They kept coming. Coming in their baleful urgency. In 3’s, in 8’s, in 17’s, in 23’s. All mirror images of the other. Birds. Same markings, movements & intentions. Birds winging-in to The Bird Bar of Escanaba, Michigan to the trough feeder outside the bay window that broke up the back bar mirror at midpoint where the cash register sat. Where you could also see the time & temperature sign at the bank. 8:35 in the AM & 41 degrees. A horror in July tourist season but not unusual to the Upper Peninsula locals. Birds. If you stopped paying attention they seemed to respond to the same will, but if you watched closely they were all in it for themselves. They were cocksure of their enmity.
We sat back drinking & watching them or rather I watched apart from the others. I watched the birds descend & vie for leverage on the rim of the feeder & bob down for a sunflower seed in the mix. When one came up with a seed it gorged it or else one of the others would take it away. Of course this was comical to the bar stool groupings, for the seed pile rose high & there was plenty to be had. Not everyone was tranced by the bird show. Parking Wars was on the corner mounted flat screen. The drama of Detroit ticket writers booting cars & tow truck drivers hauling them away was compelling. The birds were a welcome but not frequent diversion. A discussion was mounting in earnest pro & con about the cancellation of Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Sometimes a bird would make a quick strike, snatch his prize & soar away. When one chose this strategy he would head to a nearby wood lot. Sometimes they could be seen perched & waiting in a big oak only fifty feet away. Others flew to the twin pines further away that grew by a gas station on the highway if there was no pump business. The pine boughs were heavy with thick cover to hide & wait to return. I liked when one by one they flew to the oak & spread out in the big gnarled limbs with dying sparse leaves in a fearful symmetry, moving about from limb to limb. Nervous movement that made the tree palpitate in the blue sky.
When a customer would order a drink the bartender would rise from her stool at the end of the bar by the TV to draw a draft beer at center bar or scoop ice and pull bottles to mix a drink or stoop into a lower cooler to retrieve bottle beer with her skirt rising up. Flashing leg. Her top rising up her back. A glimpse of tramp stamp. The movement near the bird feeding station would send all the birds away to the oak or twin pines or out of sight. When she delivered the drinks a few birds would quickly return. These were the especially anxious & vicious ones. When she moved back to center bar after the exchange of money for the cash register, these malefic ones would drop what they had & fly for someplace beyond the black oak or pines. They were easily startled & quick tempered. They would not return until a safe crowd would gather at the seed trough again.
Our bartender came over to wipe the draft spigots and stainless steel grates that caught the overflow with a rag & spooked the birds.
What kinda birds are they?
Somebody told me once but I don’t remember. I say goofy things with hungry beaks that show up some mornings & keep you idiots drinking when you get bored with the TV.
Is that how you see them?
You’re not up here fishing are ya?
Yeah. Over near Slapneck Creek.
Kinda cold for that. You look like a smart boy.
That’s why I’m in here.
Is that why? C’mon up here tonight. I’ll be stopping in after my bowling league.
She waltzed away. They had a plastic Roman Cleanser Bleach container in a crude cardboard stand with a slot cut into it & a masking tape label with FOR THE BIRDS SEED in red Magic Marker with coins darkening the white jug about a quarter ways up as a shadow reminder. It rested behind the bar next to the cash register right in front of the bay window where the trough hung outside in the chill where the birds kept coming. There were a couple signs taped up on the bar mirror. One said CREDIT? DON’T ASK. The other one said FREE BEER TOMORROW.
by Paula McCauley Shelton