Is it okay to dig one out from the snow?
This one is 7 yrs. old.
BIRD IN THE HOUSE
We had a bird in the house one day last summer, a Ruby-throated hummingbird that darted in through the kitchen door just as we were finishing breakfast. He hovered momentarily above Quetzal’s oatmeal, darted up and bounced off our cookware, and then, in crazed, twisting flight, rebounded over and over against a corner window. There was an immediate breakdown in household order, of course, as each of us felt compelled to do something. We pushed back from the table and stood up, pointed, and Quetzal, in a wonderful display of five-year-old agility, went shrieking in several directions while simultaneously hiding under both arms.
Naturally, the bird fell apart, too. After its initial fit of bouncing against the window, he tucked himself into a corner in the mudroom and resolutely avoided windows generally, opened or closed. When I tried forcing the issue with a broom, he made matters worse by flying to the highest point in the house, which meant, as we live in a barn-like house without conventional ceilings, he was trapped. And there was little we could do to help except fret and pace, which my wife did until she left for work, or send up hope, which Quetzal did, especially so after I hinted that the bird would likely exhaust himself and die.
“You mean fall down on his wing,” she asked, fluttering her fingers down.
“Exactly,” I said. “Tumbling fluttering down.”
Whereupon the event of a bird in the house took on an entirely new context for the girl. She quieted, arched her back in preoccupation, and disappeared outside. When she returned she was carrying a miniature glass vase filled with a single orange nasturtium. She added a bit of water, placed a bar stool directly below the bird, and sat the vase on the stool. Beside the vase she arranged two small, white oval stones. Then she stepped back and waited, the hummingbird caroming left and right in the joinery high above, his frantic wing-beats echoing throughout the house.
It was soon after this that I suggested we take a walk. That would allow the bird a chance to settle down and notice her flower, I said. Quetzal agreed, and calling Ajax, our dog, and Couscous, our cat, we headed out. And immediately she perked up. By the time we reached the lane, she was skipping. By the time we reached the lane’s hard-left turn, she had pressed me into skipping. And by the time we reached the dirt road that leads up the mountain and down, she had directed us several times through “Skip Skip to My Lou.” I thought she had forgotten all about the bird.
But she had not. Stopping directly in the middle of the road, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a white stone identical to the two she had placed on the bar stool. Holding it up to show me, she asked about the hummingbird, if he had fallen down on its wing yet. When I said I hoped not, she countered by saying she hoped so. She said she wanted him to fall because she wanted to bury him. She said she loved burials. Like our old dog Liesl’s—the way we had sung songs and held hands when she had died, the way we had thrown sticks and pine boughs across her grave…could we please, she asked, have another burial?
And the white stone she was holding up for me? It was the hummingbird’s, she said. She wanted a burial with a gravestone this time.
There was no running, skipping or singing on our return. Just walking and a bit of laughing at the antics of the cat, who was trailing us. We entered the house as the hummingbird had, through the opened kitchen door, and went directly to the bar stool and looked up. It took us a few moments to locate the bird because he was actually quite close—perched on the handle of the stovepipe flue. We could have touched him almost.
But we didn’t, and I’m certain we never will. Because the hummingbird, startled by our whispers, darted and was gone. When soon after Quetzal realized that he was back and drinking at the feeder and still “living on his wing,” she moved the stool and her vase and flower out to the deck and positioned them directly under it. When I passed by sometime later, I noticed she had added the third white stone and also one of Ajax’s bite-size dog treats.
Everyone I know needs a body cast to get though tonight and all day tomorrow. And that includes me. But let’s change the subject.
…and so on Wednesday in good fall weather they moved all their furniture onto the sidewalk, signed it free, sweep the floors, locked the door, placed the key in the box with a note, a brief note, and then walked, arms free, down to the bus station. Which one, they said, looking up at the possibilities. I know, she said. The one going west. Okay, he said. And so theirs was the bus going west. And now trees slipped by and small goats running, kids painting a door, and later that afternoon a lake, a lake with no boats whatsoever, just blue water, blue water forever. And it seemed a sign, a possibility. It’s where we’re going, she said. Yes, he said. Moving blue water. And they pressed their noses to the window, and their knees touched, and the world was westward and blue. And later into the night now, the bus climbing, working, the two of them neither sure nor unsure, blessed nor unblessed, but bound together with hearts beating and the great unknown. And boughten sandwiches. One each to break together at first light…
Today is my wife’s birthday. She is 53. We met in Virginia when she was 18 and I was 24. One day I asked my roommate’s girlfriend if she knew any beautiful women. “I do,” she said. “My roommate.” And she giggled and walked away.
The next day after classes, I climbed the stairs to my apartment, messed around in the kitchen, and then stepped into the living room. And there on the sofa was a woman: shy, thin, smiling, beautiful. Her name was Serita.
I don’t remember what we first said. But I do remember that I immediately sat down on a chair opposite her, and that we talked and laughed, and that talking and laughing (and looking at her) was kind of otherworldly.
A day or so later I saw her on campus and we talked again, and that evening we went walking on the hill behind the college dorms. We walked up and back, then sat on a bench, and then I walked her to her dorm room.
Serita and I have been married for 35 years.
(If you scroll down, you will come to a post titled “Wherein My Wife Takes a Turn.” It’s a video. Serita shows up in the third feature.)