Bird Watching

John J. Audubon, Song Sparrows. Image Public Domain.

John J. Audubon, Song Sparrows. Image Public Domain.

You could blow him over with a whisper or a shrug. That's right. He walked on his toes as if they were unstable springs planning to catapult him to a fall in an instant.
     A 10 year-old scrawny little thing, freckled and pale. He was nasty though, that Dennis. He called us homos when he was mad. All squeaky voiced and shrill. We knew it was a bad word though we didn't know what it meant. I don't think he did either.
     “He must have heard it somewhere," my mother said.
     Dennis was the last one standing when we picked teams for kickball. His team didn't try to hide their collective groan. I get it. He couldn't throw, he couldn't kick, he couldn't catch and he ran all funny like his feet didn't know which way they were going. Sometimes we threw the ball to him, but off to the side a bit. He’d shimmy and falter and we would giggle like we couldn't control it.
     "Homos!," he said.
     We woke up one day and Dennis was in a wheelchair. Just like that. He looked like a mini Dennis in that wheelchair. Like he lost some of himself when he sat down.
     My mother said it was M.S.
     We agreed, "it is a mess."
     We never saw Dennis walk on his toes or run all crooked-like again. He became one with his chair. We didn't play with him. We didn't know how. We couldn't make fun of him anymore and he didn't get mad.
     My little brother though. My 7 year-old littlest brother. I think he was kinder than the rest of us. He pushed Dennis in his wheelchair even though he was barely tall enough to see over the back of the chair. He pushed Dennis down sidewalks, on paths in the woods. They went bird watching. They had guidebooks and binoculars and peanut butter sandwiches and they went to look for birds. The wheels on the chair acted as legs and my brother was the wind spinning them like pinwheels, fast and faster as they zoomed down the sidewalk; my little brother and Dennis going bird watching.

Dancing with Flies


I count in German. "Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben, act, neun, zehn . . " 
I’m naked with a fly swatter. Pauli is on the bed laughing. I flit around his tiny room, chasing flies, slashing air, squashing them, one by one. Swing, eins, swing, swei, swing, drei . . . .
I am dancing with flies. 
"You are beauty," Pauli says in broken English. 
Pauli lives on a farm in Austria. I'm an American backpacking in Europe. I don't remember how we met. Must have been Vienna? Pauli is tall, thin and bearded. His eyes are kind. I go home with him. He is twenty. I'm nineteen. We make love. He falls in love with me. I revel in it and can't wait to leave. The next adventure beckons. 
It is my nature after all. 
We take walks. One day we see the farmer yelling hard consonants and poking the tines of a pitchfork into a male pig, prodding him to mount a sow. The sow is so little to the male's huge and squeals over and over, trapped in it’s nightmare. We watch horrified and mesmerized and hysterical. 
Pauli is an artist. On a trip to Vienna, he sketches me while I sleep. He swipes a few lines of charcoal across a large piece of paper with a conductor's flourish creating a full-bodied, minimal expression summing up all that I am. He colors in the border of my blanket with bright red pastel. A final touch. I fold the drawing into a square and slip it in my backpack. I've kept it all these years. The fold creases are permanent. I don't mind. They show time passing which is as it should be.
The day I leave, Pauli presents me with a mug he bought for cheap at the Gmundner Keramik factory, a few miles away. 
"They sell it hundreds years," he says.
It’s white, with hand-painted green swirls racing around its perimeter. A spill of green paint drips down its insides underneath the shine of glaze.
It’s imperfect. It’s perfect. 
I carry the cup back home across the Atlantic and drink years of coffee from it before I drop it in the sink. A large triangular piece breaks off the rim. I super glue it back on and use the cup for two more years of coffee before it breaks for good. 
Pauli sends me letters. Inside one is the key to his apartment. I don’t write back and one day the letters stop. I still have the letters. Not the key. 
After I left my husband I scoured eBay for used Gmundner ceramics. I buy most of what I find. 
The crazed and chipped ones are my favorites.