Sunday, July 29, 2012

Carolin Combs: "A Bird Too Far"

        Local newspapers often have a feature out of the archives – a "50 Years Ago Today" feature that takes up the ad space that didn’t sell.  I just read one that blew me away. ~ Carolin

It’s 1949.  Imagine, if you will, a young married couple “vacationing” at the in-laws’ house; the in-laws themselves are out of town.  Maybe they’ve gone down to New York to catch something at the Met.  The young couple must live near enough to drop by for a restful weekend.  Mom and Dad catch a Friday afternoon train for the city.  Junior and his bride see them off.  Dare they sleep in the adults’ bed?

Come Sunday morning, all hell breaks loose in Leave-It-To-Beaver-Land.  Junior tells the police that he was awakened early Sunday morning “by what sounded like someone making breakfast downstairs.”  Junior is a gallant fellow in this story, and he tiptoes downstairs to investigate.  He is probably armed with his old baseball bat, because he and his bride are sleeping in his room.  He couldn’t take Mom and Dad’s bed. 

The moment he opens the kitchen door “something with wings whooshed past his head and up the stairs.” It happened so quickly that he couldn’t identify the animal.  More on this later, but what do you suppose this miscreant animal was doing in the kitchen?  It was trashing the kitchen.  That’s right, this winged beast left “a mass of broken glass, chinaware and blood.”  The beast flew into the living room and beat itself against the walls. Eventually, Junior got the critter to leave by the front door.

I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have, that there are a few inconsistencies in Junior’s account of the attack of the house-trashing bird.  First of all, “something with wings” whooshed by his head, yet he could not identify the animal.  Okay, well, it had wings.  That sounds like a bird.  If it had whooshed any closer, perhaps it would have imbedded itself in his skull, so he could take a closer look.

This creature left a bloody mess in the kitchen.  Hitchcock notwithstanding, how many birds do you think it would take to break the dishes?  And the crystal?  And bleed all over them?  Junior does not say whether the bird was also trying to make off with the silver.  Later in the day (remember, this is Sunday morning), Junior and Mrs. Junior repeat this tale for the neighbors.  These credulous neighbors have known Junior all his life, yet they still believe him.  Even at this distance, you can hear the sympathetic clucking of tongues by good-hearted people.  Perhaps he shows them the remains of the mess in the kitchen, the dents in the living room wall.  They rally to his cause.  A duck, they proclaim.  A wild duck fell down the chimney.

Duck?  How about a swan with a shotgun?  Ah, well, there was no bird, was there?  Mom and Dad left a full liquor cabinet. Junior and Mrs. Junior had a few friends over on Saturday night.  Some of Junior’s insufferable prep-school pals with names like Chip and Spin and Poppet and their Aryan-from-Darien wives.  Everybody had too much to drink.  Somebody threw up in the kitchen wastebasket.  Spin and Poppet got into a fistfight.  Poppet’s nose started to bleed.  Spin fell into the crystal cabinet and the good French stuff came down on him like a fine rain.

Junior took advantage of the scene to make a move on Chip’s wife in the living room.  He ran a hand up her leg and made eyes at her.  His fantasy was interrupted when a heavy vase whooshed past him and left a dent in the plaster wall, where dry bits fell away from the lath.  Mrs. Junior saw the whole thing.  She threw the vase.  She picked up an ashtray.  Mrs. Chip jumped off the sofa and ran barefoot into the night.  Junior fainted.

Mr. and Mrs. Junior did not realize how much trouble they were in when they came to, groggy and hungover on Sunday morning.  Only Junior’s first trip down the stair would reveal the totality of the devastation.  Crystal and blood in the kitchen, sick in the trash can, holes in the living room wall, a terrible smell everywhere.  Oh, the despair.  How would he explain this to Mummy?

Um, a bird.  A really big bird.  Junior isn’t overly bright, but he can lie with the best of them.  His dehydrated brain is trying very hard to come up with a story at the bounds of plausibility.  Yes, a really big bird got in the house.  Trapped in the kitchen, in fact.  It was making a lot of noise.  It woke him up.

“Oh My Gawd,” Mrs. Junior says, surveying the damage from a safe distance.

“Shh, I’m working on it,” he assures her.  “It was a bird.  A dangerous bird.  It was trapped in here.”

“We shooed it out the window?” she offers.

“No, we can’t open the windows.  We shooed it out the front door.  I heard a noise and I came downstairs to investigate and it flew right past me when I opened the kitchen door.”

“Mmm, well, that takes care of the kitchen,” she says, “but what about the living room walls?”

“The bird again!” he says in triumph.  “It flew around the living room.  It hit the walls.  It was crazed.”

“Nobody will ever buy this story,” she says.  “Your parents will disown us.”

“Bet?” he says.

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