* TRANSITION *
And she lay herself down on the bear rug ~ Her blonde hair golden soft
flowing over her shoulders ~ Reaching down her back ~ Where flames… ~
IT WAS THEIR TIME
Copyright Frank Westcott, 2013. All rights reserved.
Longlisted for the Gloria Vanderbilt/Exile Short Fiction Award, 2013
Irwin watched his pigeons circling overhead. And knew one would be hit.
A white female flipped twice. Spun down with the flock. A hawk. Roving the sky for days. Now seemed motionless. Suspended like a wayward speck. A dot. In white clouds.
The hawk. Vision like binoculars in the air. Waited. To signal its brain. And release its body--a finely tuned machine--into a downward plunge of light bones and feathers.
Irwin knew the time would come soon. He'd seen hawks circling for weeks. Training their young. Spring did that. It brought young birds and insects almost simultaneously. The hawks had left Irwin’s pigeons alone, and fed on field mice, sometimes visible from above, scurrying along their miniature highways in winter-brown, wispy field grass. Until now. The south wind began to blow harder. For the hawk, it was time for bigger game. And a winged target.
Irwin tapped a metal feed can with an old saw blade. His signal. Calling the pigeons down. Twenty-seven birds seemed to spiral around an invisible air-staircase, winding their way to the coop. A cream-coloured bird tumbled three times. Bounced back up. A feathered ball. On a sky’s invisible yo-yo string.
Irwin waited for a sound he relished.Especially, with a hawk in the sky. The whine of air passing through flight feathers as his pigeons swooped in to land on the flight pen’s roof.
Fine poultry fencing protected his birds.
Irwin studied the half-inch holes made by the grey wire. No sections broken. The fencing solid. Securely attached.
Irwin followed the frame’s line extending from the hutch. His tumbler and roller pigeons would be safe. Once inside. Out of the hawk’s kill zone.
Irwin searched the sky. Locked on the hawk. Lower than before. A distinct dark outline. Wings curving. Like silhouette elbows. When tucked, transforming the hawk into a killing machine. A bird of prey. Capable of torpedoing the air. And any small mammal, or bird, in its sight. The hawk, built for speed, power, could rip and tear the life force out of any prey. Talons doing the ripping. Beak, the tearing.
Irwin counted his pigeons. Three were missing. He scanned the sky. Two rapidly approached from the east. The hawk, dropping like a stone in a bag, slammed into Lady. Black and white feathers scattered the air. The hawk’s talons penetrated. Crushing the pigeon. Her head swung like a school book at the end of a kid’s arm.
Irwin watched the hawk rise over the skyline. And disappear. Where the field met the valley’s upper lip. And treetops scratched the air.
Lady’s struggle had been short. Irwin was glad. He squeezed his eyes shut. But he could not release the image of Lady’s head bobbing in the hawk’s talons. He winced. The re-seeing more than he wanted. Neck broken, Lady was at peace. Her head swinging like a quick pendulum on a too-fast grandfather clock. A clock ticking to her fading heartbeat. Then abruptly still.
A heavy bristling blue bar flew wide over the treetops. It flattened in the air and slip-streamed onto the flight pen. The pigeon began to strut. Cooing. He was agitated. Pecking the air like a sunfish tearing at the sides of a dead trout.
Irwin thought he could see into the trees near the edge of the valley. He knew he couldn't. Yet, Irwin saw the hawk rising through these trees and into their shadows. Higher and higher. Until the hawk broke out, again, above the treetops. Above the clouds. And over the SagawakaRiver.
Everything seemed clear to Irwin. Visible. Lady hanging. Limp and still. In the hawk’s talons. Her spirit gone. And Lady out of herself.
Irwin kicked at a dry earth clump.
Irwin stared into the space above his pigeon coop. No bird dared walk or strut in this air now. No bird filled this air with random cooing. The air felt like the air of death. And it was.
Irwin did not want to give that voice. It seemed his pigeons did not either.
"Lady, you were a good bird. So sleek. And shiny. And black. And white. You left us one egg. Why only one…” Then knowledge came. From a source outside Irwin. It called to him. Deep within. Outside and inside at the same time.
It only takes one,” he whispered, “to carry you on.” And Irwin knew a truth. Suddenly.
Without adornment. Aloud. And inside where he knew it fully. And he heard Lady’s spirit.
