Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Red Beads

Something landed on the branch of the star magnolia just outside my window, on a brisk March day when the fat and furry bud cases were barely cracked open to reveal white petals within. The movement of settling wings in the periphery of my vision is what caught my attention. I turned my chair to see it was him, there on my branch, keeping his balance by the shifting of his tail feathers. In his beak, he held a strand of red beads, transparent glass, and they seemed to glow from within in the low light of the afternoon sun. He looked at me directly, first with one eye, then the other. I left my desk, grabbed my jacket off the hook by the door, and went outside. He hopped down branch to branch until he was at my shoulder, where he looked at me again, with one eye at a time, twisting his neck from side to side, a habit he knew annoyed me.
"I thought you weren't coming back," I said. He pushed his beak, still holding the beads, toward me. I cupped my hands under them as he let them drop. He shook his head and said, "I lied. You know I always do that." "I forget," I answered and walked toward the back yard. "AWWWW," he called, "Don't go away!" I kept walking. He tried to take flight from the tree but its branches got in the way of his wing feathers. He was forced to drop to the ground, waddle out from under it along the path to more open ground, where he could take flight. He flew out to beyond where I was headed, then circled. "You're mad I came back?" he asked in a pass near my head that made me instinctively duck and swerve a little, which only served to aggravate me further.
"I'm mad you left. What do you think?" I answered, turning away. "You know I can't live in a house and you won't live in a tree. Do we have to go over all that again?" he snapped. "Where did you steal the beads?" I asked, hoping to offend him. "Bought them. Mexico." he answered. "So you shifted to buy me beads?" I couldn't decide if I was touched or angered. "Fly with me," he demanded.
"No." I draped the beads over the branch of a witch hazel tree, longing to pause to smell the curled yellow blossoms. Instead, I turned and walked toward the house, feeling him fly past my head once and again as he made passes through the yard. I went inside and closed the door, leaning back against it for a second. I heard a loud long "Cah-aaaaawwwww" from high in the sky, then the branch by the window scraped the siding when he landed. I did not look out the window. I opened the basement door, pulled the chain to turn on the light, and stepped down into the musky space where I could not look out windows to let him catch my eye. I folded laundry, sheets first, drawing my arms wide to pull the wrinkles out, smoothing the fabric with each fold, then the towels, snapping each one crisply and creasing it slowly and firmly, perfect quarters, perfect thirds, a perfect stack. I looked around for more to do, but things were in order. I climbed the steps, my feet heavy. Silence. I paused and took a deep breath before I opened the back door. Only the beads were there, draped over the outside knob, swinging against the white paint as my hand shook on the inner knob.
I scanned the sky, the bare high branches of the trees along the property line. I pulled the shining beads from the doorknob. There were many shapes and graduated sizes, a carved glass flower in the center, leaf shaped beads to each side. It was beautiful, perfect. The glass beads felt cool in my hands. I held them to my heart. I could feel it pounding: Was he gone for good this time?

No comments: