This page is dedicated to original work, by yours truly, very much in flux. It's a way for me to share my writing process and hopefully get some feedback. I will try to update as often as possible.
"I can't even look" said Brenda, shielding her eyes from what she imagined to be gore but was actually a large doe splayed on the tarmac, the neck bent at an impossible angle, but appearing peaceful, as if napping.
"Seems to be more road kill out here than usual" I said ignoring my wife's sensitivity to dead things.
We were driving north on the New York State Thruway, en route to check out a new place to live. One that would hopefully be more affordable, more roomy and provide peace and quiet for us, coming from a more urban setting down in New Jersey.
"Sorry, It just reminds me of how fragile life is, you know. One minute you're eating nuts and berries in the woods, the next you're staring down an eighteen wheeler, can't move, you know, just freeze up, then wham, that's it. It's just so sad" this was said seriously.
I didn't reply, instead I was lost in thought. There was this time me and Paulie, that's our son, Paulie - he's five now - but he was about three at the time, we were out for a walk around the neighborhood, a little father and son time, and I decided to take a shortcut home down the tracks. As we strolled along--looking from side to side for wildlife, me trying to balance on the rails, throwing rocks and such-- something caught my eye. I turned and there was this figure collapsed in among the tall reeds.
I looked closer, trying not to let Paulie notice my concern, and realized it was a young man, but I couldn't tell if he was dead or just passed-out drunk. I played it cool, trying not to let Paulie see, but I could tell he sensed something was up. I picked the kid up in my arms and pretended to play some kind of whisk-your-kid-around game till we got far enough away from the body. I figured, hey if something sinister happened I would read or hear about it in a day or so. I didn't bother to tell Brenda, and after an hour I had completely forgotten about the incident.
"Why don't the workers bury the deer?" Paulie asked, suddenly so alert in the back.
"They will," I was trying to reassure the kid. "They just haven't had time, they haven't got to it yet. Believe me, those workers are busy doing lots of other stuff."
I remembered something a co-worker told me once. He was saying how he had this fear of birds, little birds, like sparrows. When I laughed and questioned him, he said, "No, I think it was because when I was a little kid we had a pet canary, something happened, got too cold or something, and it died. Well my mother didn't do anything at first, just waited till my father got home. He saw the dead bird and being from the old school just got rid of it by throwing it out window. No fanfare, just discarded it. I was pretty upset and couldn't question my old man, but I loved that bird, we'd called him Chick. When I looked out my bedroom window now I could see the canary, Chick, laying on the opposite roof. That bird sat there for days, I couldn't help seeing him every day there out my window. And I cried , I remember the crying. Finally he was gone one day. I think my father muttered something about a cat. I had this fear ever since, of birds."
" Looks like our landlord's digging his own grave," I commented.
"Or ours" she said. Brenda was funny, I don't think I would have married her if she didn't have a sense of humor.
Indeed the old man was the caretaker. He ambled up to meet us in his straw hat and Carharts. I thought he seemed pretty spry for someone who appeared to be in his late seventies. His face was stained by years of too much sun. Rivulets spread from his eyes, a relief map that might've revealed a life of laughter or regret. We learned his name was Todor Angelov, but we should call him Tod, and in case we were wondering, he was originally from Macedonia. His family had moved here to New York when he was about seven years old. He showed us around the place explaining all the particulars, intermittently commenting on Paulie: "A fine young boy you have there," "The youngster is athletic, the way he runs around and around the house".
We walked past an old Range Rover parked behind the barn. It hadn’t been moved in years. Its tires were sunken, fused to the earth beneath. A patina of weather had coated the body, a foxing of rust freckled the chrome. Through the clouded rear windshield I spied two mice nervously scattering from sight. Tod explained how the owner of the house, whose name was Jake Putnam and currently resided in Japan, had let a friend of his, whom Tod thought was from the Netherlands,leave the vehicle here as a favor with the expressed promise that he would one day return to collect it. “So we can’t sell it,” joked Brenda.
After the tour, we were walking back down the perilous flight of steps leading to the driveway when Tod stopped and picked out a weed from along the side. He waved it at us.
"Deadly Nightshade," he said. "Poison. Don't want the young fella to get a hold of this."
"Where'd you get that hat?" I asked him.
"That's just what I wanted to tell you about," he said sounding a bit weary, but not wasted.
