BIRD WATCHING

At the last of Donna’s six free counselling sessions, Dr. Pat told her that she should consider taking up a hobby. Wikipedia told Donna that Bird Watching or “Birding” is the most popular hobby in the world after walking. Donna hates to walk, so she borrowed “The Sibley Guide to Birds" from the Parkdale Library. Sibley told Donna to make notes on what birds she saw.  

On the first day Donna watched three seagulls on a telephone wire from her balcony.  It made her feel bad that she had never really given seagulls a chance. She had always thought of them as squawking beach bullies, but she saw now that this attitude only cheated her out of the beauty of snow white chests, heather grey wings and frowning yellow beaks. Donna made a note to herself regarding seagulls.  

Her note was:  “Let this be a lesson to me.”

On the second day Donna considered Blue Jays. She rarely saw a blue jay but when she did, she thinks she should love it, but she doesn’t because they look just like the blue jays on the ball caps of the boys who are not nice to her. Donna also hates sports, and Blue Jays remind her of baseball. It’s not fair to the blue jays, and it’s not fair to Dr. Pat, who told her that she should consider taking up a group sport. Donna vowed to work on her negative blue jay associations. 

Her note for this day was: “It’s only me who loses out in the end.”

On the third day Donna ventured away from her apartment building, something that she rarely did, to watch a Mother Swan. As Donna watched the swan gliding across the glass tabletop of lake Ontario toward her where she sat on the trashy banks of Lake Ontario, she loved her fabled neck and how elegantly she piled her mass of downy white wing parts on top of herself like folded linen. The swan looked like she shouldn’t exist, like a mythical creature.  Surely the Norwegian woodland would better fit her majesty, but here she was, swimming by the side of the Gardiner Expressway. Donna longed to nestle herself on top of the swan’s white mass, and feel the gentle lappings of the water beneath them like she was Donna’s one and only bumper boat. Then Donna recalled that with Dr. Pat’s help she was coming to accept that animals were not put on this earth to fulfil her personal intimacy and affection needs. Then Donna watched as the mother swan let her babies ride on top of her, and she begged God to turn her into a cygnet. 

When the mother swan came out of the water things between her and Donna changed horribly. Donna shook at the sight of her fearsome cast iron legs and thick webbed feet. The swan flapped her wings and became a dinosaur, and hissed and Donna for trying to cup her cygnets in her hands, and Donna felt that the swan hated her, and she didn’t know why.  Donna remembered to ask herself what Jesus would do, and she tried to pray for the swan but she couldn’t make herself do it.

Her note for the day was: “Today was a black day.”

On the fourth day Donna’s Pigeon Thoughts began. It was set off when a pigeon went to the bathroom on her head again on the way to King’s Milk, and she wondered if God was punishing her for being gay. But then she thought of George and Paul who lived in her building and always said “hi” to her in the hallways. They were like two angels of light, and Donna thought that they’re so nice that God probably didn’t mind anything they did.  But then she thought that maybe those wild medieval monks had it right and God thinks we shouldn’t be sexual at all because it’s gross. Maybe we should all lock ourselves in hermitages and only eat gruel and study the bible and flagellate ourselves when we get boners. Donna thought maybe she’ll do that so nothing bad happens to her or her family. But then she thinks of how impractical that would be and remembers that she’s not even really sure she believes in that God anyway.  Then she gets worried that God will punish her for thinking she doesn’t believe in Him.  

Her note for this day is: “I’m sorry little Goddy! I love you! Goodnight, and I’ll see you in the morning!”

But Donna didn’t sleep very well that night, because the Pigeon Thoughts continued.  When she rose from bed in the morning of the fifth day she couldn’t help it, she was still pretty gay or at least 80%. She stood on her balcony in her nightgown, looking out at a group of male pigeons who were all trying to mate with one oblivious female pigeon who only had eyes for half a scone she had, and was thinking only one thing, and that was “peck ceaselessly”. The male pigeons puffed up their slate grey necks exposing to the sun an oil slick of iridescent feathers and coo softly to try to impress the lady pigeon.  It doesn’t work on her, but Donna sure thinks it’s beautiful.  Donna thinks all pigeons are beautiful, and she thinks it’s mean when people call them rats with wings. She also thinks it’s mean that people think pigeons should be insulted by being compared with rats, because in her opinion rats are cute and nice.

Donna recollected herself to her bird-watching, and through the window she saw one of the pigeons mating with another male pigeon with a rainbow feathered puffed neck like himself.  She was made to contemplate the significance of the rainbow on the gay pigeon’s feathers and whether he meant it as a pride symbol?  Is that pigeon ever embarrassed about his beautiful rainbow neck?  Does he have to wear it anyway because it’s permanent like the double rainbow tattoo Donna got when she was sixteen?  Donna needed to go back to bed now.  

Her note for the day was: “The two rainbow pigeons were clearly grinding, and if God didn’t want 

same-sex grindage, why would he make it so beautiful?”

On the sixth day a horrible thing occurred. Donna was walking to King’s Milk and she saw a jerk in a booming car come swooping down her street, just at the same moment that one of those seagulls came swooping down her street and swooped right into his windshield!  Donna would never forget that thud.  She knew that the jerk heard it too and saw the blood splat with the little baby feathers in it grotesquely swished aside by his windshield wipers. 

Donna ran into the street in her carpet slippers, nightgown, and bathrobe. She wrapped the poor flapping white heart up in her bathrobe, and ran back into her apartment with the bundle, jumped into bed and rocked and cradled it in her arms, praying to God for it to be okay. She became so upset that she fell asleep. When she woke up she was still clutching the bathrobe to her breast, but it wasn’t moving.  

Donna wrote no note that day.

