Bird Genesis: Where a Character Comes From…

I’ve contributed twelve episodes to Pure Slush’s 2014—A Year in StoriesThese stories feature a character named the Bird Mahony, and examine his life in the aftermath of his parents’ unexpected deaths. From my memory I recall my mother and father discussing a customer who frequented my father’s pub, located in the Irish midlands, in the 1960s. This man was named “the Bird,” and little else comes back to me. His name was not Mahony, nor do I know any details of his life. Still, I’ve been intrigued by the man for years, always wanting to write something about his life. Back in 2013, The View from Here published a flash fiction piece about a character named “the Bird.” When Matt Potter invited me to participate in the Pure Slush project it seemed to me that my contributions would center around this man about whom I know so little. The penultimate episode is now available, and Stephen V. Ramey wrote this generous summation of that episode which can be read HERE. The original story about the Bird is below::

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Originally published in The View from Here:: 

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The day the Bird died, Máire was hanging wet laundry on the washing line in the far meadow.  A soft wind billowed the bed sheets, and grayed, lacy bloomers swayed romantically, having seen better days. Olivia, her neighbor from across the road, made her way down the narrow path, waving her hands in the air, making sure to avoid the nettles on either side.

“The Bird is dead, isn’t he,” Máire said.

“How did you know?” Olivia said, pulling the collar of her coat tight.

“Didn’t a crow fly into the upstairs bedroom last night at dusk.” She spoke through a mouthful of clothespins, the words splintered, her tightly curled hair not moving in the breeze.

 

flustered

He was the first man to touch her that way. His breath beery, his hands warm, the show-band playing a slow song, the bandleader combing his brilliantine hair with a plastic comb, lisping the words onto the dance-hall air. Later, in the back of the Bird’s ’38 Ford he slipped his two ferret hands up her skirt and took what he wanted. The next month she married the bugger who owned the bar and the Bird drank down the road at Hourican’s for a long while. When he finally returned to his familiar seat he could see the swell of her belly under the apron. A lucky man, the bar owner, the Bird thought, regretting his inaction at the wedding mass and how when the priest had asked if any man present…

 

bantam

Three colorful bantam hens pecked in the dirt in the narrow space behind the public house.  One had the bright, sharp eyes of a born killer. The Bird weighed the coins in his pocket, doing the math as to how much it would cost to purchase the creature.

“I’ll give you two sovereigns for the bantam with the bright eyes,” he said to the man behind the bar.

“I can’t sell you that bird. It’s the lad’s pet. His mother would have my guts if I sold the child’s pet for fighting.”

“Are you going to let a woman tell you what you can or cannot do in your own house?” the Bird said, his left eyebrow raised.

“It’s easy to see you’re a bachelor. If you had a wife of your own you’d be singing a different tune.”

The Bird grunted, tipped the glass and emptied the porter in one go. “You’re a foolish man to turn down two sovereigns,” he said, tipping his brim and heading for the door.

 

names

The doctor placed the tiny baby in its mother’s arms. Sure, it didn’t weigh more than a bag of flour, as fragile and ugly as a new-born bird.

When the bar owner saw the little mite in his wife’s arms, the sharp beak of a nose, the dark eyes, the curl of matted hair, he recognized a family likeness not of his own.

“He’s like a wee  bird,” he told her.

“Yes, but he’s our little bird,” the mother said, squeezing her husband’s hand.

He was not so sure. Not so sure at all.

 

nighttime

The bantams went wild when the creature slipped in the shed door. Feathers and shit flew everywhere, and the fox, if it were a fox, grabbed one by the neck and blooded it out. All that remained of the three birds was the pile of feathers on the ground, the blood splattered all over the floor. A desperate thing, the Bird agreed with the bar owner as he told him about the brazen fox that had savaged the child’s pets. The Bird fingered his winnings and thought about buying the man’s lad a rabbit instead.

 

sweet shop

In the line at the shop the lad held his mother’s hand and rubbed the back of his leg with the toe of his shoe. From behind, the Bird recognized the shape of the earlobes and his heart tightened.

“How’s the Bird?” Mrs. Flavin asked from the counter.

He reddened, coughed, muttered, “Game ball, game ball.”

The mother turned around and gave him a look that spoke volumes in its silence.

“How’s the lad, Mairé?” he asked.

She put the Woman’s Weekly and the boy’s lucky bag on the counter and banged down her coins.

 

 

Murder—My Legacy

Gloves of otter skin and a fur-lined anorak, dressed for the arrayal. The brittle leaves destroyed underfoot as the dead bird rattled in the cardboard box. Children’s hearts are empty when it comes to knowing deep grief, or at least they are up to a certain age. There had been no visible signs of struggle. The hen appeared quite normal when I collected the eggs that morning. Certainly, she was loud, her ire expressed with a piercing cry at seeing her treasure pilfered. The hole we dug was ample for the shoebox, the soil dark and moist like wet coffee grounds, a small pool of water in the bottom of the grave. Looking back, I thought the creature’s breast seemed swollen, abnormally so, perhaps some cardiac condition known only to poultry? Anyway, we dug the hole smack-dab in the middle of my mother’s manicured lawn. My parents were out of town on a weekend “getaway,” and I was the man of the house. Murder. That became my legacy. After the box was in the ground, we dumped the soil on top and patted it down tightly in case the bird came back to life and haunted us. When we finished, I thumped my best friend on the back and headed towards the house as the slanted sun poured its bloody light on the fresh mound.

