddy’s kitchen, I punched holes in the lid of a shoebox with a pencil while she lined the bottom with a few clean rags. The bird looked like it was lying in a coffin before Maddy taped the lid down.
“Don’t … doesn’t it need food and water?”
“Do you eat when you’re sleeping?”
“Well, then. We’ll put it someplace warm and dark. If it survives the night, we’ll let it go in the morning.”
I trailed her to the hall closet and watched her put the shoebox on the top shelf. Rufus, one of Maddy’s three cats, followed. “Not for you,” Maddy said. Rufus turned and padded away.
“He acts like he understands you.”
“He does. He reads my mind and I read his.” Maddy closed the louvered doors.
When I got home, Momma was waiting for me on the porch. “What did she say?”
“It’s a female house finch, and she thinks it will be okay.” I’m not sure why I didn’t tell the truth. Maddy said maybe it would die, or maybe it wouldn’t.
“That’s good, honey, but don’t get your hopes up. It hit that window pretty hard.”
“It’ll be okay.”
Momma was shivering. She hugged herself and rubbed her arms but took a moment to look up at the stars before following me inside.
First thing the next morning, I ran down the road to Maddy’s.
“I’m glad you showed up. I’d forgotten all about that bird.”
Rufus and I followed Maddy to the closet. As soon as she picked up the box, we heard the bird fluttering inside.
I grinned up at Maddy and she patted the top of my head.
“We’ll test-fly her in the bathroom to make sure she doesn’t have a broken wing.” She shooed Rufus, who’d followed us into the small downstairs bathroom. She closed the door, then nodded for me to open the lid. The bird was standing up. She blinked at us, flew straight at the mirror, hit it lightly, and fell behind a bottle of mouthwash.
Maddy caught her and held her with the bird’s neck between two middle fingers.
“Aren’t you choking her?”
“Not at all. Birds have skinny little necks under all those feathers.” She held her up to the light, pulled first one wing away from her body, and then the other.
“Whatcha looking for?”
“Mites. She’s clean.”
Maddy tested the bird’s feet, which clamped down on her index finger. “The only thing wrong with this bird is she doesn’t appreciate that you saved her life. Shall we?” Maddy nodded toward the door, which I opened.
In the yard, we turned to face my house. “That’s the way home,” Maddy said. The bird’s feet were still clamped around Maddy’s finger. She kissed the top of its head and moved her other hand away. The bird stayed perched as if she were as tame as a parakeet.
I held my breath. After a few seconds, I said, “Maybe she is hurt.”
Copyright © 2019 by Ginny Rorby
Reading and activity guide copyright © 2019 by Tor Books