On the seventh day Donna stayed in bed, hiding from cars and the outside, under her blankets holding and rocking the dear bathrobe. When the sun set and filled her room with heavy, dusty sunlight, she kicked the blankets off of them, and lay the bathrobe on her stomach.  She watched the bathrobe as it rose and fell with her breathing and felt it was alive, and a part of her. She slowly un-wrapped the terry cloth until she could feel the small temperature-less package of not-life inside it. She was surprised at how light her seagull was, but then she remembered that birds have hollow bones so they can fly. She mustered the courage to uncover the seagull completely and saw it lying there, with a little halo of a dried blood stain surrounding the terry cloth underneath her. She saw the feathers, sticky with dried blood in spots, some not even attached still, one wing crookedly sticking out, one lifeless eye half open, the beautiful machine of her beak slightly parted, and the rubber stick legs tucked up into her under feathers, as if she were nesting on Donna’s stomach. She looked beautiful and peaceful to Donna, and that frightened her. Hot tears ran down Donna’s temples into her hair and onto her pillow case, but she kept her breathing steady, so as not to disturb her seagull’s peace.  

Donna wrote no note that day.

Throughout day eight and nine Donna stayed in bed, being pulled in and out of a series of deep, weighted sleeps flushed with troubled dreams.  Each time she woke up she would panic until she found her seagull in bed with her, sometimes she was exposed, once she was mounted on the pillow beside Donna’s face so she could look at her feathers until she fell asleep.  But mostly, she was bundled cozily in the beloved bathrobe, and held tenderly to Donna’s chest.  Donna forgot to eat or drink for these days, and she hadn’t been doing much eating or drinking since she started her hobby, and as far as she could remember she hadn’t taken any of her pills.  

There were no notes written for these days.

On the tenth day Donna felt funny. She gently moved the seagull in her bathrobe off her chest and got up to have a glass of water. When she came back the bathrobe had fallen open, and the seagull’s eyes were staring blankly at the door, and her tongue had lolled out and she looked cartoonish and undignified.  Donna yelled because she was so mad at herself. She got a shoebox and removed the tissue inside it. She cut a large rectangle out of the bathrobe surrounding her seagull, and fit her into the box. She folded up some Kleenex and gave her a pillow. She closed her eyes, shut her beak, and stroked the broken wings back into place so they would lie restfully beside her. She added some potpourri that her mother had brought last visit on top of her body, tucked the bathrobe around her, and put the top on the box.  

Late that night, in her best nightgown and socks, Donna took a flashlight out to the parking lot and buried the box in the shrubbery underneath her balcony. 

Donna’s note for this day was: “Rest in Peace, I wish we could still be together.”

By noon on the eleventh day, Donna still hadn’t slept a wink since the burial. She felt alone and cold in her room without her bathrobe to hold and pray over.  She became preoccupied with the idea that she had accidentally buried her beloved bird alive, and that she was down there now, weighted down by all that dirt and gravel and cigarette butts, trying to get out with only her frowning beak and a broken wing to scrabble her way back to her! She rolled around in bed all night and day thinking that she may have killed her only comfort in life! The guilt was excruciating and she began to have strange, racing thoughts, jerky body movements and hot flashes. Donna just wanted to know that her bird had reached the other side, and wasn’t still down there, asphyxiating in the tomb that she herself had put her in!  

Donna came to remembering vividly the time she overheard an exorcism in her next-door neighbour’s apartment. In her subsidized housing complex the walls are pretty thin, and while she was having toast she heard the man next door bellow repeatedly: “BY THE BlooOooOod OF JESUS, GET OUT!” She had stepped out into the hallway in only a pair of half socks and a nightgown and listened at the door. She could hear two women, in lower voices, groaning and growling like animals, and she had shaken with fear. All of their sounds got louder and louder until she heard a loud THUD and she’d shot off like a spooked horse back into her apartment and hadn’t left it for a week. Donna now knew from experience that the thud was the sound of the demon spirits leaving the women’s body. Where did they go?  That was months ago!  Were they still in her building? Was there one inside her? 

Donna’s note for this day was: “Of course!”

It was now dawn of day twelve, and there was more rolling, and then thrashing in her bed as Donna ripped the blankets off of her, kicked her legs against the mattress and wailed. She was so mad at herself about what she had done to that beautiful bird! So mad at Satan for making her do such a horrible thing to her only friend in the world! How could he be so mean to someone who had so little? She was paying dearly for her wickedness. Donna’s blood and muscles felt boiling hot but her skin was cold, clammy and she couldn’t stop shivering.

Donna remembered that her Mother told her that her Great Grandmother had dabbled in the occult and used to do séances in her parlour. Maybe that’s why she had turned out such a bad seed! Donna just wished she was with her bird. She wished she was a bird! Hot tears welled and stung her eyes. She buried her face in the mattress and covered her head with a pillow. Under the pillow everything was quiet, she felt a whooshing in her ears and her mind went still, her body buzzed pleasantly and went limp, and she heard her seagull call to her:

I’ve got my waxen white tapers again

Where we gather up all uttermost beauty around us

Our cave is on the Northern land, over the seas

By and by, the buffeting rains will pelt down

By and by, bitterly chill winds will blow

But soon we’ll see you, Cedar.


Bones of an antelope,

wings of an albatross,

the pied and painted birds and bears

the junk and bangles, twisting shells

the level humming of the cave floor.


Other where, as birds we were beguiled.

Cedar, what if now - oh, the strange splendor -

You would nestle these two lapwings in your needles?


Here in your pit our woven nest is fixed

A nice part to sleep in and hear the wind whustle,

While below our phantom bodies file through the night garden.


Donna bolted out of bed, her white nightgown flapping behind her, and her bare feet flew across her parquet floor to the balcony door.  


Donna wrote no note for that day.

 

©2020 by Ellie Anglin.