Hal isn’t ready for the bevy of people who will flock to his house this week. He’s awake and downstairs before anyone else. With bent back, he drags the heavy bag of seeds out from under the banister. When the grandchildren were younger, they’d aid in the task, and it’s possible one of them will stumble into the kitchen now and help him lift.
A trepidation of yellow warblers, Vi said. When they’re in a group. Or a sweetness. She read aloud from “Birds of Connecticut” as he scrambled egg beaters on the stove.
He places the sieve at the narrow mouth and pours, careful not to spill, though the bird feeder sits upon a page ripped from last week’s news. He replaces the metal cap – effortless for humans but too heavy for squirrels – atop the clear plastic tube. Tonight, as Hal’s done every night for 55 or so years, he’ll unhook the feeder from its long arm on the porch. A frame for his days. A kindness performed to brighten hers.
Come, Hal, she called from outside. Shucking corn, a warm summer evening. Can you hear the peter peter peter? It’s the courtship song of the tufted titmice.
He wipes down the footholds. Finches are finicky and will avoid dirt.
“Go away squirrels,” she taught the grandchildren to say, shooing the rascals away from the porch, trying to leap to the base and nibble what’s not theirs.
Hal slides open the glass door. Hints of fallen leaves fill the air, crisp yellows and fiery oranges. The season of her birthday.
Her peripheral vision was sharper than his. From any of her favorite perches – at the dining room table tackling a thousand-piece puzzle, reading on a rocker in the screened-in patio – she’d look up in time to see a black-capped chickadee, whereas he might not notice a yellow goldfinch, with its shock of golden feathers, from a few feet away.
One of their four blue jays (Vi claimed it was the same four, but how could she know?) flutters from branch to branch on the nearby elm, waiting to be first.
She loved the northern cardinals, with their proud red plumage, but was also loyal to the state bird, the simple red robin with its melodious music. The robin may start its melody right before a storm, she read from the book. A voice for every occasion.
He latches the feeder to its hook and it sways in the wind like a long lamppost, a beacon for their backyard menagerie.
Today, this week, the house will be full of people and he’ll hear stories, some he’s never heard. Perhaps their grandson will recall his first, homesick summer at camp and the colorful snapshots Vi sent him of their birds. She had a wonderful gift for finding connections with small children, octogenarians and everyone in between. How he wishes she’d come through door now with tales of her hairdresser’s father’s role in the Polish resistance or bubbling with excitement that she’d met a nice young woman wearing a Brandeis shirt at the gym.
Two house sparrows flutter from out of the trees and alight on the perches, pecking at the seed openings. Months down the road, maybe next year, no mention of the feeder will be made when his daughters have the “talk” with him: sell, downsize, move in with one of them.
He won’t give in. How can he leave when he sees Vi in every room? When it would mean her beloved birds will go hungry?
Peter peter peter, he tries, but unlike the robin, he has no voice for this occasion. The chirps catch in his throat.
The Ultimate Guide to Surviving the Next Four Months While I am Out Enjoying Maternity Leave
All will be well, my dears. Mama Bear will return in four short months weeks. Xoxo