As I was cleaning the snow off the car, with Lanie waiting inside, the cat scooted by me towards the back porch. I gaped, then knocked on the window to get Lanie's attention.
“He's caught a bird!” I said.
“No way! He has a bell on.”
“I know. But he got a sparrow.”
“Shit,” she said. “He's just brought it into the house.”
We ran towards the back door, fumbled with the keys, went inside.
The sparrow was scrambling helplessly across the kitchen floor. The cat watched it for a second, then pounced again. A flurry of small feathers rose and settled.
“He's playing with it,” I said.
“He's gonna make a mess in the kitchen,” Lanie said.
“All right, let's take the bird away from him.”
Right at that moment, the cat let the sparrow go. It lay on the floor, looking resigned to its fate; the cat looked on disapprovingly. I gestured to Lanie to hold him (he miao'ed in protest) and picked up the sparrow. It felt small and fragile even through my gloves.
“What do we do now?” I said, although I knew the answer.
“We have to kill it, I guess.”
“It doesn't really look hurt. Just ruffled a little. Maybe if we let it go, it could survive.”
“It's got the smell of human all over it now. The other birds would kill it.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, examining the bird. “Its leg is broken. No, it's a goner.”
I stood for a moment with the bird in my hands, hesitating.
“I've never done this before,” I said.
“You just have to break its neck,” said Lanie. “If you give me your gloves, I'll do it.”
I walked out to the back porch. I looked at the sparrow lying on its back in the palm of my hand. It stirred a little. Its left twig of a leg crossed its body at an unnatural angle. I took its head between my thumb and forefinger and twisted as hard as I could.
The head popped off the sparrow's body with no resistance at all. It hit the ground and chirped, once. The tiny legs left in my hand scraped convulsively, then stopped. A scarlet trickle ran down the glove finger. I scrubbed it off with snow, after burying the bird by the trash can.