Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

I’m Not the Killing Type

NOTE: This entry is not light reading and contains an upsetting incident.

“I once stepped on a dying bird.
It was a mercy killing;
I could not sleep for a week.
I kept feeling its breaking bones.”
Amanda Palmer

The day had been a good one, if a bit trying. I’d walked the hour from the hostel into the city where I had a difficult but comforting conversation, worked on a couple things, and devoured some gelato. From there it was another forty minute walk to cross the river and find the Butterfly Club. The bar had been recommended as a place I needed to see before I left town. And in my quick scan that assessment appeared correct. Low lit with colorful lights, old but not antique furniture, an alternative crowd, remarkably dapper and friendly staff who sold me a ticket for Damsel Sophie’s cabaret show and who held the other ticket for Julia. The night was going to take a turn for the more light-hearted I could feel.

Stepping outside into the cooler night air I grabbed a coffee from next door and stepped back to the doorway of the Butterfly. A woman sporting thick eyeliner and matching cropped black hair peeking out from underneath a worn furry hat stepped outside and asked about my day. Hers, it seemed, had been as much a mixed bag of good and emotionally draining. More so, even. It was within the first few exchanged lines that she proffered the question.

“If you find a dying animal, what do you do? Do you end the suffering, or do you walk on by?”

I took a shallow breath and exhaled. “Mercy killing,” I said affectless, devoid of any feeling. Having nearly had to do one a few weeks back on a possum who had fallen off a street light, I couldn’t let emotion enter the equation. The possum had just stared at me through terrified jet black eyes, watching me circle it, not moving other than to twitch its dislocated or broken leg. After a minute of evaluation, I knew the course. Surveying the tools at hand I walked to pick up a discarded chair seat, the only object not bolted down. A swift guillotine motion would be the best I could do. But by the time I returned the possum had moved a meter. He didn’t do it well, and he was clearly injured, but he was still well off enough that it was not my place to be the merciful hand of nature. It was all the better, given I was not completely sober and had just heard a few songs that rattled me. I had my stay of executioner duties.

Back in front of the Butterfly, dark eyes looked at me from behind the eyeliner with an almost relieved sense of understanding. “I know. Everyone else would just walk away and let it go on. But I just can’t bring myself to do it, even though I know it should be done.”

“Do what?”

“There’s a pigeon with a broken neck down the street. I’ve been trying but I can’t bring myself to do it.”

She took me to the bird. Its body was standing up straight, but its head was completely upside-down. He couldn’t fly. When I lightly touched him with a stick all he could do was to circle. He repeated the motion a few times over the next minute. Always anti-clockwise. Close enough to the curb that his head ran into it. And broken as he was, he didn’t move away to complete the circle, just kept pushing until somehow he made it the full way around. There was no hope for him. It was just a matter of time.

“How were you going to do it?”


“Give it to me.”

She looked at me with relief and tenderness. “You’ll do it?”

“It needs to be done. If you can’t…”

She didn’t say anything. Just looked into me and held back a tear. We walked up the street and retrieved the brick. We came back to the scene. I put my coffee down and gauged the heft of the brick. It wasn’t small. This should do it pretty handily.

I spaced my feet out. Then shifted and got in a stance over the bird. I tried to line up the blow so it wouldn’t lose momentum on the wings. It needed to hit the head only. Decapitation would be best, but crushing the head entirely would be sufficient. And messy. I touched the edge of the brick to the bird’s neck. He flailed. He turned anti-clockwise. He jumped away from the curb.

She brought her hands down to steady it. More flailing. More movement. Without a steady bird I couldn’t hit the target. She moved her hands away. The bird settled. It was free, unencumbered. Its last moments would be uncaged, untouched.

I set my stance wide and low. Brick in hand I lifted it and lowered it over the pigeon’s head. Counting in my head with my wind-up motions. One. Two. She put a hand on my back to comfort me, giving me what strength she could muster and reassuring me that it was the right course. I counted out loud. “One. Two. Three.”

The brick came down hard. It struck true, right on target. It bounced.

It wasn’t enough.

The pigeon was in hysterics. It bounded up, landing on its back half a meter away. Its wings flapped viciously. Then they found a more rhythmic pattern of open and closed. The pattern slowed. And stopped.

The whole process took about ten seconds from brick fall to ceasing of motion. Ten frantic seconds. Ten seconds where the bird had reached a new level of pain, where the broken neck it had adapted to was a faint memory. Ten seconds where my heart sunk and I had done wrong. Then it was over.

We stood there in silence, looking at the bird, waiting for any signs of motion or life. There were none. Whatever had been left in that animal had run out. We looked at each other. No words. Just understanding. It needed to be done. It wasn’t done well. Yet I had done it when she couldn’t. Neither one of us was wrong, but neither one of us had done it right. Maybe we were even? Maybe in trying to be merciful we had still ended up on the wrong side of the equation. There’s no way to know.

She walked over and hugged me. We held in the embrace strongly for an amount of time just shy of painful goodbyes, great news, and strong sympathies. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t emotional at all. There was nothing but detachment left in me.

“Do you want a drink?”

“Yeah… Yeah, a drink would be good.”

“So what’s your name?”

One comment on “I’m Not the Killing Type

  1. Sam
    December 5, 2012

    I read a set of short stories by Australian author Tim Winton recently. Reading this reminded me of it greatly. Strangers pulled together by an unusual incident. A struggle to do right. A conclusion that wrenches your heart a little. An uneasiness. Reasessing your world through eyes that are a little more lined. All the stories went a little like that. I found I could only get about half way through the book before I had to return it. Stories like that, one after the other, were too hard to get through. But one, once in a while, it can teach you or show you something. Maybe telling it is the important thing. Sharing it to see where others stand. See who else understands.

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This entry was posted on March 28, 2012 by in Australia, Victoria (Melbourne) and tagged .

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