The ten pound cat with golden eyes who runs everything

     By Carol Bouville

Bill did not always weight ten pounds. She didn’t always rule the house either. When we first met Bill, she and her sister, Boule, had just been found in a box outside Lake Forest Mall. They were probably not even ten days old. Their eyes were not open yet. The mother cat was nowhere to be seen. A kind person took them to a local vet, that happened to also be our vet. We had given them our name to call if they ever had two baby kittens brought in for adoption. Our cat of 18 years had died, and we missed not having a pet.

Bill and Boule were sent to live with a dedicated lady who rescued cats. She took very good care of the baby kittens. She fed them with an eye dropper five or six times a day. She got up in the middle of the night to feed them. She washed them with a damp cloth like a mother cat would lick her babies. She dried them with the hair dryer and put heated blankets into their box to keep them warm.

Bill and Boule came to live with us when they were almost three months old. After much debate, my husband, Andre, came up with Bill and Boule – French cartoon characters from the 1950’s. Boule was a young boy and Bill was his dog – and alter-ego – not unlike Bill Watterson’s classic series, Calvin and Hobbs. Given that both our cats were female, I wasn’t blown away by this name choice. But it was better in my view than Moet et Chandon – Andre’s other suggestion. Since he wasn’t as keen as I was about getting other pets, I decided it was a fair compromise.

We kept them in our bedroom with the door closed so they would not get lost in the house. Bill is all black with big yellow eyes and Boule is black with white on part of her face – including her whiskers – her chest and tummy, and half of all four of her paws. She glows in the dark. Boule was a normal size for a three-month old kitten, but Bill was tiny – probably the runt of the litter.

When they were able to jump from the floor onto our bed, we let them out to roam the house. We had to be very careful not to step on Bill, since she loved to crouch down and make herself even harder to see, unless we were staring at the floor all the time.

They both particularly liked playing on the stairs. One morning, I was coming down and didn’t see Bill on the step below. My foot skidded across her back and we both fell down the rest of the stairs. Bill was unharmed, but I hurt my elbow. A big knot quickly formed around the joint that turned black and blue. I didn’t care, because I was so happy Bill was okay.

Like all kittens, they became very playful. They loved to get into our houseplants – especially the Ficus and the Peace Plant. Sometimes they were very naughty and peed in the plants. They also liked to push objects on table and counter tops to the floor – pens, plastic medicine containers, and pretty much anything else that could roll. Another favorite game was to unwind and shred a roll of toilet paper or, better yet, a big, fat, new roll of paper towel. They loved to chase each other from room to room. They sounded like a whole clowder of cats had somehow gotten loose in our house. Sometimes things backfired, and they would get themselves closed into closets or the laundry room. Then we would hear weak mewing coming from somewhere and have to search all over the house until we could find them. At other times, they would hiss and swat at each other – fighting just like human siblings do. Then two minutes later they would lick each other and be friends again, like we do when we kiss and make up.

I love to pick up both cats, but Boule often struggles to get down. She isn’t keen on being held. Bill, on the other hand, loves it – when she’s in the mood. I hold her like I would a human baby. I love to wrap her around the front of my neck like a scarf. I used to call her my feather because she was so light. That’s not the case anymore, but I still hold her this way. Every morning and afternoon, Bill gets up on a stool in the kitchen. She extends her front paws up to the top of the stool, so she is standing on her hind legs. This means that she wants to be brushed. She arches her back and purrs. She often gives me kisses when I pick her up – licking my cheek with her raspy tongue that smells tinny and fishy. As she has grown older, I can say, “Bill, up”, and pat the stool, or show her my cheek and say, “Bill, kiss”. She will do what I ask if she is in the mood. But cats don’t obey like dogs do. They choose to comply with a request only if it suits them. I don’t say this as a criticism. It is the nature of the cat to create its own space that humans must respect. People try do the same thing. I think it’s one of the reasons why cat-lovers are cat-lovers: they respect a cat’s need for independence.

When they were six months old, we took them to the vet for a checkup. Boule already weighed nine pounds and Bill weighed five and a half pounds. Now at six, Boule weighs a little over 16 pounds and is on a special diet. Bill has settled in at 10 pounds. The vet is concerned about Boule’s weight. I have explained that she is just living up to her name – Boule means ball in French, like a bowling ball or a big round loaf of bread. Bill on the other hand is a much more finicky eater, loving something one day and refusing it the next. Don’t most kids do the same thing when they are small? We began putting small amounts of several flavors into Bill’s bowl in order to give her a choice. Sometimes this works and sometimes, for no apparent reason, she will refuse all of it. Instead, she will scratch the floor several times like she is trying to cover up something foul in the litter box. Then she looks at me a bit cross-eyed, as if to say, “Can’t you see this is total dreck?”