A silence invaded Irwin. His body became quiet. A solitude he had known before, found him. Irwin entered a moment of spirit. A moment when catastrophe and loss touched him from the unseen. A heavy familiar thickness enveloped him. Nothing in the circle surrounding him, the coop or the pigeons, seemed to own itself. Everything seemed part of an unseen, ungovernable force. Irwin knew Lady's time had come. She had been called. The hawk was just an intermediary delivering her to the beyond.
Irwin sensed the power of the universe. Master of all things. Pieces of his soul reconnecting.Twenty-seven years afterD-Day. White-hot words churning. Uncontrollably. In the moment. Finished set pieces. Whole unto themselves. Like in the war. As a correspondent. Words coming. White-hot. Accurate. Cemented thoughts. Words manifesting. Typed symbols on a page. Holding the current fixed. Damming the flow. At the end. The true gen. Ready to file to The Star. Only fixing typos. Rub crumbs. Clear pieces readers extolled. Calling his editor. Sam sending their comments. Asking, always, for a colour piece. Weekend Magazine needed colour.
“War is hell. No colour, ” Irwin wired back. Always.
Irwin saw Lady standing still as a stone. On top of the coop. He looked again, focusing hard on the spot. But there was only clear air and the passing shadow of an evergreen’s branch.
“Illusion,” he said, wishing Matthew was there. It was time to finish the mentally challenged man-boy’s training. Irwin wanted Matthew to know how to look after the birds.
“Just in case,” Irwin whispered.
With a hand feeling the thin air, Irwin reached out and closed the flight pen’s door. He set the lock. No raccoon or cat could wiggle it loose. Irwin remembered Matthew’s words when he saw the latch.
"Bobcat, ‘Win? Bobcat. No Pete-Cat? No Sally-Cat? No udder cats in duh bush ‘cept duh Bobcats an’ duh house cats gone wild. Makes no sense, ‘Win. Duh house cats, dey should be in da house. No matter what dere called. Dey dumb."
Irwin slowed himself. Eased away from the coop. And the sky brought dusk and a chill to the air. The field-flat horizon line held down the sun.
Irwin walked away, down to the front of the cabin where he could see across the fields.
"I'll miss you, Lady," he said to the grey light. “Ol’ Red’ll miss you, too,” he said. The grey light held Irwin’s thoughts, and puffs of grey soil choked the air around his boots. Inside the coop, Ol’ Red pecked at grit stones. Outside, Irwin splashed water onto his face. The flow stopped. The pump gasped for air. A chill ran through Irwin. He poured life back into the pump from the priming bucket. The pump’s handle slowed like it was working through grease. And water flowed.
Ol’ Red sat on Lady's egg.
Irwin’s forefinger touched the rough, scaly surface on Ol’ Red’s legs. Carefully, Irwin slipped the egg into his palm.
“Just in case, Red."
Just in case.
Irwin stared through the coop’s open door. Looked over the ridge. Where the hawk took Lady. Turned inside. Faced the nest boxes. Set Lady’s egg under the Cream. One of Lady’s offspring. “Be a good mom, bird,” he said. Ancestors far back in her lineage triggered the Cream’s palomino color. Whites, browns, light reds touched with sand. Irwin thought of keeping the Cream as an insidebird when he first saw her coloring. To protect her. "I didn’t restrict Sheila,” he hadsaid. “I’ll let you have your life, too. Always.”
Irwin touched the bird's fine head. Stroked tiny feathers curving to her beak where her nostrils puffed air lightly back to him.
And Irwin wondered at the hours spent talking to birds. Or to Matthew. Talking in long, winding, meandering sentences. Traveling nowhere, but to where they were going. Landing often at a surprise destination. Ending only when the words stopped. Words. About nothing. Mostly. Talking words. Sounds. Connection. Oral symbols. Instead of printed symbols. From the heart. Usually. A symbiosis. Between people. Entities. Regardless of intellect or communication capacity. Or origin. Or means. Or the words. Or sounds. Coming together. In a way more than the talk itself. Often. A way to the invisible. To a thread connected in the inaudible. In the unseen. Where words were unspoken. Yet said. In the space between words.
A mottled-grey pigeon flew from the metal feed tray to perch on the side wall. He began to strut near the Cream. The Cream had settled over all three eggs, undisturbed that she was a surrogate mother. The mottled-grey, her mate, would accept the third egg once the Cream's scent blanketed its shell.
Ol’ Red still squatted on the phantomegg.
No longer there. Habit ingrained.
On one of his sojourns for food or water, Ol’ Red would notice Lady’s egg, and his egg, was missing. And Lady, too.
