A few weeks out of rehab and he's keeping solid food down and ready to drink a glass of milk. Phillips likes his milk, half a glass in the morning with a bowl of oatmeal, and when he's sure he's not going to throw it all back up, he takes the bus to work.
It's late fall, but the fields of rural Minnesota are damn cold, covered in a sheen of frost. He finds the first bird a few feet from the turbine, a mass of feathers and not much else caught in a shrub. He grabs it with a gloved hand, stuffs what's left into a garbage bag. He wipes sweat from his brow and looks up at the wind turbines spinning overhead.
There's something unsettling about the way they tower over him, always spinning. They are as tall as sky scrapers, full of cold concrete and steel, painted white to protect them from planes. It's only the birds they have to worry about, the dumb ones who run straight into the blades that are as long as a football field.
Phillips hates the biting cold of the fields. He hates the birds he finds shredded to pieces: a clawed foot, a ball of feathers, a severed head. He hates the tremor in his hands, the ache in his bones, all telling him he should've upped his Methandone intake. But he hates those damn pills.
"How many you got?"
Nico is there, standing a few feet away, wearing a hunting hat with floppy ears. His eyes are squinty and small. He's pudgy and Italian and makes Phillips look like a POW. He stoops to pick up a severed wing. Looks like it was a falcon or something, from the way the silky feathers are colored and tapered at the ends. Into the bag it goes.
"Seven birds total I think," Phillips says.
Nico hums, making a tally mark with his pen. He always takes a pad of sticky notes and tallies up the birds. Today, his notes are orange. He has the hardest part of the job, Phillips is sure of it. He braces himself against another tremor, not sure if it's withdrawls or the cold.
"Not as bad as it has been," Nico muses. "Seems like they're getting the idea."
His accent makes "idea" sound like "idear." Phillips keeps picking at the landscape. Sweat rolls down his nose. The bag is heavier with bird parts. He shivers, teeth chattering, as he stuffs more inside. The wind catches a few feathers, sends them fluttering out of his reach. The sun is pink on the horizon, not quite up yet. The turbines keep thrumming and the rotors slice through the air, birds be damned, and sometimes Phillips wonders if he's just as dumb as they are, hit with death before they even realize it. Maybe they think that the rotors are birds, too.
It's an easy mistake, as far as he's concerned.
Elena M. Aponte is a recent graduate of the University of Toledo. She lives in Sylvania.