Monday, December 5, 2011

For The Birds

Harry B. Sanderford

Ray jerks his head around quickly and sees nothing but the same sad drinkers. He’s attended too many of these wakes over the last couple of years. Each time he reminds himself to begin living each day as if it were his last. Life’s so unpredictable. Just look at Miles, or Frosty before him. Nobody ever sees it coming.  Well, maybe you could see it coming for Frosty. The point is, life is short, man. Nobody on his death bed, regrets not working more. You only go around once, so stop and smell the roses. Clichés all, sure, but he means it each time. And each time, as time goes by, best intentions fade and life falls back into dull routine. It’s not so bad really, it’s comfortable. Living each day like it’s your last is exhausting. If you spent every day climbing mountains or jumping out of airplanes, you might truly wish to spend your last day in your bathrobe eating freezer pizza and watching Netflix. He whips his head back around only to see Miles’ Uncle Paul hoist his hi-ball. Ray nods and returns the salute.

Lately he’s been catching flashes in his peripheral vision, fleeting glimpses he can never catch in full, spectral shadows scuttling just out of sight. They began right after Frosty twisted his motorcycle into a mesquite stump down in old Mexico. Ray could not explain their nature; not visions exactly, but if not visionary, surely cautionary. It would be loco to speak of them, so he keeps them to himself. A sparrow (or was it a bat?) darts from the corner of his eye too fast to draw a bead on but trails in its slipstream a foreboding of gathered vultures roosting beyond the periphery.  He tosses the last inch of whisky back and slams his glass down on the bar with a resounding bang. Now, all the other heads in attendance swing around.

He has everyone’s undivided attention, so it’s as good a time as any. He wants to say something about his friend. Something uplifting he hopes, but it is not what’s in his heart.  He considers and rejects standard platitudes. He especially hates that consolation prize: At least he died doing what he loved. 

Ray had been first to find Frosty. Well not the first exactly. He couldn’t have been more than a few minutes behind when he rode up to find Frosty crumpled in a lifeless heap. The carrion birds were already on the ground, waiting for him to cool. He pulled his cell from his back pack and called Miles, told him to bring the truck. Then he pulled his pistol from the pack and shot every buzzard already on the ground and each new one drawn to the carcasses as they landed. He had to reload.

Miles drowned on a head high day at Calafia, a break he knew well and a swell that was big enough to be fun but not particularly dangerous for a surfer of Miles’ experience. Ray had been out with Miles but couldn’t save him. Even as he trieed, seagulls inched closer.

At least he died doing what he loved. There's another classic cliche for you.

Memo for Last Will & Testament:  The thing I loved most about that thing I it never killed me! After that, it’s over between me and that thing I loved. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Ray decides to wing it.

“Friends...,” he begins and then dodges abruptly to his left, swatting wildly. He does not connect with the pelican poltergeist and in missing, spins himself all the way around. The other mourners follow his antics unblinking and to their credit, with a minimum of chittering. Embarrassed but determined, he composes himself. “Our friend Miles lived life hard…” he resists the urge to drop to the ground, gripping the bar and closing his eyes until he is sure a great blue heron has found a perch behind him. “…Miles feared nothing and no one...” he soldiers on but something is not right.

The other mourners, mostly family and friends that have known him since he, Miles and Frosty were kids, are looking at him differently somehow. He feels the odd one out, they are different but the same. It is he who is alien. Their eyes, no longer damp, are red but not from crying. They are sharp now, penetrating and focused on him. Awaiting his words they cock their heads from side to side in unison and stare unblinking with those eyes, blood red now and shiny as beetles. Ray’s apprehension, once limited to avian apparitions twitching at the edges, has turned to full centered dread. Uncle Paul regards his diminished hi-ball, no longer raised in encouragement, narrows his gaze and pecks at the last cube of ice in the glass.

* image above by Terrie Boruff Yeatts
borrowed from Artmenow's Blog