Her heart thumped in her ears as she trailed him to the park he usually frequented during the day.
She hated that she’d been driven to this, sneaking after him so she could understand what was happening.
She was tired of the late-night messages and the bathroom calls.
She’d give anything for a shred of truth.
But what she’d uncover would leave her sick to her stomach.
Joanie Parker was never one to meddle in her husband Mark’s business.
He had always been good to her, doing things most of her friends complained their husbands never did anymore.
But of late, he’d been keeping things from her, leaving the house early to feed his birds and spending the rest of the day locked up in the shed.
Joanie had always trusted him.
They’d been married for five years, after all.
But when one of her friends told her where she’d seen Mark, Joanie knew she had no choice.
Joanie was twenty-nine when she married Mark Parker.
He had been the best thing that had happened to her, especially after the hardships she’d been through.
A grad student looking to prove herself in project management, Joanie had given everything she had to her profession.
But one day, it all came crashing down when she uncovered one terrible secret.
Joanie had been dating a classmate while in school when the disaster happened.
She found the man with another woman, snuggling in bedcovers she’d gifted him over Christmas.
Beyond heartbroken, she barricaded herself in her apartment, only coming out when she needed to get to class or buy groceries.
Well, that was until she met Mark one rainy evening.
Mark was sweet and caring.
He didn’t try to force her into anything, choosing to be a shoulder to cry on when she needed one the most.
As the months went by, Joanie thawed back to her original self.
Mark promised never to hurt her, and although Joanie would remain skeptical for a while, she would lower her guard eventually.
So, imagine how she felt when a friend told her what she’d seen Mark doing.
When Mark started taking an interest in “bird feeding,” Joanie thought it was an excellent venture for him.
Her husband rarely liked going outside, staying in his mancave whenever he was not with her or at work.
He was also usually very reserved.
But his whole demeanor shifted as he started feeding the birds that usually flocked in the nearby park.
But Joanie should have known that this would be the least of her worries.
As with many things that push us into new behaviors and lifestyles, Mark’s interest in going to the park every morning hadn’t been coincidental.
He had a heated argument with Joanie centered around her mom, who had pressured them to have a kid.
Joanie and Mark had agreed that they’d not have kids.
They’d lived like this for five years before Joanie’s mom started asking questions.
Mark had told Joanie he didn’t like her taking her mom’s side instead of his.
He left that morning after the terrible fight, claiming he needed to clear his head.
Frothing at the mouth, he banged the door behind him and jumped into his Jeep, taking the road to the park.
When he returned that evening, Joanie expected him to be cross with her still.
You see, Mark had always been one to hold grudges, no matter how small.
But something in him was different.
Mark didn’t speak about their quarrel or hold his tongue as he usually did whenever they butted heads.
He hugged her tightly the minute she opened the door and asked what they were having for dinner.
It didn’t even occur to him that he’d been away for a whole day without calling or texting.
But his hands were filthy with dirt and smelled like bird feathers.
This would only be the beginning of a difficult time.
Joanie knew she needed to get to the bottom of what was happening.
It wasn’t like her husband to leave things hanging, especially when said things ended in a big fight.
But he hurried to the shower to clean up, then came to sit in the kitchen as she cooked.
A confused Joanie stared at him all the while.
She couldn’t remember the last time Mark sat on the kitchen counter to keep her company while she made dinner.
Her efforts to ask him what was wrong resulted in another fight, messier than the last one.
That night, Mark slept with his back to Joanie, a first in many years.
Joanie couldn’t sleep, numb from confusion and pain.
Was she reading too much into this, or was something really going on?
Hoping to de-escalate the matter, she promised Mark she’d talk to her mom and explain where they stood regarding children.
She also apologized for her behavior, thinking things would return to normal.
What started as a Saturday of going to feed the birds in the park resulted in two years of habit on Mark’s part.
He never mentioned his fight with Joanie.
But he continued doing things he hadn’t done in a long time, like accompanying her to the bookstore, buying random gifts, and taking her on date nights.
But when Joanie’s friend told her where she’d seen Mark and what he was doing, the pain that almost wrecked Joanie those two years passed came back with a vengeance.
If there was a slight shift in Mark’s demeanor before, his behavior had turned completely.
He was rarely home, leaving without an explanation and returning in the evening, reeking of bird feathers and acting like everything was all right.
He would answer calls in the bathroom and receive texts in the dead of night.
Of course, he tried to mask everything with sweet actions such as helping with dinner or taking Joanie on late-night drives.
But all he was doing was raising even more questions.
After her discussion with her friend, Joanie decided to tail Mark one Saturday morning.
Her friend, Ana, tagged along for moral support and as a witness in case something went wrong.
They took the least scenic route to the park, ensuring they kept far away from Mark’s Jeep so as not to alert him.
Joanie hoped to put this matter to rest finally.
She had no idea what she was about to uncover.
Mark pulled into the park’s lot and hurried out.
His phone was glued to his ears as he jumped over puddles of water on the tarmac, cutting into the immaculate grass.
Joanie’s friend asked her if she wanted to do this.
When Joanie nodded, she helped her out of the vehicle, and they followed Mark.
Her heart thumped in her ears as they turned the corner onto a green field covered with crows.
There, amid the black-feathered birds, was Mark with a younger-looking woman.