One would expect Boule to be the Alpha cat. But that is not how it has turned out. Especially when it has come to managing my husband and me. All Bill has to do is look at us with those enormous, golden eyes, and we drop whatever we were doing to focus on her. “Show Mommy what you want,” I say and follow her around to see what she might have in mind. Sometimes she shows me her empty bowl or gets up on the stool to be brushed. She has games she wants to play at certain times of the day. Her favorite is “Magic Box”. We have big boxes we’ve brought back from Costco scattered all over the house. Bill likes to crouch down in any one of them while I put my fingers through the holes and wiggle them. She lies low – her eyes round and wide – and then she attacks. When she is able to grab a finger, she bites down hard with her sharp front teeth. Fortunately, she gets bored after a few minutes and goes off somewhere to nap.

When I get up in the morning, all I want to do is have a cup of coffee and read the paper. But Bill is very jealous of the Washington Post. She jumps up on the table and slaps down the paper, trying to sit on whatever section I am attempting to read. No matter how many times I put her on the floor and say, “No!”, back up she comes. Those golden eyes will bore into me with a scowl, like, “What part of this don’t you get? Is it too much to ask for your undivided, fully focused attention for a moment or two?” If that doesn’t work, she will bat my coffee cup to the point of spilling some of my precious wake-up brew. It always works. I pet her. I brush her. I wrap her around my neck. When enough worshiping has occurred, she will give me kisses and a love-bite on my chin for good measure. Only then will she allow me to finish my lukewarm coffee and have a go at the crossword puzzle.

I don’t remember when it started, but either my husband or I once gave Bill a small portion of whipped cream. Now it has morphed into a ceremony. Every night around 7:00, she gets a special bowl of it. She won’t eat it if it is presented in her regular food bowl. But if properly served, Bill loves the stuff. It’s terrible for her teeth and her waistline, but it’s too late to change the routine. There are other ceremonies as well: The Shower Ceremony when she follows my husband into the bathroom and licks his wet, hairy calves as he gets out of the shower. Yuk! There is also “Le Coucher” – so named for Louis XIV, who allowed members of the court at Versailles to watch him go to bed at night, as well as to get up in the morning – “Le Lever”. Except that Bill’s “Coucher” is to put us to bed. We all know that dogs need jobs, but so do cats. If we are watching TV around 9:00, Bill start hopping on and off our lap, blocking our view. If we are working on a jigsaw puzzle or are on the computer, she will stretch out across whichever it is until we have to give up. She bounds up the stairs and jumps on the bed, purring so loud it sounds like a car or boat motor. She follows us into the bathroom while we brush our teeth, then again bounds onto the bed while we settle in. Once the light is off, she disappears for awhile. But later she will come back and sleep somewhere on the bed. Mostly it’s near my feet, so I have to curl up to avoid kicking her. But sometimes, on cold nights, she will curl up right next to my shoulder or chest, her head between our pillows, and sleep that way all night. This is Bill at her most precious – returning the love, attention, and affection we bestow on her everyday.

And what of Boule, you might ask? She disappears altogether for much of the day. Most evenings however, she will come with us to the basement to watch TV. I also have my art studio there. Boule loves to recline like a Roman goddess across whatever I’m working on. Cat hair and watercolor go so well together. If I am in my recliner watching TV or playing FreeCell on my iPad, she will climb onto my lap to be stroked and loved. If I stop petting her, she will tap my hand or cheek with her velvety, white paw, as if to say, “Not done yet.” She rarely sleeps on our bed but rather in another part of the house entirely. Once in a while, however, she will beat us up to the bedroom, already settled in between the pillows at the head of the bed. If she claims that space first, Bill allows her to stay there, but she isn’t happy about it. She stalks out of the room and will have nothing more to do with any of us. The next morning, when we are finally out of bed, Bill will be there to give us her deepest scowl, her golden eyes now an olive green. She has served notice that she has chosen to magnanimously make an exception that better not become the rule.

Why, you might also wonder, do we allow a 10-pound cat to run our household. Because our children live far away. We are getting older. Especially, though, we are perpetually drawn to the habits and body- language of cats. They provide a window into our own psyche. They drive the symbiotic relationship between us as we try to fulfill each other’s needs. They remind us that love can be shared among different species. They insist on their right to be treated according to their own priorities, and in so doing, show us humans how we can do the same.

Draining the swamp by Mario Salazar 10/2/18

The three men took the subway from different parts of town. They waited outside the chosen building dressed inconspicuously, for the agreed signal. When it came, they all headed for the cargo entrance.

As they arrived inside, they greeted each other with a mere nod. They had been meeting in different government buildings in DC for over a year. Their work was very important and required the utmost secrecy.

They waited patiently until the all-clear signal was given and then proceeded to the utility elevator. They rode it to the 11th floor to find it, as expected, deserted. The workers had all left for the day as it was normal at this time of the early evening. Their mission required anonymity and secrecy.

For even more stealth, they had early on agreed not to use their names, but instead had assigned each other a letter. Over the time they had gotten used to this strategy.

They entered a nondescript office that apparently was used to store surplus equipment. Fortunately, the place appeared to have been cleaned recently and was not too dusty. They sat at an old metal table on mismatched chairs.

S, the shortest of the group and its leader, started the conversation with his usual brief pep talk. “Your country appreciates your hard work. Let us say a silent prayer for our success…”

After the prayer and the pledge of allegiance, the meeting started.

