It was an early gusty Sunday morning when I looked out the window through the foggy glass and discovered 13 inches of snow that piled up outside. Overnight, the glistening powder kicked up a blizzard that slammed in leaving heavy drifts, bushes wilting from the weight, and hazardous driving conditions. I knew I had quite a job ahead of me as I laced up hefty boots my feet didn't appreciate due to the weight and awkward stiff feel they had. Still, the leathery smell they gave off out of the box was great. I liked the sound of the ruffled paper stuffed inside them too. From the other room, my mother, normally of a quiet and comedic temperament, unexpectedly groaned with a troubled sigh as she stared out the back window.
I need to fill you in on a little background information about her and why my suspicions rose when I heard her uneasy lament. When she was alive, she had a weakness for animals. When a raccoon made a successful coup attempt on two of our garbage cans one night with a crash and a bang, she went out and fed him the cheese I planned on eating the next day on my sandwich. Or, when a stray cat wondered onto our porch, she felt the need to take him in, thus creating a convenient and comfortable home for him to barf up his hairballs and destroy our furniture while exercising his right to extend his claws.
I looked over and spoke with caution--"What?"
"Look," she said with a whimper, "A poor birdie died."
Well, I thought, at least we won't be letting him in. I walked over and looked out the window. I could make out--through the wind swept flakes--what appeared to be a blue-jay sitting on top of the snow motionless next to our garage. I assured my mother there was no need to worry. Birds are not afraid of the cold. "If I go out there," I said assuredly, "The first thing he'll do is fly away." I'll try to clear as much as I can from the front sidewalk and by the time I'm finished, he'll more then likely be resting in a nest somewhere.
I stepped outside to freezing winds that seemed intent on throwing the front door in my face. Two hours later, feeling cold, wet, and tired from such a formidable opponent, my mother greeted me at the entrance with: "He's still there!" Looking out again, I could see he was still unmoved with no sign of life. Hm, I wondered to myself, why would he be sitting there so long unmoved? Perhaps he really did go to that great nest in the sky? It seemed odd, but plausible.
"Ah--go get him." She said in a merciful tone.
"And where am I supposed to put him?" I asked.
"At least get a box and put him in the basement a little while until you can bury him."
"What? It'll smell and by the time he's ready to be buried, he'll be bones. I'm better off putting up a cross that says Gus and the dates on it."
"Oh, come on." she said with a sad face on.
With a sigh, I went down to the basement and grabbed a small cardboard box we had laying around from a biscuit jar my father bought. Before walking out, my mother once again sighed: "Ah, the poor thing."
"You watch," I said, "As soon as I get out there, he'll take off."
"No he won't." she replied. Opening up the side door, the angry gust almost ripped the doorknob out of my hand. As I started walking down the driveway I suddenly lost my balance on an isolated patch of icy pavement and fell. I landed on my left leg feeling the pain work its way up to my thigh. When I got to my feet, I put the shovel on top of the box and went inside to check. There was blood but not enough for stitches, just some cleaning up and a big bandage would do.
I told my mother I would go back out in a half hour. I sat in the recliner with my feet up skimming through an early issue of Weird N. J. magazine to keep me occupied. If you like strange and spooky stuff it's a great read. They cover other states and countries besides New Jersey... and you've got to read that one about the old abandoned building in the...
I waited the thirty minutes and looked from the back window one more time. The bird was still in the same place and not moving. He was obviously dead. I once again went out the side door and when I did, I noticed the shovel was there but the cardboard box was gone. Looking around I discovered the wind had picked it up and carried it into the yard next-door where it was clinging onto a branch. It waved back and forth in the breeze as though it were teasing me to come get it. It appeared ready to take off any minute.
I painfully hopped the little post-and-rail fence but when I did, Nelly the dog saw me from a back window. Nellie was getting up there in years an when he barked it was like an old fire engine who's siren needs rewiring. He would start, then keep going with a whine that oscillated up and down. Unfortunately, his elderly owner Mrs. Morey had her own problems to deal with.