"Sorry, Red,” Irwin whispered, and felt profound affection for one of his originals, brought from Toronto eight years before. With Lady.Fitting, he thought, the Cream, one of Lady’s and Red’s, would care for her last young‘un. And Irwin thought of Bertha. Raising Matthew alone. Defying 1950’s Thornton. A town denigrating her. Her child. Especially, her. Unwed mother.AndMatthewfor being a bastard. Aretard at that. Bertha defied them all. Raised Matthew normal. Inthe world.
Irwin stuck by Bertha. The whole way. Treated Matthew like his own.
Blood without blood, he thought.
“Love this one..." he said to the Cream. Sagged a little. The worst over.
Irwin turned on the light. Clarity. An edge on edges. Notseen earlier. Clarity of seeing. Clarity of knowing. Seeing one life reflecting another. Oneseeminglysingularevent mysteriously playing out. Alongside other related, parallel dramas. Parallel. Dramas. Linked. Serendipitously. Mimicking each other in substance.Connecting in theunknown. Between invisible parallel lines. Parallel paths. Dependent on each other for existence. Never traveling the universe randomly. Interwoven in an invisible web of intricate patterns. Frolicking sometimes. With the travelers.With all life.The living. While manipulating time and space. Sensibility.
Irwin squinted. Even though he was seeing with something other than a physical eye, Irwin saw how the orphaned egg, Matthew, Bertha, and even him, too, were related in this web of mystery. Connected, somehow, in this space. Between the lines. The parallel lines. Of them, in their own right. In their own lives. Yet…At the same time... all of them... now…always…even his dear, beloved Sheila…connected in this moment.
Irwin breathed deeply. Stepped outside. Closed the door.
Two days later and in the morning, Irwin lifted the door between the flight pen and the coop. Hooked the door to an overhead beam, and released his pigeons to air, sky and wind. Freedom.
Inside the coop, Red lay stiff. Flat. Stretched wide on the floor. Wings spread. A mystery had circled, guiding Irwin’s hand two days before. He nodded. A short cry squeezed from him. There was no peace.
Irwin lifted Red by one wing. Held his arm stiff. Red, no longer the sleek bird of life, wouldnot swing loosely at Irwin’s hand. Irwin stared above his greening field grass, stretching to the valley and trees. In the shadows, he saw Lady’s spirit fly out of a hawk. Black and white feathers joined the air. And Irwin saw Red there, too.
Red emerged from a white cloud winging towards Lady. He spiraled downwards to her, meeting his mate, in the bluest of skies.
Two bird spirits realigned. Lady and Red flew, together, up the valley. Neared the bridge. Ducked down. In unison. Sweeping the air away under them. Their two bird spirits rose higher and higher on the other side. Flip. Flip. Flip. In unison.Perfectly timed. Tumblers at their best. It was their time.
"What’cha doin' `Win? You movin' dat tree now?” Matthew asked.
“A marker for Ol’ Red. He's gone."
"Dead gone? Or him fly ‘way, gone?”
"Ah... me sorry...`Win... Him old...Him be ready ta die, huh, `Win? Him wanna move on from dis place, eh? Huh? Huh, `Win?"
"Yes..." Irwin said, and thought of seeing images of Red and Lady flying to the bridge. Then under the bridge. Then out the other side. Together. “You’re one fine philosopher, Matthew.”
"A…`ill aw...What... am I,`Win? What you sayin’ I am? A…`aw-pher?"
"Yep," Irwin said to this man-boy. "…phil-ah-saw-phew.”
“I could phil-awwwww-saw-fer wood?" Matthew grinned.
"Yep," Irwin said. He could smell Matthew’s bulk. The valley sweat. And cafe breakfast smells of bacon and coffee.
"Me dig? You scrape," Matthew said. Irwin nodded.
"It be good dis," Matthew said. "Tree to one end. Blue flower be on dee udder. Red like dat, ‘Win. Him be in duh middul ‘tween the two. Him be flyin’ troo dee earth now, `Win. Him be flyin' troo duh earth. Him do dat fine. Him good flyer, huh, ‘Win? Him fly troo anything, I bet.”
"I bet it, too, Matt."
Irwin lowered the young birch.
"Me dig, now? Me be careful. Red be in here."
Matthew bent over the shovel. As if a delicate instrument. Pressed his workboot’s sole onto the blade. Sliced the earth. A knife. Precision. Red would be undisturbed.
