The Weight of the Birds

— For James Tate

I have a friend named Harry who decided to kill himself.
“I’ve decided to kill myself,” he said. “You did?” I said,
“That’s a big decision.” “Not really,” he said, “when you know,
you just know.” So I asked Harry if he had settled on how he was
going to do it. “I’m going with old faithful,” he said, “gun to the head.”
“That certainly is effective Harry,” I said. “Yes, I agree.” he said.
So I asked him when he was planning on doing it and if he’d like me
to come along for support. The thing about my friend Harry is he’s
a real loner and I didn’t think he’d want me there for something so
personal, but I offered anyway out of respect. I was surprised when
he accepted, and quite honored. So that evening over dinner
we made plans for when and where his suicide would take place.
It was clear that Harry didn’t want to wait much longer, so we settled
on first thing the next morning near the lake behind my house.
There was a buzz of electricity in the air and we both had great
difficulty falling asleep that night. When I did sleep, I had a dream
that I was Major Tom from the Bowie song and I was floating above
the Earth, raising my fists to the heavens. We woke early and headed
out to the lake. Harry brought along the weapon. I can’t say what it was
specifically, because I have never been a gun person, but it was silver
with a wooden handle. “This is it,” Harry said when we approached the
lake. “Yes, Harry I suppose it is,” I said. I leaned in and gave him a big
hug and thanked him for being such a good friend all these years. There
were no tears because of the new law about that, and you never knew
when they might be watching. He lifted the gun and positioned the end
of the barrel just above his left ear. I took a few steps back and smiled
encouragingly, then he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.
When the shot rang out, hundreds of birds perched in the Poplars
around the lake bolted to the sky and the trees took a deep breath,
relieved of the weight of all those birds.