“I don’t like cats. They’re killers.”
“Aren’t most living things?”
“It’s different. Take a domestic cat, plenty of food to eat, and still – in a year, just one of them kills enough birds to fill a room.”
“Your statistic’s shit. What cat? Where? And who the hell is going round picking up dead birds anyhow? In fact, how big is this room, are we talking bathrooms or office suites?”
“I don’t know, a room, any room, just some normal-sized-seen- it-a-hundred-times-before room, this kitchen, let’s say this kitchen.”
You imagine birds heaving against the floorboards. You think of them layered up around the furniture. You think of claws ironed out and hedged up in the saucepans. You imagine the birds arranged methodically, as if you were filling something a box with matches and you wanted it to be as tightly packed as possible. Tight little rows of claws and beaks. But you hesitate at the soft- sacked bodies. The bodies would be a problem for space saving. The different sizes would make for a difficult fit. You decide the smallest birds would have to be used as fillers, stuffed between pigeons and blackbirds. You think about birds. And then you think about what was said another time in a different kitchen. She told you about a deaf student who was learning English. He was learning the difference between nouns, adjectives and verbs. She told you that separating these is counterintuitive if you sign, because in sign language the information is delivered simultaneously. Depending on the hand-shapes, facial expressions, body gestures and spatial placement, you’re told what something is, and how it looks and moves. So splitting up nouns, adjectives and verbs – it wasn’t the easiest concept to teach. That’s why she had written words on cards: he would sort them into groups. On the cards there were words like “pen”, “write”, “big”, “small”. There was also the word “bird”. And this word he got wrong, which is to say he thought it was a verb. She had signed: no, it’s a thing, so it’s a noun. But that’s when she realised she was wrong. Because he looked at her and starting “birding”: he hunched down, twitched head and neck, ruffled, bristled, pecked, whatever, he was and he did, he birded. A bird was not a thing. But “to bird” was. And that’s what is strangest about the image of this kitchen full of dead birds: the stillness of it, the airlessness of things that are in fact verbs. To think of wings leadened and squashed out of size; to think of warblers bruised yellow or robins pressed red against windowpanes – it doesn’t make sense. Then there’s the decomposition. The smell of it. And the heat. You wonder how long it would take for the heat to drain out. Or wouldn’t it? Like some strange internal lagging – warm flesh maintaining warm flesh. You decide the heat would have to drain. But you’re still unsure about how long it would take for the birds to start turning liquid. You think of feathers – their glossiness reminds you of when freshly waxed boots repel the rain. You want to know how long the feathers would stay like that. You want to know whether they would give way to wetness. And when. Then you think about the gasses. Would it end up like that artwork where household waste was sealed in a plastic tower – the one that was cut short because the decomposition was too violent and the work seeped, then burst? You think about the colours again and when would they fade. If it takes a cat one year to fill that room, how many years will it take to empty it again? And whose years are we talking? Yours? Mine? A cat’s? A bird’s? You don’t know. You simply do not know.
“Here, make us another cup will you?”
“Sorry, I can’t, you know, seeing as the kettle’s full of birds and that.”
Lars Horn works as a writer, mixed-media artist, scholar, and translator.