One afternoon, I was relaxing in the shade of one of the big trees on my country estate and watching some of the village children play on the hillside below.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky and the day grew warmer, their frolicking became less energetic, their voices quieted and in pairs and groups they began drifting up the hill to where I sat and joined me in the cool shade of the tree. Some stretched out on their backs, finding familiar shapes in the big white clouds above. Other had flopped down on their bellies to watch a parade of ants make their way through the dense jungle of the lawn. And still others talked and giggled quietly, singing little songs and sharing secrets. It was a lovely day and I enjoyed the company of the children.
After a time, one of little cloud watchers looked over at me and asked, “Baroness, do you know any good stories?”
I smiled, “You silly little bug,” I said. “You know that I do.”
She smiled back, explaining, “I mean, do you know one you can tell us right now?”
The other children turned to me, their faced painted with expectation. “As a matter of fact, I do have a good story for you,” I answered. “And it’s a new one!”
“Yay!” they cried, clapping their little hands and scooting closer to better hear. Once they’d gotten themselves settled and situated, they grew quiet, all eyes on me.
And so I began…
Once upon a time, the Hawks and the Falcons were perched high in a tree-top, having a summer cook-out. It was something the two families enjoyed and did as often as the weather and their schedules allowed.
As was typical, the wives sat together, catching up on news from the forest and keeping a close eye on their fledglings, who laughed and shouted as they played games and chased each other through the sky. The husbands preferred to stand near the grill, monitoring the day’s catch, a tasty squirrell, as it sizzled and hissed, the juices dripping down on the hot coals below. They were drinking beer and leisurely scratching themselves as they talked about tools and sports.
Just as they were preparing to eat, Mr. Hawk caught a glimpse of color in his extraordinary peripheral vision. “Aw jeez,” he said. “Would you look at this…”
The other birds glanced over to see what he was talking about. “For crying out loud … Seriously?” said Mr. Falcon, as they watched a large flock of colorful songbirds and seed eaters land in the tree next to theirs.
“What? What? What?” the fledglings asked in that demanding tone that only the young could muster. “What? What? What? What?”
The mother birds quickly threw up some grilled squirrel and spit it into her fledglings’ up-turned beaks to quiet them. “Never you mind,” said Mrs. Hawk. “Your father is just being silly.”
“I don’t consider trying to eat next to a flock of them silly,” Mr. Hawk said. “I consider it disgusting.”
“Just ignore them,” Mrs. Falcon said, watching the other birds setting up a volleyball net. “They’re not hurting you.”
“The fact that they exist hurts me,” Mr Falcon grumbled. “A million other trees in the forest and they have to perch next to us.”
“I’ll tell you something,” Mr. Hawk said. “If they start being all … songbirdy in front of my fledglings, we’re going to have a problem.”
“I’m with you,” Mr. Falcon agreed. “What they do in their own nest is their business. But they’ve got no right to rub it in my face or expose my family to it.”
“You two need to stop,” Mrs. Hawk said. “They’re not bothering anyone.”
Over in the other tree, some of the birds were enjoying a game of volleyball, while others prepared the seeds, nuts and berries for their lunch. While they worked and played, some began to sing.
Mr. Hawk rolled his eyes. “Now what the hell is this?” he asked angrily.
“I’m pretty sure it’s It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls,” his wife answered.
“Thank you Captain Obvious,” he said. “I meant why do they have to sing like that all the time?”
“Oh, like you never sing in the bird bath,” Mrs. Hawk replied. “Maybe you’ve got a little songbird in you…”
“Shut up, Joanne!” he snapped. “That’s not funny!”
“Touchy, touchy!” she said, and went back to regurgitating food for her young.
Mr. Falcon, who was beginning to feel the effect of the beer he’d been drinking all day, began walking back and forth on a branch, swishing his tail feathers with great exaggeration. “Oh tweedle-dee dee,” he said in a high falsetto. “Look at me, I’m a songbird. I eat seeds. Tweet tweet!”
Mrs. Falcon glanced over at the other tree and saw that some of the birds had noticed her husband’s performance. “Will you please stop that!?” she said. “You’re embarrassing me.”
“Oooooh sor-ryyy,” he said, clearly not sorry at all. “Of course, you’d be on their side, considering how you just loooove that Macaw feather stylist of yours.”
“I’m not on their side. I’m on the side of not being a loud, obnoxious drunk,” she told him, and Mr. Falcon responded by cracking open yet another beer.
“Speaking of feather stylists,” Mr. Hawk said. “Did you hear that the Condor kid started taking voice lessons and having his feathers dyed?”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” said Mr. Falcon. “That kid’s always been a little light in the talons.”
The fledglings had finished eating and wanted to go back to playing. Their mothers were glad to let them so they wouldn’t have to listen to any more of their fathers’ inebriated commentary.
“You know they want to be able to mate for life, right?” Mr. Falcon asked
“What?!?” Mr. Hawk exclaimed. “No way!”
“Yes way,” Mr Falcon confirmed. “A guy at work said birds have been posting about it on Facebook.”
“Goddamn seed-eating pollinators…” Mr Hawk said, shaking his head. “What’s next? Mating with bees? Or bats?”
“Exactly!” Mr Falcon agreed, sarcastically adding, “I mean, they all fly, so what’s the big deal?”
“I cannot believe that shit, man,” Mr Hawk said, still incredulous. “It’s just wrong.”
“I know,” said Mr Falcon. “How’d you like a couple of canary life mates to move onto your block? The kids would never be safe again.”
As they sat pondering the enormity of something that didn’t affect them in the slightest, there was a loud screech from where the youngsters were playing. Two of them had flown into each other and now one of the Falcon offspring was plummeting toward the ground, her wing clearly broken.
The husbands were too tipsy to react quickly, and the mothers were frozen with shock and fear. Just then, a flash of white streaked across the sky toward the falling fledgling. Arriving just as the little bird was about to crash on the forest floor below, the Cockatoo swooped in and snatched her from certain death. Gingerly grasping the little Falcon and trying not to jostle her broken wing, the Cockatoo flew carefully back up to the treetop. He set the fledgling next to her grateful mother, and headed back toward his friends without a word.
As she watched the Cockatoo go, Mrs. Falcon thought about what a brave and selfless of bird it took to jump into action and help someone who openly mocked and hated him. A single tear rolled down her face as she marveled at the day’s amazing and unexpected turn of events. Then, as she wiped away the tear, something brown whizzed past her and she watched as the Cockatoo seemed to explode in a huge burst of white feathers.
Mrs. Hawk and Mrs. Falcon were trying to process what they’d just seen, when flying toward them they saw Mr. Hawk; and gripped tightly in his talons, was the limp, dead body of the heroic Cockatoo. Mr. Falcon dissolved into helpless laughter when Mr. Hawk landed, asking, “Anyone still hungry?”
Mrs. Hawk just shook her head. “I swear to God, Dennis,” she said. “You are such an asshole sometimes.”
“The end,” I said.
For a long moment, the children continued to look at me, saying nothing. Finally, one little boy spoke up. “Damn Baroness,” he said. “Sometimes your stories are just really fucked up.”
I patted his little head and smoothed his hair. “Sometimes the world is just really fucked up,” I told him. “Sometimes the world is …”