S asked H to give a status update on the project. H as usual had accurate tables to show and use as talking points. He started with, “I would like to report progress on our mission to clean the swamp as promised by President Trump. We have convened grand juries in most states and have snared many corrupt individuals. To date we have over 50,000 sealed indictments.”

I, who was the third member of the group and second in command waited for H to finish. Looking in his notes asked, “Have we been able to indict any other big fish?”

“Besides Obama, the Clintons, Biden and Powell, we recently got four of the top Democrats in the Senate. We are getting close with Landrieu, but he has been very careful to hide his tracks.”

S looked at the other two and waited a few seconds to comment, “Well, we already knew of those, we will need to step it up, we want to really show how our president does what he promises. I have been thinking about adding another person to our command group for the final stretch. Could you guys tell me about the candidates that I mentioned to you previously?”

I, aware of his place in the group conceded to H for his choice, “I think that the best person has to be…, well, do I have to say his initial?”

S and H looked at each other and voiced the same letter, “T!”.

S again spoke to end the conversation and the meeting, “I will notify T of our decision and he will attend our next meeting. He will really complement us and make us more effective.”

H distributed charts showing their progress since they had met. The documents elicited few questions and comments as they had become familiar with this type of update.

S completed the meeting by providing the same familiar encouragement, “God, enlighten us in the continuation of our righteous mission.”

They all responded, “Amen”.

They agreed on the venue, which was always different, for their next meeting.

Without another word, the meeting broke. All material was collected and would be disposed of by H’s shredder followed by burning in his home incinerator.

Fiction? Yes, but based on content on current right-wing sites. This is typically published in conspiracy sites throughout the Internet.

Apparently, these indictments will be made known in the next few months.

If the reader finds this reminiscent of McCarthy era actions, the irony is lost on the conspirators.

The Children’s Table by Patricia Papa

Most of the time we saw our aunts, uncles, cousins and various relations by marriage only at weddings, the occasional christening and, of course, at funerals. We were Irish after all. Relatives were spread out around the edges of the city, and probably not overly sociable anyway what with the many hot tempers and long memories. Certainly no one was known for their hostessing or cooking skills.

The exception to that edgy family dynamic was Thanksgiving, and that was due to my grandmother Elizabeth and her mandatory annual feast. She invited one and all whether they were speaking to each other or not, and  she would not take no for an answer. She saw things a little differently, “I don’t suffer fools gladly”. End of discussion.

It didn’t really matter, because once the opinionated aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws got to Liz’s house you’d have thought they were all just one big, happy, lovestruck clan anyway. They even tossed a football around occassionally, fancying themselves like the Kennedys, attractive, vital, and willing to forgive. One thing they had in common was a sense of humor, much of it self-deprecating. There was a lot of laughter.

My parents, brother, and I usually got to Grandma’s early since she was my mother’s mother and daughters were expected to help out. That was fine with me since it mean I could claim a spot on the stairs that lead from the front hallway to the second floor and peer through the bannisters to watch the other guests arrive. Grandma’s three sisters, Mary, Josephine, and Christine,  could be counted on for a grand entrance, larger than life in their long, fur trimmed coats, louder than anyone else, and always laughing or crying or voicing an impassioned plea for forgiveness or bestowing absolution on someone for some offense. I thought they were giants, and I was terrified of them in a strangely enjoyable way. It was years before I realized they were average -size women whose histrionics heightened their stature along with the emotional temperature in Grandma’s narrow house. They were all married, yet they always swept in together, perhaps having left husbands and offspring behind to follow once the drama subsided.

As more people arrived, the noise level rose, the women fussed about in the dining room, and the men stationed themselves in the kitchen, drinks in hand, passing comment on every topic of the day. It was the perfect holiday set up for kids; no one paid any attention to us as we ran in and out, re- forming the alliances formed at our last family gathering probably months ago.

There glasses raised, of course. Every now and then one of the uncles would pause while refilling his glass and observe as my cousin Maureen and Iix clattered by, “Ah, that’s Kay’s girl, a lovely lass” or, “Will you look at Maureen there with all her freckles. Isn’t she a picture of her mother as a little one? ” But within seconds their attention swerved back to politics and sports. They seemed not to notice the little boys at all unless one stumbled into the kitchen with a bloody nose or skinned knee.

Seemingly hours later the twenty-pound turkey, sausage stuffing, gravy, potatoes, turnips, something green, maybe peas, rolls  and cranberry sauce, nicely rounded just as it slid from the can, were set out in the small, crowded dining room. We, a mob of cousins aged three to thirteen, fought over and finally settled into our seats at the children’s table on the enclosed back porch, blessedly free of adult scrutiny.

I’m really not sure what exactly was so special about being together this way, in that year, but we were very happy. Maybe the memory is enhanced by the fact that it was the last time we were all together in that house, in that innocently affectionate way.

After many toasts to each other and to those no longer with us, after dishes were done, and the youngest began dozing off, the older children were rounded up and nudged through their thank you’s to Grandma and goodbyes to the cousins. Talk focused on likely traffic on the George Washington Bridge and a next gathering at Christmas. By 9 pm the house was silent and growing  cool.