He launched into a tale about how he and Danny Mozzio are eating lunch out on the stoop like they usually do and here comes this character dancing and prancing up Main raggedly dressed like a homeless dude but with this beautiful brand new hat propped on his greasy head. Seems like this guy has a bead on Lenny; and Danny, he prances right up to them and starts on some spiel about how he's the bastard son of Christopher Walken and how he's been afflicted by this particular malady, something about appearing drunk all the time but not actually being drunk or stoned or whatever, anyway now he needs cash for special meds. This just irks Danny to no end. Danny's a sizable guy, played left tackle on the high school football team and so Lenny went on about how Danny just drops his meatball parm and grabs this dude by his filthy shirt all Tony Soprano like and tells him how he doesn't appreciate being interrupted eating lunch and to get lost. Well this guy doesn't know how to listen it seems because he just keeps droning on and begging for cash.
"So this is where I draw the line, Mick,” said Lenny. “I can't stay silent much longer so I tell the bum to get out of our faces like I mean it. I mean Danny is about ready to punch him in the mouth, but I jump and push him across the sidewalk. Then I run at him and just grab this hat off his head. It was like, so spur of the moment. I'm not sure what I was thinking or why I did it but I just start running, leave my sandwich and everything. Leave Danny there to deal with the sick bastard. As I'm running I think, where am going now and that's when I think to come over here. Of course you guys weren't home, were you?"
"Why don't you come up for a beer?" I said. "Worry about the hat later."
"So are you guys gonna move upstate?" Lenny finally added. "Cause I don't know what I'll do without you."
The cattails dipped in the gusty, wet morning just enough for George Ballard to get a glimpse of the errant water fowl he’d been searching for. That particular specimen, the Sandhill crane, was not indigenous to the Northeast. They made their home in the American plains, in states like Nebraska where they nested near the Platte River. So that was why, when his fellow bird watcher, Dunley Greene, breathlessly reported the multiple sightings of the wandering crane in the the Hudson Valley, George promptly canceled his golf plans and set his phone to wake him extra early Saturday morning.
He’d just caught a flash of the tell-tale red patch between the crown and bill that distinguished the Sandhill from other cranes. His camera was mounted and ready to go, it sported a powerful 600mm lens that George was proud of. This hobby was not for the faint of heart, he’d told his colleagues at Milner Advertising. The lens alone cost him $1200.00, but he’d already captured some great wildlife shots, mostly birds of prey, out in the suburbs of New York City. Now he placed his eye to the viewer once more and waited for the lost flier to show itself.
These morning outings up in the country were a nice respite for George, a welcome escape from the busy clang and clatter of the city. He made his home in a three bedroom apartment up in the west 60s, a block or so from the park. “Coveted real estate” his agent had said, she’d actually used that word: “coveted”, as if he was about to commit a sin by signing the lease. His wife, Hannah, had always said: We deserve it, we both worked hard to get where we are, never feel guilty about spending a little of the spoils on the ones you love; and wasn’t she right? So he’d splurged a bit and it was a good move, good for him, good for Hannah and their son Wayne. They seemed to thrive in the city, in all its traffic disquiet and chemical fetor.
Where did that bird disappear to? It was in the tall grass somewhere, but now the wind had died and he lost sight of the thing. George, growing more impatient as the rain picked up, grabbed his camera and began to circle around slowly, ever so slowly as not to frighten his precious subject. He’d slipped on his gaiters anticipating the need to wade in a bit, though that was for him only a final resort. So he eased around the perimeter of the marshy waters for a different angle.
George worked in Creative Services, he was constantly using his experience to work up ideas for any given account. When he’d heard of the lost bird, he’d had an idea for the Hyundai account, maybe a print, or web ad: Let yourself go in a Santa Fe. Well it could use some work, but he wanted to use the idea of a lost, no not lost, free, a free bird. OK it was a tad cliche, but maybe they could license the Skynyrd song for a TV spot. See he was always thinking.
As he crept along the marsh he spotted a beaver swimming, poking its snout just above the water. When the slick rodent saw George, it quickly dove back under in a panic. He could make out the plaintive call of a catbird from the wooded area behind him, and now as the wind shifted, a sweet odor reached his nostrils: something dead, perhaps a rat. He scanned the sky for sharp-shinned or red-tail hawks, but could only identify a couple of turkey vultures hovering. They smell it too, he thought.
Still he kept his eyes on the marsh, walking as silently as possible, tracking. Be an Indian, his father would say. That wouldn’t cut it nowadays, with the PC police monitoring one’s every phrase. He wouldn’t repeat that one to Wayne lest it get back to a teacher or something. But he would always aspire to the level of stealth of that mythical Native American hunter. And finally as he moved far enough around the western end of the marsh,to the point beyond which the cattails and high grasses blocked his view, he saw the Sandhill crane again. It was dipping its beak, feeding on something in the water.