the yard to the new bird feeder. You thought it would never hang at just the right height to please him. You kicked the ground with the toe of your tennis shoe. Then, every once in awhile, you would bend down and snare a weed growing between the bricks of the walk that crisscrossed the lawn. You broke the weeds off at the surface, knowing they would be back again soon. To him, this yard was a miniature Versailles. That is what he called it. To you, it was all pretense, so much like the other yards in the suburban neighborhood.
“Maybe,” he replied, unsure, as he tied the knot in the cord. “I don’t want it to be so high that we can’t reach it to refill it.”
“So who can refill it?” you asked, kicking the ground again.
“It will be my job,” he said, without emotion.
“Okay, that does it,” he said with a tone of accomplishment. For a moment he stood back, studying the feeder hanging in the still July air. “Now, let’s go inside, fix a highball and wait for them.”
So you went inside for a “highball.” He was from another era. You always knew this. But only in the last few months had you decided how much of a mistake it had been to come live with him.
You weren’t even sure why you stayed at all, in that house decorated by his wife. The room she died in was preserved like a damned shrine, from the medical bed to the tray of pills on the bedside table. Brother! You put up with it. He said it was a small thing, his way of honoring her memory, and it didn’t mean he loved you any less. And he was probably telling the truth, the old geezer.
Your truth was this. You had been coasting for years, ever since getting out of prison. No, he never knew about that, and he never would. Why tarnish the image he had of you? But you had seen and done it all, from cocktail waitress to hostess at a bowling alley, from your brief stint in porno films to a fine art “model.”You made some friends, lost them, and eventually began to miss them as their hard edges began to fade. You didn’t have to work as long as you lived with him. You didn’t have to do a damned thing but be around him, with him, there for him when he needed you. Hell, he was a needy bastard, a weak sister. He was coasting through his retirement, but as far as you were concerned, he was already dead, just like the rest of the neighbors up and down the street. Everything was about comfort, and security. No one was even fucking alive. And none of them even knew it.
You’ve thought about it, what attracted you to him in the first place. You’ve decided it was his hands. They were large and comforting, fatherly maybe. You never thought you were like so many women who needed a father type to get through life. Maybe you were that kind of woman all along. Or maybe you just liked his hands. His hands more or less made up for his eye. It was the right one, and it was what they called lazy. The lid never opened entirely. If he looked directly at you, at anyone really, he looked like he was waking, or else falling asleep.
But there was something else about his eye. It was spooky. When he was driving, or looking into the distance, say across a field, the lid opened all the way. On its own. He had no control. He said he might have something to do with vision crisscrossing distance, but he didn’t know. No one knew.
As he stood in the breakfast room off the den, looking for blackbirds, you watched him. The lazy eye was wide open. The damned thing had a mind of its own. You wondered what he was thinking about. You knew what you were thinking about. You were wondering why this strange old coot was interested in blackbirds anyway. Some people, bird nuts, go for hummingbirds or bluejays, cardinals, one thing or another. Who gave a shit about blackbirds? He did. He said no one else cared about them, so he took it on as his job. His duty. Brother! They gave you the creeps, made you think of shadows and sadness and disease. But you didn’t tell him. It was his house.
The day he brought home the bird feeder, he was all hot and bothered. He told you this model was top of the line. The label on the box said it was “the ultimate feeder.” It was designed like a buffet table. He had bought sunflower seeds, wild bird mixes and thistle seed, and everything went in its own compartment. That way, the birds could take whatever they liked, like a buffet. The damned thing had nine different feeding stations.
After he made such a big production of setting up the feeder, you were pleased that no birds showed up for a few days. If he was disappointed, he didn’t let on. But you noticed how, in the morning, he would go out to check on the feeder, look closely at the feeding stations. He made sure there was enough of everything. Then, one morning, before he left for a retiree luncheon, you asked him why he was so interested in blackbirds. And he told you.
He said that blackbirds were omens. They were associated with an old saint, one whose name you didn’t quite catch. That saint was an angel. In fact, he was the tallest angel in heaven. Which meant he could see a long, long way, across the world, heaven to hell. The whole enchilada.
And although it hadn’t been completely explained, you knew the score. He was hoping for a message from the dead wife. Imagine! No matter what he said, if he loved you, all that crap, you knew you didn’t count for much in that house. If you did, there would be no need for blackbirds.
Then, that afternoon, while he was still at his luncheon, really just an excuse for highballs, you were passing through the den. You saw them plainly. The first customers had arrived. Four big blackbirds were feasting at the buffet. You watched them from the window as they greedily ate the seeds.
You must have snapped. Before you even realized it, you were out in the yard, running toward the feeder and the blackbirds. You clapped your hands and screamed at them.
“Go, you bastards, and take the dead bitch with you!” you yelled. You remember this well.
They were gone instantly, but you could hear their cries nearby, from the safety of adjoining yards. Standing alone in the yard, you looked at your hands. They were red from clapping.
That night, you didn’t tell him about the blackbirds. You ate dinner mostly in silence while he watched the stock reports on the television. Then the two of you went to bed. Next to him, and looking at his old grey body, you made your decision.It was easy. You decided right after you asked him why the buffet was only for blackbirds. How could he keep away the other birds?
His eyelid began to flutter a bit, and he said that this buffet was only for blackbirds, that no other birds would dare come. Ever. And then he smiled, and when he did, his lid stopped fluttering. It was a frightening thing.
Maybe there was nothing wrong with him. He was genuinely good, not out to take advantage of you. For a time, you were satisfied with that. Only after many months did you realize something. You were bored to death. If you stayed, you’d be like him and his neighbors. Now, you were also scared.
The next morning, you did not tell him you were going. He went to see a financial adviser for a luncheon appointment. More highballs. While he was gone, you got your things together. You didn’t want anything that belonged to him. You laughed about this. At any other time in your life, you would have stripped the damned place. But you didn’t want anything of his because it would remind you of the dead wife, the dead neighbors, the dead man you lived with for a time. There was only one thing left to do. You got the big butcher knife and headed for the buffet.
There were no blackbirds there, but you knew it was only a matter of time until they came back. You cut the cord that ran from the feeder to the oak tree. When the buffet hit the ground, bird seed went flying in every direction. You took it for an omen. You would be okay, no matter where you landed next.
Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His work has appeared in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, COLUMBIA and GLIMMER TRAIN, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery - http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/. He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, FROM VISION TO TEXT.