"Dis be a good place, ‘Win. Red like dis place. Him fly high, no more. Flip-Flip-Flip. Lady be lonely…"
"She be dead, too,” Irwin said. Mimicking Matthew’s phrasing. Playing with a budding birch leaf.
" Dem hawks, do it, ‘Win?"
"Yep," Irwin said, looking away towards the valley.
"She be with Red now, too. Dem fly in dat udder place togedder, now.
Dem be togedder like when dey was here, huh, `Win? Dat be it, `Win. Huh?"
"Yep. That be it, Matt. You say it right. The right way. You be doin’ it right. How you say it."
Matthew stopped shovelling. Gasped. Hopped side to side. Pounded a foot. The other foot. Thudding them, hard, onto the ground. Started running to the coop. "...`Win ...`Win! Dee udder egg…We gotta get dee udder egg…It be cold, `Win. Egg gotta be warm…"
"Matthew…Matthew… It's okay…The Cream has it. And the Grey," Irwin said, facing Matthew squarely. Straight into his eyes. "The Cream has it. Took it right in, Matt."
"Whew…Dat be good, ‘Win. You do it right, ‘Win. What you see, Win? In dee sky? What you see?"
"Dat be deir sky, too, `Win. Not jus' ours. Not jus' dah pigeons’. Not jus', Red's... 'n’ Lady's...Well…not dem, anymore...You know…`Win... It be everybody’s sky. Everybody's sky. Be ours, too. If you ‘n’ me could fly.”
“You an’ me are one-wingers, Matt. We’re birds that don’t fly."
"Good thing we not be real birds den, `Win. We not fly good. One wing. Ohnee one wing. ‘Less we fly togedder...‘ttached…Den we have two wings. Dat’s how we do it, ‘Win. We fly togedder."
"Yep. That’s how we do it, Matthew,” Irwin said.
"Me be doin’ it right, ‘Win? Huh, ‘Win?”
Matthew crouched down on one knee, so he could put his arm across Irwin's back in the way Irwin had done so many times to him. "`Win... you kin smile now...It be okay...Lady and Red be togedder...Dey want to be togedder...Jus’ togedder…Red be lonely all by hisself... Here...By hisself...he be lonely…Like me be...if you go in dee air wid duh hawk ‘n’ Lady...Me be like Red...‘n’ me want to go in dee hole den, too, `Win...”
Irwin’s chest filled with hard air. Emotion-driven from deep inside. He brushed his hand across his eyes. Looked over the trees. Tall spires. Swaying. Sailboats in a Toronto harbour.
"Me say it right, ‘Win? Me sayin’ it right?
“You be sayin’ it right, Matt.”
“We be doin’ it right for us, too. Right, ‘Win?”
"For us, too. Matt.”
Child of God, Irwin thought. The meaning of Matthew’s name.
“We be doin’ it right, " he said.
"Me do dat." And Matthew scraped soil around the tree’s base.
"What on earth are you two doing?" Bertha said. She stood still. Sensing the gravity in the man and man-boy.
"Puttin’ Red in duh ground, here,” Matthew said. “Tree good marker. So…him kin find hisself. From where he be now.”
Matthew. Irwin. Bowed their heads. Sharing a reverence. Unspoken.
Bertha nodded slowly. Seeing what was to be seen. With the men.Her not fully grasping what she felt.Sensed. Touched. In herself. And the men. Her son and Irwin. Her friend. And Matthew’s friend. Irwin connecting with Matthew. In a way she never could. Quieter. Almost silent. In a way, he met Matthew somewhere in the stillness of his soul. And Matthew’s soul. Their souls. Quietly. Just being. Always.There. In the moment.As Irwin was. As Matthew was.
Bertha bowed. Like the men. Saw theearth between the flower and the tree.
"Dis be Ol’ Red’s place, now," Matthew whispered.
"His place," Bertha whispered, too.
Bertha knew how losses of this kind affected Irwin.
"Here...” she said.
Bertha stepped to the side and bent over a patch of grass. In the middle, a clump of three daisies. White with yellow centres.
She picked one.
Irwin and Matthew nodded. Together. In unison. As if attached.
"Ol’ Red be likin' dat,” Matthew said.
"Yes, he be likin’ that," Irwin said.
"Me get one, too," Matthew said. He stooped over the grass and snapped a daisy just above its root. Made a short stem like his mother’s. Laid it on top of Ol’ Red’s grave.
