I've always been the one to keep the conversation going. Never an odd remark or awkward silence for me. I actually pride myself in making the dullest of situations a chipper and memorable one. And although it was nothing I studied for, or even desired, my current occupation is that of a mail clerk. That’s right, I deliver the mail. It's an interdepartmental kind of operation where Dr. So and So needs some correspondence with Prof. Whomever and I am exactly the man for the job. The envelopes, with the buttons and twine, contain complicated documents about class schedules, purchasing and payment receipts, and on good days a simple hello, how is the weather, say hi to the Mses. for me...
And so I walk the parcels and packages from department to department and meet the older folks behind desks and deadlines.
And here is where it gets interesting. I don't normally get attached to my clients, or as I like to call them my "inboxes", but just the other day in a room I rarely run mail to sat a woman, slightly plumped from a few babies of her own, and bronzed from spray tanning on the weekends. Her name was Esmerelda, or Esme for short. She worked for an obscure department dealing with faculty in some way or the other. As I entered her office, I noticed amongst the disheveled printouts of emails and schedules and a half eaten snickers...a can of wet cat food.
"Hey there,” I stammered, “I brought you some mail."
"Oh wow, we don't normally get a lot of mail around these parts,” she snickered.
"Where would you like me to put it?"
"Well we don't really have an inbox...just set it on my desk from now on."
As I set the mail on her desk I noticed a small birdcage and in that small cage an even smaller bird.
"Wow, is that a bird?" I asked stupidly.
"Yeah, ha, it is. We thought it was a Mockingbird because of it coloring, but with a quick search online we found out she is a Scissor-tailed Fly Catcher."
"I know that bird! The ones with the long tails. They are all over the university."
"Well, you see, I was driving home after a long day up here, kind of dozing off to the sounds of public radio, and as I turned onto this side street by the park on the west side of town...you know that park?" she asked.
"Yeah! Mackenna park?"
“Yes! Well I am driving through Mackenna Park and all of the sudden I see a small bird fall right in front of my car. Luckily I was only going like twenty miles an hour, but I slowed down to check on this little thing"
"Wow right in front huh?"
"Yeah, I think it broke its back or something with the fall, and I couldn't leave her there to die so I took her home. We nursed a squirrel back to health last spring so I thought 'what the heck. Dave won't mind and the kids will love it. We can do this.’”
For another five minutes she demonstrated her way of feeding the baby Scissor-Tail the wet cat food, and how her wings get stuck on her immobile legs sometimes, and the way she chirps when Esme held her against her breast.
For that entire week I stopped into Esme's workspace checking on Lucky, which was the name given to the bird by Esme's three young children. I thought the name kind of sucked but I didn't say anything. And every day Lucky had made some sort of progress. Esme would say "she started eating worms today" or "I think she is sort of walking" or "she totally thinks I'm her momma!"
Esme and I started becoming friends. It was nice to have something to chat about with those whom I deliver mail to, and this little bird was our conversation for that whole week. Sometimes I wouldn't even have mail for her department, yet I would stop by to see Lucky walk across the desk, or eat a new type of dried mill worm. I actually looked forward to it on my route. Esme began to tell me all about her children, Simon, Polly, and Noel, and how each of them was doing in school. She sad Polly was really smitten with Lucky. Esme thought it was possibly the middle child syndrome and her feeling left out. Polly would constantly ask for lucky. Polly seemed to be Lucky’s primary caretaker when the youthful bird wasn't on the desk overlooking Esme's calendar and cold lunch. Slowly, this lame Scissor-tailed Fly Catcher was creating a link for Esme and me. It was fun to catch up on how her husband's business was holding up through the summer, or what it is like to drive her kids to all of their sporting events but conversation always ended on Lucky. I found myself googling her and finding out facts about Lucky. I mean, did you know that Scissored Tails are the state bird of Oklahoma? Or that they snatch bugs right out of the air? It’s called “hawking”.
It just became this thing to do after work. I became a virtual bird watcher constantly soaking up bird facts off of the Internet. I would annoy my fiancé with the Did You Knows and the Can You Believes. Esme had already read the stuff I was learning so I just kept it all inside. A turgid little brain sponge.
And just like every day I got up. My now wife made me coffee, God love her, and we are both brushing our teeth. Talks of news, politics, birds and things. I arrive at work and sort the mail, counting each piece. Luckily Esme had mail today, and I couldn't wait to chat with her about the weekend and see how Lucky did with the car trip they took up to Turner Falls across the state line. They were excited to get the family up there. Her office is the last one in the History Building and I quickly rushed the other four stops so I could maybe hold Lucky for a while without getting too far behind on my route. I entered her office and she smiled.
"Hey Esme, how are you?"
"Pretty good, I guess." she said statically.
"How is the bird? Where is Lucky today?" I inquired after not seeing the cage on her desk and not on the nearby entry table either.
"She died," she said with a simple frown. And the way she said it, you would have thought that she didn't even care. It was as if she had cried all weekend about it and simply had no more tears for poor Lucky.
"What? How did it happen?"
"It is hard to say. The road trip was going so well and lucky looked more alive than ever. She had a great day on Saturday. It almost looked like she was going to fly, maybe. She was flapping her frail
little wings, but surprisingly they looked strong that day. Like she had transformed over night, but when we woke up on Sunday to drive home she was lying dead in her little cage. We all cried, especially Polly. She asked me why it had to happen. We buried her there next to our campsite. Polly cried all the way home as did I. Polly has been super inquisitive into what Death is all about and how it works. She asked where she will go when she dies. It was a tough trip, but we're getting over it though. Slowly."
I didn't even know what to say. "I'm so sorry Esme!" I said as sincere as possible.
"It's ok, Mark. It's the way of life. We were lucky to extend her life a little longer, you know. I’m trying to be really happy about it all"
"Yeah I guess you're right. You did a great job, Esme. You really did. I'll see you tomorrow. Hope Polly is ok." I said.
Then I walked out feeling the lowest I had in a while. And it was over a dead bird. I'm a grown man and I am depressed over one stupid, dead bird. But I couldn't stomach how it must have felt for Esme and her family to lose the little bird they spent so much time trying to save. I moped the rest of the day.
The next day I had mail again for Esme’s office, but this time I didn’t really feel like chatting. I had rehearsed a few opening lines. I thought asking about her Husband’s business again might be a good start. So, as I approached her door I noticed it was locked. This was a first, but I noticed a mail slot on the adjacent wall. I tossed a couple of magazines and a letter inside and walked away. As I exited the building Esme walked in I waved and smiled and said “Hey Esme, I put the mail in the slot today.”
And that was it. Seriously, from this point on all I got from her were simple greetings. Lifeless remarks. A subtle head nod, the kind reserved for strangers. I never heard about Polly, the daughter, ever again. We had a good few weeks there, Esme and I, we broke the mold, thought we were really flying, but now I’m back to inboxes and attitudes. Back to deadlines and microwavable lunch breaks. Back to the “Crazy weather we’re having…” and the “See you in the morning…” and the countless internet searches for what the life expectancy of certain southern birds might be.
Did you know that, to the best of my research, Lucky could have lived to be fifteen years old?