Baby Birds and Other Consequences

end of weekend visitation
end of weekend visitation

The baby bird lay in the road perfectly centered in the lane. It struggled. It opened and closed its mouth. I decided to save it. I was eight.

I knew what my dad would say if I handled the bird with my bare hands. I went to the carport and found stained gardening gloves, the shovel, a ratty towel, and a cardboard box. Cars rarely came down our road and even if one did, I figured the bird would be okay. It was, after all, not where wheels should go.

The bird was still there. I looked down the road and coming around the far away curve I saw a van. I considered scooping up the bird, but worried I might drop the little thing and not be able to get out of the way in time. The bird would be okay in the center of the lane.

Shovel in hand, I stayed on the side of the road. Drivers veered when they saw children near the road, so I moved further back. Any sensible grown up would know that a girl that far from the shoulder couldn’t possibly jump into the road without warning. I tried to look in the other direction just to prove that I had no interest in the road at all. But I wanted to keep an eye on the bird, fluttering and gasping in the morning heat.

The van veered anyway. Its right wheels just in the center of the lane. Blood and insides burst out and smeared the pavement with down and feather stuck in.

If I hadn’t been standing there, the van wouldn’t’ve moved toward the yellow line. If I’d stood even further back…if I’d sat down… I got what I could of the bird in the shovel and carried it over to a patch of dirt between a palm tree and an oak.

Characters in fiction are supposed to have consequences for their actions. Unintended consequences are the most fun for the reader, I think. Have you ever read a story where you thought the bad guy suffered no consequences? What about where the hero got no reward? Do such endings disappoint you? How important are the consequences in fiction? Without them does a story feel incomplete?

9 thoughts on “Baby Birds and Other Consequences

  1. I would love to write something intelligent here, but it’s just too early in the morning, and I can’t think of a single example that I’ve read. I do think in general I would be disappointed if the characters did not reap the consequences they deserve. But then again, if done right, leaving the reader in the lurch can be very effective too.

  2. Well… there are stories (like the saying goes) made in the telling, and there are those made in the conclusion. A story in one of the traditional genres — mystery, romance, Western, S/F, whatever — practically MUST end, not just stop, with the loose ends tied up nice and neatly. A mainstream or literary story can (but doesn’t have to) conclude more open-endedly. A shaggy-dog joke can be a lot funnier by being told the right way than it is by virtue of the punchline alone — and other jokes are ruined by the teller’s (often drunken) rambling.

    OTOH, I’ve been in workshops where people were clearly trying to bluff their way out of a bad story. You point out that they’ve neglected to resolve a critical issue or relationship and they say, airily, that they did so intentionally — the excuse along the lines of “Well, you know in real life most stories don’t end up in a tidy way” or “Oh, this is just a slice-of-life story.” Uh-huh.

    I agree with shelli about the photo. Did your mom take it?

  3. I don’t mind if characters don’t get what they deserve, whether it’s good or bad. I like all the loose ends to be tied, but I don’t need a “perfect” ending.

  4. loriaustex

    As always, great stuff and great Qs. And thanks for stopping by; I’m relieved I’ve gotten enough back on track to visit your site.

    The tale you tell that gets to the heart of how serious being a child is, and it was made more wrenching for me because of the flat affect of the telling. I’m always astonished when adults act condescendingly towards children–there is a great well of seriousness and sensitivity in many children that seems to escape notice.

  5. I was 15, on a walk in the neighborhood, a cute little dog decided to follow me. I let him, for a while. When I was making the big crossover into another neighborhood, I tried to shoo the dog away, hoping it would go back to it’s home. I scared it, it ran into the road, a car came screeching around the bend, and the dog was killed before my eyes.

    Character do have consequences, and those stay with them on the page, and must be painted carefully.

  6. D’Arcy, that’s a sad story. I’m sorry that happened. It will certainly stay with me.

    lori, I agree. People don’t take children seriously in the right ways at all. So easy to forget what it was like when we were young.

  7. Just catching up with you, marta. Beautiful post. To me, that’s the definition of tragedy: those seemingly avoidable but unforeseen consequences that cause irrevocable harm. There were times in my marriage where I felt like that bird: a whole host of little consequences came together in just the right way to crush me.

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