A Sharp Breath of Birds is a beautiful piece of short fiction to imagine, filled with vivid imagery and colors. We see two women whose lives are lived side by side, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Our protagonist’s life is filled with birds, flying around inside her home, waddling across her bedroom, making their way into her major life events. These appear to be birds only she can see, though her lifelong friend, Alice, can see them as well near the end of the story.
I’m confident there are a number of ways to interpret the brilliant symbolism — here’s my interpretation. I see the birds as representations of their freedom and growth as women. At age two, the protagonist’s first bird is a penguin, a perfect representation of the beginning of life. They can’t fly but they’re extremely resilient. As the girls grow, the birds are more varied, with species that play more into fairy tales than every day life. The birds are playthings, strongly inserted into their growth stage but perhaps not completely understood. At young adulthood, they move beyond the make believe and men enter their lives. The birds are less varied and the wedding feels like a firm shift into a more muted stage of life. The swan imagery tells me she’s lost a part of herself on the way to this event.
As she ages, our protagonist slowly comes into her own. Birds reenter her life tenfold, constantly flying around her until she eventually starts to become a bird herself. She tries to hide it, as other women seem to be doing, but eventually she embraces this new form. She frees herself to be the person she is, beyond the societal expectation that she should hide herself beneath clothing and domestic life. At the end, she leaves her life behind, flying into the world to save her friend who is stuck in a loveless marriage. Unbeknownst to her, the friend has suddenly embraced who she is and is ready to fly away.
A Sharp Breath of Birds is a brilliant story and will leave you thinking about the imagery long after you’ve finished reading its few words.
A Sharp Breath of Birds
Written by Tina Connolly