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The Bird


It was too cold to play outside with any real enthusiasm. There wasn't enough snow on the ground to build anything substantial, either. Any snowmen would look dirty and grainy with half of their bulk made up of frozen grass and dirt, which not only looked sad and pathetic, but didn't really hold its shape well. A snowman made up mostly of dirt was mostly soggy, listing to one side like a drunk about to pass out.

One of the kids among our group spotted a dead bird in our front yard. This caused quite a sensation among the kids on our block. We had plenty of toys and bikes to play with, but that dead bird was more interesting. None of us had ever seen a bird up close before. If we tried to sneak up on one in the yard, it was always too fast for us, flying to safety before scolding us. I didn't understand it! In cartoons, the birds always flew up right onto your finger, singing along with you. Sometimes they'd even ask you how your day was going! I wanted a bird to ask me how my day was going! Nobody ever seemed interested in my day, anyway. "What are you up to today, Danny?" they'd ask. "I'm going to swing to the moon!" "The moon, eh?" "Yep. I'm gonna get a good head start on the swing and leap off!" "Won't you need a push?" "Nope. I had some Life cereal for breakfast this morning. It had fruit in it!"

But it was no use. No bird was going to ask me how my day was. Sticking your finger out in front of a wild bird would merely make you look pretty foolish. Having your arm held out for no reason made you liable to be tickled or sent on an errand. "Are you bored? I've got some chores if you're bored!"

We all stared at it quietly, not making a sound. A few of us wondered if it would get up and look at us before flying away. Most of us, especially me, were not used to anything not moving at all and letting us study it so intently. If you stared at anything too long in our house, it was liable to begin complaining. "Mom, Danny's staring at me!" "Stop staring at your sister, Danny! Go outside and play!" They were always telling us to go outside and play. Sometimes I wondered why we even lived in a house at all! In fact, when you really got momentum going and actually were having fun outside, it was then that you were called to come back inside.

So we stared at this bird, perhaps a crow. Its unblinking eyes were mesmerizing. I couldn't understand why it looked different. I didn't realize that the spark of life was something tangible, that you could actually see or notice until it was gone. Those eyes were staring at something else; I'd probably never know what that was. It was also a bit frightening, but I was unable to look away. This might give me nightmares for weeks: the dead eyes of the bird would become the eyes of every boogeyman that lay await under the bed, in the shadows and in the closet.

My gaze wandered to its wings stretched against the snow. I wondered how it had been able to fly. I loved paper airplanes. My Dad made great paper airplanes and he always told me that the wings were the most important part. As I stared at these wings, I had an inspiration. Perhaps the bird could still fly, just like my paper airplanes! It had flown once; maybe it just needed a good push!

So I picked it up, having to pull it out of the snow a bit, because it had frozen, after all. You have to understand that I was playing in the yard with older and younger kids, but no one was there at that moment to explain the facts to us. Well at least not before I picked the bird up, intending to give it a good shove into the air. The other kids looked at me in horror, wondering about this weird kid that was trying to fly a dead bird. Not only did they sidle away from me a bit, but they started to look for an escape route. Staring at a dead bird in fascination was one thing, but actually picking the bird up is another thing altogether. While none of them would now admit to being there when I picked it up or even knowing who I was, none of them could look away, either. Suddenly I was a stranger, and instead became a sideshow attraction greater than Ripley's Believe It Or Not. To associate with me was to invite major trouble, but to leave and miss the show would be even worse.

Mothers must have some kind of instinct or secret signal that goes off to let them know when their children do anything potentially harmful, foolhardy or just plain strange. I know that I kept my parents awake at night since this time, not by action or sound or even intention. I do know that when the body moves my instinct, anything can happen.

All of my attention was focused on the bird, which in my head was going to soar, wings outstretched and climb high above me. The next instant, my mother was there pulling me away from my experiment and back to reality to tell me the dangers of touching dead birds who through no fault of their own were filled with germs and disease. I'm sure that I started crying at that moment, so it's difficult at best to remember what else happened. I imagine that despite my winter coat and gloves during the Bird Incident that I was thoroughly scrubbed with disinfectant, lathered to four times my size and kept indoors for a few days in case I developed any symptoms, rashes or things started falling off.

I'm also sure that this instilled in me the worst fear of germs that ever sheltered a child and I must have thought everything outside of my body was disastrous. I couldn't share a glass, fork or spoon with anyone, even my parents, and if you even touched a portion of food, you could have the whole thing as far as I was concerned. While I wasn't the cleanest kid on the planet, I was the quickest one to the sink scrubbing off the day's play with an enthusiasm only shared by those with certain disorders and doctors who performed surgery.

I continued to have a delight and appreciation for animals and their abilities to out-maneuver us and each other. But God forbid if they licked my hand or face!


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