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THE PROPER NAME FOR KILLING BIRDS • by Gavin Broom

The sparrow flutters and perches on the Mercedes badge at the end of the bonnet. Even though this feels out of the ordinary, I don’t even blink. Up ahead, traffic lights complete their sequence for perhaps the fourth time. The gridlock remains steadfast. Engines idle with their measured drone. Exhaust fumes drift like dry ice. I shut the vents.

“Pt’chyoo!” the little voice behind me says.

I prise my temple from the cold glass of my window and look at Jack, my son, in the rear view mirror, elevated and strapped into the middle of the back seat. Monica thinks he’s old enough at seven not to require his booster chair but I insist. She says it’s demeaning. Jack doesn’t seem to care.

His left eye is scrunched shut, a white crease running across the bridge of his nose. The tip of his tongue peeks from between his lips. His hands are clasped in the shape of a gun and point between the two front seats, through the windscreen towards the bird sitting on the badge.

“Aw, Jack,” I say into the mirror. “You shouldn’t shoot the birdy.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not nice to kill poor little birdies.”

“Avicide,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

“Avicide, Dad. It’s the killing of birds. Didn’t you know that?”

I frown. “I know what it means, Jack. I’m wondering how you know what it means.”

He shrugs and shuffles irritably in his chair, his index fingers still mimicking the barrel of a pistol. “A-V-I-C-I-D-E. Avicide. Avicide is the killing of birds.” And then, as if to emphasise this, he adds, “Pt’chyoo!” and his hands recoil so that they bump into his chest, his fingertips pointing up to his chin. For the first time, I realise how tightly the straps cross his body and how much his legs spill over the sides of the booster seat, like a frog sitting on a matchbox.

There’s the blast of a horn. An impatient Audi revs behind me. Ahead, cars pull away through the green light, dragging threads of exhaust fume fog behind them. The sparrow on the badge is gone. I can’t stop wondering about the proper name for what else Jack has killed today.


Originally from Central Scotland, Gavin Broom now lives and writes in Michigan, USA. He’s been published over sixty times both online and in print and in a very focused world tour, has read at Dire Literary Series in Boston, MA and Last Monday at Rio in Glasgow, Scotland and MSU Creative Writing Open Mic, East Lansing, MI. He edits fiction for The Waterhouse Review.


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THE PROPER NAME FOR KILLING BIRDS • by Gavin Broom, 4.0 out of 5 based on 52 ratings
Posted on January 24, 2013 in Literary, Stories
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29 Responses to “THE PROPER NAME FOR KILLING BIRDS • by Gavin Broom”


  1. Dan Purdue Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 3:57 am

    This is nicely done, Gav. One of those small scenes in a character’s life where the whole world tips slightly and nothing’s ever the same again.

    Subtle, but poignant. Good work!

  2. The Proper Name for Killing Birds « Words. Sentences. Stuff. Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 5:06 am

    […] short story — The Proper Name for Killing Birds — went live on Everyday Fiction this morning. The more observant among you, my reading […]

  3. Jen Tran! Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 5:39 am

    Short and subtle story, 5 stars!

  4. Amanda Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Tad chilling. Very well done. What will young Jack be aiming at in another ten years or so?

  5. Paul A. Freeman Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Excellent writing. Poetic, highly observant and a bit chilling.

    My only beef with the story was that only half way through did I realise dad was the MC, not Jack’s mum. Subconciously, and perhaps chauvinistically, I’d figured it was a school run and mum was at the wheel.

  6. Jennifer Ripley Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 9:22 am

    “…frog on a matchbox.” Perfect.

    Excellent work!

  7. Meredith Eugene Hunt Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 10:10 am

    The story left out too much to work for me. And it seems improbable that a seven year old would know the word “avicide”, would be able to spell it, and would extend the common meaning of the word (which is a poison to kill birds) to the act of killing them in a way that evokes the idea of genocide. The parent should also be wondering why the boy would play at shooting a bird like this. I’d think: violent video games and movies, which speaks to the parents’ decisions about child rearing.

  8. Meredith Eugene Hunt Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 10:17 am

    “Exhaust fumes drift like dry ice” is an example of over-abbreviation in flash that describes impossible actions. Dry ice is a solid.

  9. Meredith Eugene Hunt Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 10:39 am

    But then, maybe the dry ice error was only an oversight.

  10. SarahT Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I thought this was really good. Very realistic (assuming the boy had had the opportunity to learn the word).

    I love the matchbox line, and the ending sentence.

    Although I disagree with comment #7, #8 is correct. Perhaps “vapor” could have been added to that line.

    Great job! Keep it up!

  11. Karen Jones Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 11:45 am

    What is the proper name for killing Dad’s illusions? For that moment when he realises his son really is growing up, really doesn’t need the booster seat, really does know way more than Dad ever imagined?

    Beautifully done, Gavin.

  12. JenM Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Chilling.

  13. Meredith Eugene Hunt Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Just a thought… Expanded a little, the story could have explored the making of a mass shooter. (Maybe it was there, and if so I needed more help.) That would have been really chilling. My word-association obsessed mind is developing the dry ice metaphor…

  14. Sarah Crysl Akhtar Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Interesting contrast between the father’s excessively childish speech and the son’s chilling response. It opens up a world of unexpressed backstory. Perhaps the father’s subconscious desperation to evoke childlike emotions in a child he already sensed was missing a crucial piece?