Joanie almost fainted.
Joanie’s heart crumpled inside her.
Suddenly, she was back in her apartment in grad school, crying to sleep after finding out what her boyfriend was doing.
She remembered Mark had promised never to hurt her and couldn’t believe he’d been leaving the house every day to meet a woman in the park.
But that isn’t what hurt the most.
Joanie wondered if she was to blame for Mark’s decision.
Each of their fights had led to this, and she was just as much to blame for them as he was.
But Ana insisted that none of this was her fault.
Unfaithfulness was something one person chose and stuck to.
If this was Mark’s way of showing her how he felt, she shouldn’t blame herself for it.
But with how much she loved her husband, how could Joanie put all this on him?
They watched as Mark talked around the woman and laughed.
He caressed her face before proceeding to feed the crows before them.
Joanie boiled with anger.
She wanted to rush the two of them and give them a piece of her mind.
But Ana pulled her back, telling her to think about everything first.
Her advice was to wait until Mark returned home to confront him.
But would that work?
“Bird feeding,” Joanie seethed as Ana drove her back home.
She couldn’t even see the road clearly, given how upset and destroyed she was.
The love of her life had decided she wasn’t good enough for him.
Back at home, she went straight to bed furious.
But as the minutes counted, the rage that had flared within her at the sight of Mark with that woman turned to sadness.
How could he do this to her?
When Mark first came into Joanie’s life, she didn’t think she’d ever fall in love again.
He was patient and gentle with her, helping her move past her heartbreak and getting her to believe in a brighter tomorrow.
When she realized she liked him, she was taken aback by the revelation.
But after telling him the truth, she learned he also wanted her.
She could still remember the surge of happiness that overwhelmed her that day.
It was then that he promised never to hurt her.
He’d stood by those words for the last five years.
Joanie decided to rip the Band-Aid once and for all.
She wouldn’t wait for Mark to come home but would drive back to the park and confront him.
If he was willing to throw away everything they’d built together, she should at least hear why.
She grabbed her keys and tore out of the house and into her car.
Mark would regret making her hurt this much.
She sped down the road, her mind foggy and eyes wet and blurry.
She was too distraught to notice the cruiser trailing behind her, lights flashing red and blue.
She only realized she was being tailed when the vehicle sounded its sirens.
Stopping by the side of the road, she trembled with fear and sadness.
She’d only wanted to confront Mark.
Now she had to deal with the authorities.
The officer tapped against her window, and Joanie rolled it down.
She explained why tears streamed down her face and why she’d been speeding.
But the officer told her that he didn’t stop her because of her driving.
She wasn’t even speeding in the first place.
He told her that she hadn’t signaled a few of her turns and could cause an accident.
Joanie thought he’d let her go when he asked her out of the vehicle.
The officer told Joanie she was in no condition to be driving.
He asked if he could drive her to the park instead, insisting it was all right.
Joanie nodded, and together they went to confront Mark.
With the officer by her side, Joanie’s mind calmed somewhat.
She even explained her past to the officer, telling him how much her husband’s actions hurt her.
Her words caught in her mouth as the park came into view.
Joanie’s heart pummeled her ribcage as her eyes landed on the woman again.
Mark was still sitting with her on the park bench.
He smiled as he ran his hand on her face as if he was helping her with her makeup.
The crows around them were calm, watching Mark tear the fabric that held the vows and promises he had once made to Joanie.
“Is that him?” the officer asked, and Joanie nodded as misery washed through her again.
She threw the cruiser’s door open, stepped into the park, and headed straight to Mark.
But as she got closer, she noticed something was off.
The woman seemed to be holding a crow in her hands, which was odd because few people ever hold crows.
Joanie also realized that Mark had EarPods wedged deep into his ears.
He was nodding and mumbling to some unheard music, not talking to the woman.
But that wasn’t all.
The closer Joanie got, the more she realized that the woman next to Mark hadn’t moved an inch.
She just sat there, smiling next to him as he continued helping with her makeup.
It was then that Joanie noticed the birds weren’t moving as well.
They didn’t scatter around or spook whenever Mark shifted on the park bench.
It was then that the truth hit her.
“She’s a statue,” Joanie whispered as she got close to Mark.
He seemed to realize someone was approaching because he lifted his eyes, his gaze landing squarely on her.
His lips curled as he pulled an EarPod out of his ear.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, placing away what Joanie had just realized was a paintbrush.
“Are you crying?” He hurried to her.
“No,” Joanie sobbed as more tears broke through her lashes.
“I’m not crying. You’re crying.” Mark held her shoulders, his hands covered in paint, glue, and black bird feathers.
“You’re clearly upset,” he said, looking at the officer behind Joanie. “Is everything okay?”
“It is,” Joanie said as she buried her head in his chest, awash with guilt. “I just miss you, that’s all.”
The officer excused himself as Mark wrapped his hands around Joanie, still confused by what was happening.
Mark explained what he was doing- what he’d been doing for the last two years at the park.
He’d been taking sculpting lessons in secret and, alongside a professional team of sculptors from town, had erected the statue and birds at the park.
The piece was so lifelike that Joanie feared getting too close would damage it.
She was glad her husband hadn’t gone against his vows and promises.
But she also knew they still had a lot to figure out.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.