Grandma headed down the cellar stairs to put more coal in the furnace. I never heard the details, but she fell and broke her hip. We spent the next, I don’t know how long, it seemed like months but was probably weeks, visiting her in the hospital. A broken hip was a  bigger deal back then before joint replacement surgery was routine, before patients were encouraged to move about, before hospital stays were greatly reduced.

Grandma never left the hospital; soon after Christmas she passed away–as did those fondly remembered Thanksgiving dinners.

We still saw each other, of course,  at the weddings and funerals that mark the march of our lives, but no one stepped up to embrace the whole clan for the holiday dinners that offered such easy camraderie.

I’ve managed to recreate some of it by having Thanksgiving Days at our house with our three children and their spouses along with five grandchildren, my brother, sometimes other far flung relatives and always various friends. Much is different, of course, from the meal itself (vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and the daughter-in- law who can’t abide soup, any soup). Then there are the electronic devices seemingly on every surface, although I’m proud to say none are allowed at my holiday table. We play soccer not football after eating. Still, much remains the same–maybe most significantly the children’s simple joy in being allowed to run free with their cousins away from adult hovering to form their own childhood memories.

 

A weekend to remember by Patricia Papa

Patricia Papa, personal essay DRAFT 1 [prompt: write up to 1000 words about a time when you gained a new insight into an old friend or family member]

A Weekend To Remember

My dad looked like Fred Astaire. You know, that skinny dancer in musicals from the 1940s and ‘50s: Easter Parade, Holiday Inn, Broadway Review. There were dozens, all featuring the debonair, fleet-footed Mr. Astaire and, usually, a somewhat less talented but beautiful female partner. Dad was a dead ringer, at least in the looks department. Family photos capture the raised eyebrow, the casually crossed long legs as he leaned against a blossom-covered stone wall in a cream colored suit, jaunty fedora in hand. It was a dapper look and a nice one as fathers went, not movie star handsome by any means, but sophisticated, suggesting a man-of-the-world. Nothing like Dad’s real-life persona, that of a quiet, rather unassuming family man. I knew very little about my dad growing up. He was not a big talker, certainly not about himself. Mom did most of the talking; she and Dad seemed happy that way; and family gossip such as it was came exclusively from Mom’s side. By the time I left for college Dad and I had formed-or more likely fallen into-an easy if unspoken alliance as the quieter, less volatile members of a family of quick-tempered, easily offended Irish extroverts. So when my sorority decided to have a Father-Daughter Weekend I didn’t think twice about inviting him. The Father-Daughter Weekend quickly evolved to become a surprisingly big deal for a group of silly, boy-obsessed 19-year olds. Maybe we were all daddy’s girls at heart. Anyway, I remember hoping Dad would come even though I thought he might not since Mom wasn’t speaking to me that week. I don’t remember why. But they went everywhere together. Would he come alone? “Of course, wouldn’t miss it”, Dad called to say.

Yellow Bird by Carol Bouville

Where are you yellow bird?

Yellow Bird

 

Text and Illustration

by

Carol Bouville

 

Yellow Bird belonged to a family of two young children and two very busy parents. He was a gift to them from a family friend after they had moved into their new house. At first the children thought that now their parents would surely get them a puppy, since they had a lovely yard they could all play in together. But the parents had too much to do with their jobs and growing children and a new house with a lawn to mow on the weekends.

“We’ll see about a puppy once we get settled,” said the mother.

“When you are a little older and can help take care of it,“ said the father.

The children were unhappy that they would not soon be getting a pet.

“How about a cat, then?” asked the girl. She was the older of the two.

“Cats scratch the upholstery, and the litter box has to be kept very clean, or it will smell bad,” said the mother.

“I’m allergic to cat dander,” said the father.

“What’s that?” asked the boy? He was almost six and was curious about new words.

“It’s something on their skin that is like human dandruff and it makes me sneeze,” said the father.

“What’s dandruff?” the boy asked.

“Dry skin that falls off your scalp,” respond the father.

“Yuk,” said the boy and walked away.

A hamster was too much like a mouse for the parents to accept, and fish were too boring for the children to get excited about, so the months passed with no pets in the new house.

 

Then one day a lady the children didn’t know came to the house for supper. The mother was very happy to see her good friend from college again.

“What a lovely home you have here, Dot,” said the lady, “and such adorable children. You must be so proud – and so busy.”

The mother smiled down at her children and then back at her friend. “Yes, Beverly, I am very happy. But I am also very, very busy. The children would really love a pet, but we just don’t have the time to take care of one.”

They sent out for pizza, and then Mrs. Beverly left.

 

Two days later a man called to make sure that someone was home, and then he arrived from the pet shop with a birdcage. Inside the cage was a small yellow bird. Even though it was all yellow like a canary, in fact it was a parakeet. It had a small crest on its forehead and tail feathers the color of bright sunshine. The bird was only four months old, the man told them. There was a note attached to the cage that read, “The perfect pet. Just give it food and water and let it sit on your finger from time to time. Love, Beverly.”