  15. SarahT Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    I don’t understand why the boy is being viewed as a potential sociopath.

    He probably learned the word from the news, or a product at a garden center. “Mom, what’s avicide?” A concept as…umm…. as this is bound to make an impression.

  16. Joanne Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Kids pick up weird little facts. I think this was more a story about an overprotective father who realizes he can’t keep his son from all of the world’s dangers…

    If I’d read it two months ago, I wouldn’t have wondered if the boy was a future mass murderer. But I look at things a lot differently now. Even though I read the story three times and finally came to the same conclusion as SarahT @ # 15, my mind did go to “sociopath” at first.

  17. Sarah Crysl Akhtar Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    It’s true one can analyze a story to death, but I thought the author gave plenty of clues for why this should be an ominous story. Jack is seven, an age when most children have already developed a sense of moral values, and when healthy children dislike the killing of animals. He could have been just playing around out of boredom, but then he asks “why?” when his father says it’s not nice to kill birds, and later moves “irritably.” There is a sense of a sharp intelligence baiting the father and then quickly becoming bored. Jack hasn’t just outgrown the booster seat–he’s outgrown his father too. And that doesn’t bode well.

  18. M.Sherlock Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 1:25 am

    I find it completely plausible that a seven year old would know the world Avicide. Children love to pick up words and factoids like this, especially if it related to any dark urges he might have. Perhaps the overprotectiveness and unwillingness to let the child grow up is a way for the parent to try to hold this darkness inside the child developing.

  19. Suzanne Conboy-Hill Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 2:16 am

    I’m about as alarmed that there are products at garden centres for killing birds (#15) as I am at the potential of this child. I wondered why Meredith (#7) believed the word to have such a specific meaning. On the authenticity of the story, I’m with Sarah (#17) here; I’d be looking under this child’s bed for headless soldiers and dismembered frogs. A sophisticated vocabulary is not so unusual where a child has very specific interests and this, plus his clear appreciation of meaning, plus his contempt, gives me creeps. I’d go further (maybe further than Gavin intended!) and say that his dad already knows somewhere in his unconscious, and he has been avoiding seeing that he’s older. With age comes realisation and that’s going to be traumatic. Very convincing stuff, Gavin.

  20. SarahT Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 4:14 am

    The word “why” coming from a 7 year old has virtually no meaning.

    Habit: I’ll just say why to anything…

    Inquiry: Why shouldn’t I PRETEND to shoot the bird? Pretending never hurt anyone, and I’m bored, sitting here in traffic.

    And kids hate to be questioned to death over things… That’s why he was irritable.

    Anyway, either way, the story is sound, and I’ve enjoyed hearing other points of view.

    BTW, I haven’t seen bird-killer in a garden center, just figured it could be out there…

  21. Thomas Kearnes Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 4:40 am

    Finely written on a technical level, but the last line killed it for me. It felt as if the author didn’t trust the readers enough to make the connection between “avicide” and lost innocencce, so he underlined the point for us. Conclusions about the stories we read always linger longer in the mind when we must reach them ourselves, not have them handed to us.

    Thomas Kearnes
    Tomball, TX

  22. Meredith Eugene Hunt Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 5:44 am

    re: #19. I did an internet search for “avicide” and almost all that came up were about poison. I later added “meaning” to my search and the act of killing birds came up equally. At first I took the story to be hinting at “gun control”, but now I just see it being about a dad who’s out of touch with his son. If anyone is scary, it’s Dad.

  23. Dirk Knight Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 6:06 am

    This. as great… frog in a matchbox… drift like dry ice… ok so dry ice is a sokid, but it is used to make thick white smoke and we all knew what the author ment, so it worked

    The kid is not a sociopath and videogames don’t make scool shooters…

    Kids just learn stuff, and pull it out at will.
    I knew morbid words my parents didnt when I was a kid too, because i had an older brother that watched horror movies obsessively and I started reading Clive barker and steven king in 5th grade with a websters dictionary next to me that I hadda use every paragraph

    Sorry for the rant.

    5 stars

  24. Cat Rambo Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Nicely done!

  25. Helen Says:
    January 25th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    You capture the utter lack of morality that all but the exceptional child will show in unguarded moments. A true perception on parenthood, and the struggle to let go. Well done.

  26. Gretchen Bassier Says:
    February 3rd, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Very well-written, and wide open to interpretation. Good stuff!

  27. When Your Fiction Hits Reality | Ms. Peterson Explains it All: A Writer's Journal Says:
    March 15th, 2013 at 9:56 am

    […] http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-proper-name-for-killing-birds-by-gavin-broom/ […]

  28. She Had A Thing About Hearts | Words. Sentences. Stuff. Says:
    March 29th, 2013 at 7:27 am

    […] was written, pretty much as is, over a lunch hour in November 2012 and just like The Proper Name for Killing Birds, its title presented itself before the actual idea, this time by about a week or so. There are […]

  29. Jane Humen Says:
    May 11th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Fantastic!

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