What’s On My Desk at Home

  • Jar of Apricot Vanilla jam
  • Ladybug cascarones
  • Vocabulary quiz for tomorrow
  • Don’t Tread on Me paperweight
  • iPhone headset
  • Dentist’s bill
  • Wildwood by Colin Meloy
  • Father’s Day card from son
  • Sand dollars
  • Cup of tea
  • Straw hat on lamp
  • Telephone
  • Legal pad
  • Assorted papers
  • Powercord for iPhone
  • Ribboned box with six nails inside
  • Pens
  • Nepalese pen holder
  • Rosewood bracelet
  • Torn check

2014-11-06 20.18.08

What’s On My Desk Today

  • Folders of student work, haphazardly arranged.
  • A yellow slip that says, “Teacher Evaluation Cheat Sheet.”
  • Apple/iTunes free book download card
  • Many paperclips
  • Fleur de Lis stamp and red ink pad
  • Blank CD
  • Blue whiteboard marker
  • Black whiteboard marker
  • Empty whiteboard cleaner bottle
  • Car keys
  • Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
  • Allende’s House of the Spirits
  • McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing
  • Pilot G-2 mini—black ink
  • Wire rack with assorted paperwork
  • Handlebar Coffee travel thermos
  • Stapler
  • Lucky Chilean clay pig
  • No-Shave November jar
  • Telephone
  • Multi-purpose adhesive labels
  • Clothes peg
  • Pencil
  • Post-It with financial advisor’s name
  • French Press button
  • Yellow Post-Its
  • Cultural Essay prompts
  • Orange whiteboard marker
  • Starbucks rewards sticker
  • Banned Books coffee mug

Banned books

 

 

Diadelosmuertosmarigoldsday’s Childe

Dia de los Muertos,” begins with rain on our land. The thunderous pummeling of rain drowns out all other sounds as the dry earth drank deeply of the brief rainfall. Tea and messiness all around, the cherry stickers on the blue crayoned page from last week. The dead are everywhere, in dreams, in waking, in continuous emergence from dormant corners of the brain. I did not think of my mother this morning when I awoke. Rather, her mother, my grandmother, came to mind. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a strong enough memory of the woman to hold on to and trace the thin skein of recall back to. I wonder how alike my own mother she was? Did she, too, sacrifice everything for her family? Did she, too, hold on to those Catholic rites and rituals as my mother does?

altar

The day is filled with my father’s presence. Fourteen years dead. He was here this morning as I wrangled my young daughter to get out the door and start our day’s adventure. Nothing went as planned. There was no bread in the house, nor eggs, so breakfast was a hardscrabble affair involving Halloween candy and a frozen breakfast burrito. I found myself channeling my father’s rage when things didn’t work out for me in the kitchen. The lint trap was stuffed with debris and as I cleaned it, a good amount fell on the floor. My father spoke through me in tongues. This, I did not like. In the car, ready to go, my daughter dropped her snacks on the floor of the car, sunflower seeds and goldfish crackers everywhere. My father’s rage threatened as dark as the gathering rainclouds on the foothills.

tombstone

When they die they inhabit creatures and objects in the vicinity of those they love. I tell myself this tale, partly to make myself feel better, and partly to keep myself out of the reach of the priests and clerics of the world. Some days I look at our dog and see eyes as expansive and sad as my father’s. Perhaps he sits, from the dog bed on the living room floor, in judgment of me as a father? Does he nod and say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it, my lad?” Or, does he let out his breath when I manage to contain my anger and still the waters inside? Later, we’ll erect the altar to the dead, bring in the marigolds and put up the family photographs and mass cards. They are not forgotten. They are with us in spirit. For good or for bad. Honor to the ancestors. Lessons we must learn from their passing.

 

 

A Weight Unmeasurable

The weight presses on the uppermost part of my heart. I can taste the sadness, the bitter, almondy tinge that causes the light to be extinguished. For a moment. A minute. An hour. Days, too. A great blanket thrown on the fire, the smoke puffing upwards in tortured spirals. At some point the fire breaks through, the holes singed at the edges, the way frosted puddles crumble and brown at the point where water and ice connect. A single moth’s wing on the ground. Such fine grains of matter, that chalky residue that comes off on the fingers. Somewhere, across the ocean, in a small apartment on a college campus, an old man rattles water in an electric kettle and depresses the on-switch. On the hatstand in the corner, by the heavy wooden door, his straw boater connects cobwebs to rafters. No one reads his books any more. He is heavy. He is lead. His limbs move so painfully, the swollen veins a crucifix. My own book is read by some people. The dangling modifiers tease me. The fogged night makes me feel as if possible is on the other side of the bridge, next to the stiff corpse of yesterday’s skunk. Love is brittle as moth’s wings. These days go by and nothing much changes. There are rituals and rites to be considered. Sometime soon the phone will ring. The call will be to bear arms. Hoist. Carry. Deposit. Pray.

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