The children were quite excited. Once the bird got used to its new home, it chirped and danced around the cage when the children came near. After awhile, they began to take it out of its cage. It liked to perch on the boy’s outstretched hand or the girl’s shoulder. Sometimes it flew around the room and landed on the father’s head. Everyone loved the bird, but no one could find a better name for it than Yellow Bird.

 

And so it lived with the family and brought them joy. Then one day at the start of summer, just as the school year was ending, the mother was bringing in groceries from the garage at the same time as the girl had just opened the cage. Before anyone realized it, Yellow Bird flew into the kitchen, through the open door to the garage and outside into the endless blue sky. The children ran out to the backyard calling “Yellow Bird, Yellow Bird”, but the bird did not hear them. It soared up into a tall oak tree in the yard across the street, then flew back out again, letting the breeze lift it up above the rooftops, only to disappear from view as it melted into the afternoon sunlight.

That evening, no one could eat a thing. Everyone, even the father who tried to be calm and strong, cried with his wife and children. “We will get you another bird,” said the father.

“We don’t want another bird,” said the daughter.

“We want Yellow Bird to come back,” wailed the son.

“We will put a notice on the internet to let all our neighbors know about Yellow Bird. He can’t have gone very far,” the mother tried to reassure them.

 

But Yellow Bird did go far. He was free, joyously free, to fly high and then to swoop down low, to peck in the dirt like a mourning dove, to eat at a neighbor’s bird feeder like a sparrow, to sit on a prickly hedge like a goldfinch. He even thought he might be a goldfinch or maybe a warbler even though he did not have any black feathers anywhere. Neither the goldfinches nor the warblers were interested in being friends with Yellow Bird. In the end, he stayed with the sparrows. They did not try to chase him away from the seeds that fell from a feeder or from water in a bird bath or a rain-filled gutter. It was summer – warm and gusty, like a sudden storm, and the soft evening breezes cooled the air and caressed the leaves that protected Yellow Bird from the rain. He felt a happiness at being free that outweighed his sorrow from leaving the family who had loved him and taken good care of him. But he knew now what it was like to be a real bird and not a pet, and he thought he would never go back.

 

The mother put his picture on the internet and a few people responded that they were pretty sure they had seen Yellow Bird. But no one knew what to do to catch him and bring him home. One lady tried to put a pillowcase over him while he was under her bird feeder, but she missed, and Yellow Bird never came back there again. Finally, the parents had to tell their children that Yellow Bird was probably gone for good. The girl cried very hard, especially because she worried about what would happen to him when summer was over, and the nights would get colder.

“We will put out his cage and hang it from the maple tree in our front yard and put food in it for him and a woolen scarf over the cage to keep it warm inside,” said the father.

The children stopped crying. “Let’s do it now”, said the boy. And so they did.

 

For many weeks they checked the cage four or five times a day. They replaced the water but saw that the seed was never eaten because the other birds and squirrels were afraid to enter the cage. “Only Yellow Bird will go in there,” said the mother. “We must not give up hope.”

 

The parents bought a bird feeder and a bird bath that they set out in the yard near where the cage was hanging from a lower limb of the maple tree. Little by little, the leaves on that tree started to turn from fresh green like new grass to a darker green like cucumbers. The sun set closer to 7:30 instead of 9:00, as it did when they first got Yellow Bird. But the nights were still warm in early September when the children started back to school. Some evenings the family sat on the front porch staring at the bird cage, wishing with all their might that Yellow Bird would come flying home.

And then one morning when they were getting into the car to go to school, they saw a bright yellow dot flitting from branch to branch in the oak tree across the street.

“It’s just a goldfinch or a warbler,” said the mother. “But we will check the cage this evening to see if any of the seed is gone.”

All day the children thought about Yellow Bird. Neither could focus on their lessons. The girl was told twice by her teacher to look at her books instead of out the window.

“What has gotten into you today?” Asked the teacher.

Then the girl told the class the story of Yellow Bird. “Well,” said the teacher, “if he ever comes home we will all be very glad for you.” Everyone in the class agreed and promised to think very hard about Yellow Bird.

“Maybe your bird will feel the energy of all of us wishing him a safe return,” said the teacher.

That evening when the father, who was the only one tall enough to see into the cage, checked the seed, he could tell some had been eaten. “It’s probably a squirrel or another bird who has seen the cage all this time and is not afraid of it anymore.”

“No,” said the children, “it has to be Yellow Bird.”

Everyday now they replaced the missing seed, but they never saw anything in the cage.

Soon it would be the end of September. The first day of autumn when the night and the day are the same length, had come and gone. It was getting dark now around 7:00 and the temperature was falling overnight. Every evening the father put a woolen shawl over the birdcage.

 

Yellow Bird watched as some of other birds flew away to the south, to a warmer place for the winter. The past winter had been particularly cold, and the changing of the seasons brought a sense of urgency to all the birds. These who would not migrate would need to prepare a shelter for the colder weather and find other food sources for when the ground would finally freeze up hard. One night, after a loud and gusty thunderstorm, as the temperature dropped into the 50’s, Yellow Bird sensed danger coming at him through the wind he so loved to ride on as he flew from above the rooftops and trees. He knew that soon it would be hard for him to stay warm enough for a bird who was born to live indoors. As more and more of his companions left, he began to think of how he might go back home again. He sat on a branch of another maple tree, like the one in his front yard, and tried to remember.

