The day the Bird died, Mairé was hanging wet laundry on the washing line in the far meadow. A soft wind billowed the bed sheets, and grayed, lacy bloomers swayed romantically on the line, having seen better days. Olivia, her neighbor from across the road, made her way down the narrow path, waving her hands in the air, making sure to avoid the nettles on either side.
“The Bird is dead, isn't he,” Mairé said.
"How did you know?" Olivia said, pulling the collar of her coat tight.
“Didn't a crow fly into the upstairs bedroom last night at dusk.” She spoke through a mouthful of clothespins, the words splintered, her tightly curled hair not moving in the breeze.
He was the first man to touch her that way. His breath beery, his hands warm, the show-band playing a slow song, the bandleader combing his brilliantine hair with a plastic comb, lisping the words onto the dance-hall air. Later, in the back of the Bird's '38 Ford he slipped his two ferret hands up her skirt and took what he wanted. The next month she married the bugger who owned the bar and the Bird drank down the road at Hourican's for a long while. When he finally returned to his familiar seat he could see the swell of her belly under the apron. A lucky man, the bar owner, the Bird thought, regretting his inaction at the wedding mass and how when the priest had asked if any man present...
Three colorful bantam hens pecked in the dirt in the narrow space behind the public house. One had the bright, sharp eyes of a born killer. The Bird weighed the coins in his pocket, doing the math as to how much it would cost to purchase the creature.
“I'll give you two sovereigns for the bantam with the bright eyes,” he said to the man behind the bar.
“I can't sell you that bird. It's the lad's pet. His mother would have my guts if I sold the child's pet for fighting.”
“Are you going to let a woman tell you what you can, or cannot do in your own house?” the Bird said, his left eyebrow raised.
“It's easy to see you're a bachelor. If you had a wife of your own you'd be singing a different tune.”
The Bird grunted, tipped the glass and emptied the porter in one go. “You're a foolish man to turn down two sovereigns,” he said, tipping his brim and heading for the door.
The doctor placed the tiny baby in its mother's arms. Sure, it didn't weigh more than a bag of flour, as fragile and ugly as a new-born bird.
When the bar owner saw the little mite in his wife's arms, the sharp beak of a nose, the dark eyes, the curl of matted hair, he recognized a family likeness not of his own.
“He's like a wee bird,” he told her.
“Yes, but he's our little bird,” the mother said, squeezing her husband's hand.
He was not so sure. Not so sure at all.
The bantams went wild when the creature slipped in the shed door. Feathers and shit flew everywhere and the fox, if it were a fox, grabbed one by the neck and blooded it out. All that remained of the three birds was the pile of feathers on the ground, the blood splattered all over the floor. A desperate thing, the Bird agreed with the bar owner as he told him about the brazen fox that had savaged the child's pets. The Bird fingered his winnings and thought about buying the man's lad a rabbit instead.
In the line at the shop the lad held his mother's hand and rubbed the back of his leg with the toe of his shoe. from behind, the Bird recognized the shape of the earlobes and his heart tightened.
“How's the Bird?” Mrs. Flavin asked from the counter.
He reddened, coughed, muttered, “Game ball, game ball.”
The mother turned around and gave him a look that spoke volumes in its silence.
“How's the lad, Mairé?” he asked.
She put the Woman's Weekly and the boy's lucky bag on the counter and banged down her coins.
About the Author:
BIO: James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His work appears in many places including Camroc Press, Elimae, Necessary Fiction, and Word Riot. You can read more about him at www.jamesclaffey.com.
Photo (c) Nicolai Grut