Irwin eyed Matthew’s daisy. Bertha’s daisy. Two daisies on a bird’s grave. Irwin bent over the grass. Like the others. Snapped off the last one. He folded the stem. Tore it. Matching the others. He laid his flat. Setting it between Matthew’s and Bertha's. Parallel lines.
“Daisies be keeping Ol’ Red company,” Matthew said. “He be sleepin’ in duh dead place now."
"Seems a lot over a bird,” he said.
Bertha shook her head. “No…”
Death affected Irwin. Deeply. Especially, after losing Sheila in the war.
Irwin saw Sheila, now. Red of hair. Full of life. Eyes glittering. Blue. Rosy cheeks. High on their cheekbones. The way he loved them. Her. The way he loved her. Sheila. His Sheila.
"You're a misplaced soul," Sheila said. Once. In London. During the war. Their days together.
Irwin saw Sheila's blue eyes sparkling. Big. Round. Red hair shining in the sun. A light spreading through his hotel room. That day. A day of sun. A day of war. Everything compressed. Everything. No lines visible. Only connections. In space. Between the lines. Only that. And bombs exploding. Death coming. Anytime. To anyone.And it did. Poignant fire. In each moment. Every moment. Remembered.
"Come," Sheila had said. "Let me heat some biscuits.”
And she went to a small gas stove in the corner of Irwin's room. She lit the pilot light. Irwin remembered. Watching her bend to reach into the oven. She looked inside. Slid a tray of biscuit dough onto the rack. Into the stove. Where the heat was. He watched Sheila put foil over the buns. Foil wrapped at her place. Onto a typewriter pencil. He still had that pencil. On his desk. A circular eraser on one end. A brush on the other. To fan away eraser bits. From a story. Or dispatch. Irwin never used that eraser again. Or the brush.
He never wrote again.
“Rub crumbs,” Sheila called them, "…all over your table,” as she stared at that day’s final copy. Still in his typewriter. Arcing backwards over the spindle.
Sheila had to bend to read the last line.
Irwin saw her bending.
He loved to watch her bend.
"Nice touch," Sheila said. And tapped the table with her other eraser-tipped pencil, always kept in her hair.
"No. The rub crumbs. Looks like you never sweep them away."
“I don’t,” he said.And realized, for all the stories, for all the war-time writing in his London room, he had never cleaned them up. The rub crumbs accounted for every word he erased from copy later dispatched to the Star.
Irwin straightened. The remembering holding him. Still.
He looked into the air over the valley.
"Where were you?" Bertha asked. Softly. Not moving. Closer. Knowing, in these drifting- off moments, no one could penetrate Irwin’s darkness.
Bertha smelled the smell of spring around them. The sweetness in the soil.
Irwin's shoulders sagged. Deeper. Extending his shoulder lines down. Curving into his chest. The way they always did. When he thought of Sheila. At some point, he would take a deep, irregular, halting breath. Then he would exhale, as if expelling air over a gravelly creek bed.
Bertha stepped back from Ol’ Red’s grave, the tree, the man and the man-boy. She walked to the edge of the field where the grass had greened nicely, folding over onto itself. She sat down and pulled a fresh green shoot from the ground.
And began chewing on the end.
THE BACKGROUND: As a boy and as an adult I raised roller pigeons that spun in the air. A breed. A special breed I loved. Occasionally, I lost birds to hawks. At one time, I was principal of a school for mentally handicapped children, and spent five years in that field. Some of the best years of my life. Some, I still consider friends to this day, albeit moved on in many ways. They are with me in spirit, and I with them. They were special to me. Pivotal in my life in so many ways. Helping me find me among all the squalor of the mental kind, as I tried to make their lives better. As I grew up more, I became a writer. Of note some would say. Notes anyway. Like this after a story, to give a little of me, more. I suppose. There is much to a story always. A poem too. More than meets the eye. Greets the eye. The way of creativity, I suppose. Guess. Know. I hope you enjoyed this story. It is part of a longer story called DOIN' IT RIGHT which I will post here at some point. There are many gifts in this world. And this/these are some I can give to you. Enjoy. Oh, incidentally, I wrote a juvenile novel, about 25,000 words celebrating my time with the mentally challenged children I worked with. Some became characters in the novel. Character composites. After all, they had to take on the life of their own found in fiction. It was called GHOST OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB. Maybe someday I will publish it along with the rest of my work. The rest... is over. :) . Enjoy the reading of my work, as it comes to you, or you are led to it. BGTU. Frankism for 'Be' 'G'ood 'T'o 'Y'ou. ~ FW-January 4th, 2018