One day while he was circling above the rooftops of the neighborhood, he noticed a birdcage hanging from a tree like the one where he had taken shelter from the summer downpours. The tree was starting to lose its leaves, so now he could clearly see the cage from above. He had loved being in the wild when there were plenty of bugs in the dirt and when the warm sun lit him up like a big bright lightbulb. But now he shivered with fear of not being able to survive outdoors anymore.

He alit on the top of the bird cage and recognized it as his own. Yet he wasn’t quite ready to be taken inside again, probably forever. He on settled the one of the branches closest to the tree trunk where it was the warmest and waited.

 

Most of the nights were cold now, and many of the leaves that still protected Yellow Bird were fast turning dry and brown. He knew he had to make his decision soon or he would not be strong enough to survive. And then, as the sun was setting, he saw a shadow cross the yard and reach up to the cage. It was the father who every evening put fresh seed into the cage and the woolen scarf over the open bars to ward off the cold. He always left the cage door open, and he always looked around and up into the trees to see if he could spot Yellow Bird. The father sighed in a sad way that sounded almost like a sob. “Oh, Yellow Bird, if you are out there, please come back to us before it’s too late.” And then he turned to go back into the house.

Suddenly the father thought he saw a streak of yellow out of the corner of his eye. He heard a noise that sounded like the creak of something metal moving in the wind. He turned to see if there were still birds visiting the feeder so close to nighttime. And then he saw the bird cage move and heard the sound of scratching coming from the cage. It was almost completely dark now, but the moon had risen high enough to cast a warm glow over the front yard. The father thought he must be imagining something yellow in the cage, but as he crept ever so slowly nearer, he could see for sure that he was not dreaming. It was Yellow Bird! He reached up inch by inch until his hand was even with the cage door and pushed it shut with a clap. It startled Yellow Bird, who regretted for a fleeting moment that he was now a captive inside the cage. The father unhooked the cage and carefully carried it into the house so as not to spill a drop of water or further upset the bird inside who was beating its wings against the bars. He set the cage on the kitchen counter and opened the door so Yellow Bird would know he would not be trapped inside against his will. The bird flew out and came to rest on the curtain rod above the picture window in the dining room.

“It’s ok, Yellow Bird”, said the father, “you can live free inside, but please, please never fly away again.”

By now the children had showered, and they and the mother had come downstairs for supper.

“Shhh,” said the father as they entered the dining room, “Look who’s here with us for supper this evening.” The father pointed to the top of the curtain rod where Yellow Bird was perched. “I promised him we would never shut him up in the cage if he promised never to leave us again. I think he understands. Let’s eat and let him get used to being inside.”

The children had to cover their mouth so as not to shriek with joy from seeing that Yellow Bird was safely home. They were too excited to eat, and the parents allowed them to sit quietly on the floor and watch the bird. Finally, the boy could not sit still any longer. He got to his knees and put out his arm. “Please, Yellow Bird, come sit on my hand,” he whispered. “I’m so happy you are home.”

Yellow Bird looked at him and turned his head from side to side as parakeets do. And then he dropped down from the curtain rod with one flap of his wings and landed on the boy’s extended hand.

 

Yellow Bird lived to be quite old for a parakeet. He enjoyed the freedom of being able to fly around the house at will. He followed the children from room to room and also loved to sit on the father’s head after dinner to watch the evening news on TV. The mother never again brought groceries inside from the garage until she had watched the heavy door roll down and tap shut against the cement floor. What she didn’t realize was that Yellow Bird didn’t want to leave ever again.

The mother wrote about the story and put it on the internet. Neighbors responded to say how happy they were that the bird had returned. The local newspaper came to the house and took pictures of the family and of Yellow Bird and published the mother’s story. Yellow Bird became famous in the area as possibly the smartest parakeet who ever lived, because he had found his way back home.

 

 

 

 

Maria de Tounens-excerpt of “On the run”, by Mario Salazar

Maria de Tounens

In 1641 the Spanish monarchy signed a peace treaty with the Mapuche Nation that inhabited territory of what today is Chile and Argentina. Almost continuous conflict between the Spanish and the Mapuche had drained the coffers of the European nation with no positive results. After this treaty, the Mapuche became the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. An uneasy peace followed, with frequent violations of the treaty by both parties.

In 1860 the Mapuche nation headed by the troika of Lonkos Kilapan of Gulumapu, Kalfucura of Puelmapu, and Orélie-Antoine de Tounens (French born naturalized Mapuche), established a constitutional monarchy on their lands in the Southern Cone of South America. The response by Chile and Argentina was to declare war on the newly created monarchy that resulted in the defeat of the Mapuche, the destruction of the monarchy and the annexation of the land by these two nations.