Mrs. Morey was not only hard of hearing, she could hardly see. She was a patriotic woman who would always remind you when it was important to hang your flag out on certain holidays like Veterans day, forth of July, and flag day. The only advantage you had if you forgot was that she could hardly see anything anyway.
So there I was trying to get this box and I'm yelling to her that it's only me. With the dog in the background, her poor vision, and the shards of glass-like snow scraping my face, I think you get the picture. I recovered the box and walked back into my yard where I could see my mother at the window yelling.
"What are you doing?"
"Call Mrs. Morey and tell her it was just me." I shouted.
"What!" my mother yelled.
"Call Mrs. Morey and tell her it's me!"
"I can't hear what your saying!"
"CALL MRS. MOREY AND TELL HER IT WAS JUST ME!!!"
I could see her laughing now. She heard me the whole time.
I walked to the garage to a drift that was chest high. With tears in my eyes I peeked over and I could see the bird. I took the shovel and leaning over, lightly tapped the wall of the garage but got no response. I tapped a little harder but not too hard, I didn't want the snow from the roof to come down on top of him. He still didn't move. I could see the bird sitting there motionless. From where I was standing, he was an adult blue-jay and looked frozen solid. I walked up slowly. Ten feet away I could still here Nelly in the background. It reminded me of a kid from down the street who's learning to play the trumpet and can't quite reach that G-sharp. I got up to the bird and I slowly put the shovel underneath to pick him up when suddenly, he moved! It was as if his movement was tuned to the engagement of my shovel. I stepped back and waited a moment and tried again. The same result. This time my reaction was remarkably different. My hands and mouth dropped as I dipped my head in disbelief.
With my leg in pain, the dog howling, and my mother at the back window watching expectantly, I couldn't believe I had forgotten what should have been so obvious. The bird we thought was dead, was a plastic ornament that sits on a wire inside the plant-box! The snow had been just high enough that it looked like a real bird sitting on the snow dead. The flowers had been long gone and I completely forgot about it. I stood there for a moment dejected feeling like a fool. I should have recognized it and deduced what it was but I never pieced it together. I decided there was only one thing left to do...
I slowly bent down knowing my mother was watching and with my back to her pulled up the bird. Then, grasping it by the wire, I sprang up flailing and flapping it back and forth as though I were trying to catch it with my hand. I made sure I partially blocked some of it enough with my body so she couldn't see the wire I held it by. She wasn't going to get off that easy I thought. Up and down it went, over my head, back down again, to the left then right. Then falling to my knees, I grabbed it and plunged it into the snow, mockingly beating it with enough vitality to make it look as though I'd had enough of its games. This thing had to die! A wild right hand, then a wild right, slowing my pace until it was finally over. Getting up, I walked away as that of a tired and disheveled victor of war. I took my hat off and wiped my forehead before putting it back on. As I walked back past the window, I glanced up. I could see her hands over her mouth in a look of horror. On the way up the driveway, I couldn't stop laughing. When I finally got in, she was in shock.
"What did you do?" she asked with eyes wide open.
"It's over" I said with head down, shaking it back and forth, "It's just... all over. I can't go back out there now, not like this."
"What are you talking about?" she uttered.
"I've just been attacked by some horrible freak of nature that's all."
"It was just a little bird?"
"Is that what you call it?" I said condescendingly.
Eventually however, I had to tell her the truth. She was mad for a bit, but then wound up laughing. When my father got home later that day, I told him what happened and he laughed as well. He explained that he put it there the night before on top of some bricks when he was clearing a spot behind the garage. There was no reason to tell anyone, why should he.
A couple of days later it snowed again. I donned hat, jacket and boots and as I was ready to walk out the door to clean the walk, my mother in a witty voice offered a suggestion: "Why don't you see if there are any birds or squirrels that need help. hee hee."
"Mm," I mumbled underneath my breath. Then, just before I walked out the door, she replied with the words she always repeated whenever I got mad or moody--"CRAB ASS."
Like I said, comedic charm.