The Dead Man’s Gift / Tristan Foster

Ever the romantic, ever the dead, the Dead Man buys two birds from the market. Two rainbow finches, tiny and beautiful, red faces, purple breasts, one cage each. Both boys, the shopkeeper says after he has taken the Dead Man’s money, folding the crumpled banknotes straight in his hands. He gestures with the notes at the females not as purple, not as bright. So has bought two boys, vivid and full of life, something like a child would invent on a quiet afternoon. Takes them home in separate cages, one in each hand. Hurries to his room with them but not before his sister sees. She shakes her head and tells him: Dad will kill you. The Dead Man shrugs, tells her he won’t have them for long, not both, one is a gift. She asks him: What about the other? He says: I will keep it on the balcony. She asks: And what about the crows? A crow will peck a hole right through your bird. He is ignoring her now, is, instead, studying the finches closely, trying to meet their eyes. He chooses the one he will give away: it calls to the heavens, bright as a jewel, a tangle of nerves and electricity which can be snuffed out as easily as a candle flame. That night, the Dead Man borrows his friend’s car. Visits him to ask for it without warning so it’s harder to refuse. Drives back home and puts the cage on the passenger seat, wraps the seat belt around it to hold it in place, winds the window down so the bird has fresh air. Couriers it across town through roaring traffic, the finch flitting around in the cage and twittering nervously in the glow of brake lights. It’s as if the Dead Man’s heart has escaped his chest and is in a cage next to him; two rainbow finches, one for her, one for him, apart now, but together one day – when the time is right. Pulls over in front of her house, under the tree hanging over the tall fence. Turns the car off but keeps the headlights on. Takes the keys from the ignition. The finch is still, but chirruping quietly, to itself. Only now does it occur to the Dead Man: he has no way to give the bird over. Ring the bell – and then what? He does not even know her name. Wait in ambush till he sees her? Climb the gate like a thief? Leave the bird in the yard? The teasing of his sister returns to him: a crow will eat it before sunrise. He sits in the borrowed car, headlights blazing, feeling like a magician who has failed at a magic trick, as if the point of it all was to broaden his own despair.


Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father and 926 Years, co-authored with Kyle Coma-Thompson.

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