Ahead of the persecution that would follow, all functionaries of the monarchy fled. Maria’s family relocated in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Maria had been raised in a middle-class family, as her father was a dentist and her mother a teacher. Upon learning of her ancestry, she became a firebrand for Native American rights. As part of these process she changed her name from Maria Bravo to Maria de Tounens. Eventually she moved to Uruguay and answered a job offering for the Company in which Francisco Gallo worked.

She would always remember the job interview with Francisco. She had dressed rather exotically. She wore a long flowing blouse that she had gotten from a trip to Otavalo, Ecuador, brushed leather pants with fringes and moccasins. The attire was a combination of pieces that she had picked up in her travels while a good will ambassador for Native Americans. The moccasins had been given to her by the San Carlos Apache tribe of New Mexico.

Francisco had been intrigued with Maria’s application and did not bat an eye when he gave her access at the lobby of the building. He did notice her long slim body and her chiseled facial features. Notwithstanding her attire, she could have been a light-skin Ethiopian model.

When they arrived at the conference room where the interview had been scheduled, Francisco inquired, “What would you like to drink?”

Sitting down Maria chose, “I would like water with gas, I mean ‘club soda’, please.”

Francisco opened a refrigerator in the back of the room and served Maria the water. He then sat down, reviewed her credentials and asked some questions related to Maria’s work with causes. He then unexpectedly reverted to English and asked her, “What of value can you offer us if we hire you?”

Without hesitation Maria responded in clear and slightly accented English, “I am a self-starter, work independently and I am stubborn as hell, I always get the work done.”

Francisco then asked her, “I see that while you appear to have some knowledge of computers, you don’t have any formal training for the position that you are interviewing for. Why should we hire you?”

Maria looked him in the eyes and responded, “I have a logical mind and have found any challenges I had regarding informational technology easy to overcome. I can guarantee that I will be your best assistant in less than six months”.

Her prediction was too conservative. In three months she had become indispensable in the office.

Technology – Tooo Much For Me

“Oh, no,” I thought, “the trunk lid’s partly open.

My wife, Beatrice, and I had driven in my new Honda, with its electronic gadgetry, to a Latino book fair in Alexandria, Virginia. It was in a school in a so-so area, a little west of the city’s famous Olde Towne. She had left her purse in the trunk. I had just picked up our income tax return, and it were there also.

We spent, perhaps, two hours in the building looking at books and hearing authors present them. There was also food as well as music and dance performances. We were happy when we went outside, but, “Oh, no.”

I hurried to the car and lifted the trunk lid with trepidation. Miraculously, Bea’s purse and our papers were intact. Not a thing was missing.

“Maybe we didn’t close it well,” I thought, but the same thing happened again, in a restaurant in Gaithersburg. As before, Bea’s purse was in the trunk and, as before, it was untouched. “I have to take this car to the dealer,” I said, but I procrastinated.

Not long thereafter, we took friends to Great Falls National Park and decided to go for a short walk. Bea left her purse on the floor in the front seat, but the doors would not lock. I clicked to close them, and they clicked to open again. Finally, it occurred to us: Bea’s key to the car was in her purse. You can’t lock that car with a key to it inside; It won’t let you.

Too much technology is too much for me. I can’t live without it, but I have to start learning from experience a whole lot faster.

No light at the end of the tunnel

No light at the end of the tunnel

He ran down the cylindrical tunnel, there were doors alternating each side every 20 yards or so. As he reached the doors, discovered that they were painted on the side of the tunnel, he could not find a way out. Miguel woke up sweating and with his left arm and shoulder dumb, from the posture of his sleep.

The attack on Dionisio the day before had been a wakeup call. There were too many unanswered questions with the incident. His subconscious was telling him that there were dangerous days ahead. He decided to confront Dionisio that same day. It was only six in the morning, he would get ready, have a cup of coffee and wait for Dionisio to wake up.

Miguel was pleasantly surprised when he entered the kitchen and found Dionisio there already having a cup of coffee. He had gotten out of bed, made coffee and was waiting for him, maybe. He appeared to be wearing his night clothes and had a resolute look in his face.

As Miguel made his presence obvious with a – “Good morning Dio, kind of early for you?”

Dionisio lifted his face and without even a smile said, — “Good morning (he still has not figured out how to address Miguel), I have something to tell you.”

As Miguel looked expectantly, Dio continued, — “The mugging is not a single case, I have been having problems with this gang for a while. Seems that this time they were ready to kill me.”

As Miguel got a cup of coffee and sat down, Dio added more.

“Some months ago, I was asked a favor by Vanesa, a person I knew. I didn’t know her well enough, so I didn’t know she was heavily involved with the MS13 gang. I knew her casually from high school, she was the kind of girl that was above my league, so I had admired her from a distance.”

“I was at the Roy Rogers and I had just noticed her and had waived, when two policemen, probably in their lunch break came in the door. She immediately approached me, sat at my table and while she slipped a small package into my backpack, deposited her food bag on the table. She started talking as if we had been together all along. I had to admire her skills, but at the same time should have realized the kind of deceit in her.”

“After the cops got their order and left to sit outside, she finished her food and waited for the cop cars to drive off. She told me that she owed me one and would put in a good word for me. She then retrieved the package from my backpack and with a radiant smile and a bat of her long eyelashes, she left.”

