There was a knock at the door.
I’d just gotten home from a long walk on a day that was much hotter than expected. I was drenched in sweat. There were pitch-black stormclouds gathering on the horizon. This was the worst possible time for company. But I didn’t like to leave anyone out there on the porch with the darkness gathering.
I peeked out the window in my front door, and saw no one.
I remembered that old superstition about answering a knock, seeing nobody, and opening the door. I’m told it means you’ve let Death into the house. I hesitated for a moment; then I opened anyway.
It was not death. It was Rose’s little friend from down the block, whom I’ll call Gracie. She’s just about two feet tall, which makes her invisible from my window. I like it when she visits, though I can barely understand a word she says– besides her soft voice and thick Appalachian accent, she’s got a lisp.
“Do you have a boxth?” she said anxiously.
“A box? You want to play with a box?” I asked with as good a nature as I could. Rose had already spent all afternoon playing with her friends, and I didn’t want her outside in a storm in any case. “I’ll see if I have one. What size?”
Gracie wanted a small one. I gave her a plastic tackle box, but this wouldn’t do.
“It’th for the bird!” said the little girl.
“She’th hurt! She can’t fly! We wanna keep it on the porch and feed it!”
I looked down the street to see an army of concerned people running toward me, against the inky cloud. There were Gracie’s four or five older half-siblings, who never stand still long enough to be counted. There was also the little boy who’d fallen into my bad graces for drawing a phallus in chalk on the sidewalk, and a little girl I didn’t recognize with her hair dyed bright red. Behind them was Gracie’s grandmother, whom she lives with. She was running with her hands folded carefully in front of her.
When Grandmother got close, I realized that she was holding a fledgling.
It was a young robin with charcoal feathers and a bright yellow beak.
“We found her in the street,” said Grandmother. “We didn’t want her to get run over! Oh, she’s so cute, but she can’t fly. She’s hurt!”
I took the bird, who clung vigorously to Grandma’s fingers but did not try to escape. The wings were quite new, shiny and tipped at the edges with white fluff. She was just a baby, but old enough to start flying on her own. And I couldn’t see anything wrong with her wings.“I’m not an expert,” I cautioned. “But I don’t think anything’s actually broken. She’s a fledgeling bird. Her mother’s pushed her out of the nest on purpose. She’s learning to fly, she’s just not good at it yet. But she’s not hurt.”
As if in answer, the little bird spread her wings and flew out of my hand.
It was not a long flight. She caught a gust of wind from the oncoming storm and flew around behind my back landing under a parked car.
Grandmother and the children exclaimed in surprise.
The little boy who had gotten into trouble for his sidewalk chalking laid down on the pavement to coax the bird out from under the car. The little girl with red hair laid down on the other side until I shooed her away from the street. Finally, with far more gentleness than I would have expected, the boy succeeded in scooping the bird out.
I knew that the best thing would be to return the bird to the tree from which she’d fallen, but I couldn’t hope to find it– not after she’d been carried so far. I knew the bird’s mother was close by, keeping watch, as long as the children hadn’t carried her much farther than the distance from their house to mine.
I knew that the LaBelle cats were always on the prowl this time of the evening, and I assumed they liked squab.
“We’ll put the bird in my bushes,” I said.
The weed eater’s trimmer line broke in the middle of mowing yesterday. There were still high weeds in my garden bed and around the great big lilac bush. A cat would have to be ravenous to hunt for a bird in that thicket. The LaBelle cats are well fed. I hoped they wouldn’t bother.
Lightning was flashing as we rounded the bend to my backyard.
One of the children found a little cardboard box, and another filled it with weeds. I tried to carry the bird inside the makeshift nest, but she hopped out twice, so Rosie carried her gently in her hands. I set the bird in the weeds in the shelter of the lilac bush and the box invitingly near her so that she could hop back in. I left her a piece of my cheap gluten-free bread to nibble– which you shouldn’t do, for the record; I looked it up later. Then the storm struck all around us, and we scattered.
I left the matter in God’s hands, and went inside.
Rose stayed on the porch to watch the storm.
She was the one who saw the robin take wings and fly out of the yard, back toward the place she’d come from, just as the rain came down.
(image via Pixabay)