Dio then stopped and looked at Miguel expecting questions, when none came he continued, “About one week later, a guy that looked like he was the poster child for Central American gangs, approached while I was sitting on the sideline of a pickup soccer game at the Centerway Park. He told me that he had gotten really good recommendations about me, and that I could be made very happy in his outfit.”

“I must have looked at him as if he was speaking Greek to me, because he clarified his words. He told me that he was in the MS13, gang ‘the only and the original’ and that he could get me in the gang. He said Vanesa had spoken well about me and that I could be a person to be trusted.”

“He then told me that since I looked like a “good American boy”, the MS13 could use me for some jobs were stealth was necessary. Yea, I was surprised he used stealth, I had to look it up.”

On the run by Mario Salazar, read at the last two meetings.

Please note: This is a first, stream of consciousness draft. Please comment on content, not grammar. I will have this edited later.

Dio gets carless 

            Dio woke up that morning with new hope. His talk with Miguel had revamped his decision to turn a new leaf and maybe restart his college plans. He decided to walk to the county library to do some research on classes at the local community college.

He decided to take the short cut to the library. It would take him through the park that surrounded the artificial lake that was the crown jewel of the neighborhood. He used this short cut often, even when it was not a true shorter way.

As he crowned the top of a hill and started to descent into the lake shore, he noticed a young man leaning against a fence that separated the trail from the lake and was probably built to prevent bike riders from going into the lake.

As he approached the young man he noticed him to be slight and probably Latino. Knowing that as a more corpulent person he could hold his own, he approached.

The young man, in a casual way addressed him, – “Hey man, do you have some change?”.

Dio stopped and as he started looking in his pockets for some lose change, he looked away for a second. He felt the thud of the punch on the left side of his face just above the eye. The pain was followed by starts and he lost consciousness.

 

Miguel was wondering why Dio had not been at the house when he woke up. Dio had shown gratitude at being able to stay, and had listened to Miguel’s remarks about the need to think of his future.

When his portable phone buzzed late in the afternoon, he was tempted to ignore it. However, he answered cautiously – “What can I do for you?”

“This is nurse Neela from the Holy Cross Hospital in Germantown. Mr. Dionisio Serga asked me to contact you regarding a crime he was a victim of this morning. First let me tell you that he is OK, he needed some stitches and we have given him a prescription for pain pills. He is a little groggy as he has already been medicated.”

Miguel thought about what he has just learned and after a few seconds asked, – “If you don’t’ mind telling me, why are you calling me?’

A little taken by surprised the nurse responded, – “He has given us your name and phone number as the person to contact. While he appears to be fine, the hospital would rather he goes home. Apparently, he doesn’t have insurance and we have to exhaust all avenues to have him discharged, as we need the beds.”

For paying patients. Thought Miguel.

“Sure, I will pick him up. Were the police informed?”

“Yes, they were also here and talked to him, but he didn’t have much to say about the incident. They asked him where he lived and he said he was homeless.”

“Can you tell me anything else?”

“He was assaulted at Lake Whetstone by two men. Fortunately, a neighbor walking his dog came upon the scene and the muggers took off running. He called an ambulance and he was bought here.”

Miguel appreciated the presence of mind of Dio not revealing where he was staying and made arrangements to pick him up.

More than a mugging?

It was starting to get dark when Miguel got in his car to pick up Dio at the hospital. He was using a ten-year-old Toyota Celica that gave him the profile he wanted, minimal.

As he drove the five miles to the hospital he tried to organize his thoughts. It wasn’t like him to be caught off guard with a situation like this. But again, how can one plan for the unexpected? Maybe setting up levels of awareness would help, what does that really mean? He thought.

As agreed Dio was waiting at the emergency entrance sitting on a wheel chair. A bored orderly smiled when he saw Miguel’s plain vanilla car and mentally kissed a good tip goodbye.

Miguel stopped, got out of the car and approached the duo and said to Dio as he helped him get into the passenger seat, “Wow, that is some bandage, you look like you had major brain surgery”.

Dio looked at him with a dazed stare and did not appear to understand the attempted humor by Miguel. Then smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.”

Defying stereotypes, Miguel produced a five-dollar bill and gave it to the orderly who tried not very strongly to not accept it. Upon the former’s insistence, the orderly pocketed the fin and decided that he would follow his father’s advice to be more optimistic about human nature.

As Miguel pulled away from the curb he asked Dio, “So, how bad is it? It is difficult to tell with all that gauze on it.”

Dio took out his phone and after some swiping he waited for a light to show the selfie he had taken just before they had glued the wound.

“That doesn’t look like a normal punch to me, I bet the guy was using brass knuckles.” Remarked Miguel as he drove off.

Dio thought for a while and responded, “All I know is that I felt like someone had scrambled my brains with a baseball bat, I was out cold and remembered only when I was being put into the ambulance.”

Miguel thought, this I not a mugging, they wanted to harm badly or kill him. I have to find out what is behind this.

Dio was starting to wrestle on whether he should come clean. This M13 shit is not going away, he thought.