A Spring Surprise

A Spring Surprise

A Story by Debbie Barry
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Based on something that happened this weekend, this is a fictionalized account of an interaction between wildlife and civilization.

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A Spring Surprise

 

One

 

It was a mild Sunday, at the beginning of spring, in south-eastern Michigan.  Although it had been a cold winter, with more ice than snow, the bite of winter had fled, and the air was soft with the promise of spring warmth.  This afternoon, the sky was a clear cerulean, sparingly decorated with bits of delicate, white lace, and lit by a cheerfully yellow sun.  The trees were still bare of leaves, but small, purplish-green swellings, at the ends of branches, revealed the promise of new leaves, which would soon burst forth, and unfurl the green of the warmer months. 

Jamie and Debbie walked, hand-in-hand, across the expanse of cold, cracked, gray asphalt.  Patrick was more than a head taller than Debbie, having reached adult stature the summer before, and a childhood spend splitting and stacking firewood, using an axe, or a wedge and a maul, since his dad didn’t like any new-fangled equipment on his place, had developed the boy’s shoulders, arms, and chest.  Although his waist was slim, and he carried little fat, he was massive.  His thick, dark hair fell straight over his high forehead, further shading the bright, hazel eyes, which were already overshadowed by prominent brow ridges and a thick, bushy unibrow.  He wore a thick, red plaid shirt, from the neck of which peeped the edge of a freshly-washed, white t-shirt.  He wore faded, denim jeans, the legs covering the tops of thick, well-worn, tan, leather work books.  Everything about him bespoke a life spent working hard, but everything about him was of good quality, clean, and well-tended; no one, looking at him, would make the mistake of thinking him poor.

Debbie was just over five feet tall.  Although her body was all soft, rounded curves, in the right places, she was not plump.  She wore her thick, dark brown, wavy hair long, and had it pulled back at the nape of her neck, and tied with a length of satin ribbon, which echoed the sky.  Thick, unruly curls of bangs fringed her high, smooth forehead, and large eyes of moss green, flecked with gold, sparkled with delight.  Her pale, Irish complexion bloomed with soft roses in her cheeks, in the welcome warmth of the sun.  Her rose-pink, pullover top hugged her curves, but the gleam of her golden crucifix, lying against the fabric, just below the modest neckline, forestalled further speculations in that direction.  Her long, full, black, cotton skirt, which fell to mid-calf, was gaily patterned with roses and other flowers, amid twinings of vines and leaves.  Although it was barely March, she wore a cardigan of shell-pink cotton, patterned with cables, and no coat.  Her bare ankles peeped from under the hem of the skirt, her pale, narrow feet enclosed in black, leather loafers.

“Thanks, Jamie, that was an awfully nice lunch,” Debbie said, glancing up at his dark face.

“Sure,” he replied, his lips curving into a warm smile.  He glanced down at her.  “I’m glad you like Italian food.”

“I really do,” she said.  “I guess it’s about my favorite.  I’m glad your folks let you go, after Mass,” she added.

“Yeah, me too,” he agreed.  “Thought Dad was gonna say no, but Mom gave ’im that look o’ hers, an’ he said okay.”

Debbie laughed.  “Guess it didn’ hurt that Father Basil came over jus’ then, with my folks.  I don’ think your dad wanted Father t’ think he wasn’ generous, or whatever.

“Yeah, an’ I think he wants your dad t’ like ’im, too,” Jamie mused.

“I hope so,” Debbie said, squeezing his hand.  “If they’re friends, then we can see each other more.

They paused, in the middle of a raised median.  The sere grass of recent winter crunched drily beneath their feet.  They found themselves facing each other.  Jamie brought his free hand up, and brushed his thick, calloused fingers over Debbie’s softly rounded cheek.  She laid her free hand against his chest; she felt his heart beating, though the fabric of his shirt.  All the sounds of cars and people, which filled the busy parking lot, went still.  Nothing moved.  Debbie heart the beating of her own heart.  She felt the warmth of Jamie’s breath on her face, as he bent closer.  She smelled the garlic and herbs of the spaghetti, still on his breath, and was relieved to think he wouldn’t taste the garlic on her own breath, from the chicken parmesan.  Debbie’s eyes fluttered closed, and she rose up on the balls of her feet, leaning closer. 

 

Two

 

BANG!

Jamie and Debbie jumped apart, startled.  Frantically, their eyes searched the parking lot, and the glass-fronted stored around its perimeter. 

“Oh!” Debbie exclaimed.

“What the…,” Jamie choked off the expletive.

They both saw it at the same moment, bare seconds after the sound.  Debbie thought she saw the door of a vacant store swing shut.  On the sidewalk, right outside the door, sat a very large, very plump bird.

“That’s the dernedest thing!” Jamie said, staring at the bird.  “It jus’ flew outta that store!”

Debbie pressed herself against Jamie’s side, still a bit shaken; for a horrible instant, she’d thought it had been a gunshot, possibly some crazy person with a gun, like on the news.  Absently, Jamie wrapped his big, warm arm comfortingly around her shoulders.  She put her arms around his waist, are rested her cheek against his chest.

Debbie stared at the bird.  Its feathers, in the warm, afternoon sunlight, were a rich, golden brown.  Its head was iridescent jade, more like a rich gem than a living bird.  Around its neck, between green and gold, was a broad stripe of snowy white.  The bird sat on the cold, gray concrete of the sidewalk, its long tail laid out behind it; it held its wings splayed out to its sides, as though it was trying to keep its balance.

“Oh, poor thing!” Debbie breathed.

“I’ll be derned!” Jamie said, with a low whistle.  “Tha’s a ring-necked pheasant!”

“What, Debbie asked, glancing up at him in surprise; she’d never actually seen a ring-necked pheasant, so far as she knew.  “Here?  But why?  How?”

“Dunno,” Jamie replied, speculatively.  He frowned slightly, his forehead furrowing, and his already-overhanging brows beetling close above his hooded eyes.

“How’s it get into the store?” Debbie mused.  “Unless there’s somebody in there?”  She shivered at the thought.  What if some vagabond’s holed up in that empty storefront?  She couldn’t see in, because the glass was reflective, at least in this light.   Worse, what if there’re Travelers living in there?  No one Debbie knew quite trusted the wanderers who called themselves Travelers. 

Debbie had only met one of them, once, when a young man, not much older than her own 16 years, had come to the door, to ask whether her dad needed any work done around the house.  Debbie had been home alone, at the time, while her dad was at work, and her mother and younger sister had gone grocery shopping.  The boy’s jet-black eyes had been intense, and had made her very nervous.  She’d sent him away, but he hadn’t taken no lightly, despite his unfailing politeness, and she’d been hard-pressed to resist his persistence.

“What if it has a nest of babies in there, or eggs?” she asked.

“Nah,” Jamie replied, squeezing her shoulder gently in his massive hand.  “See the bright colors?  He’s a male.”

“Oh,” Debbie said.  Although her family lived in the country, now, she’d grown up near cities, and didn’t know much about wild things.  “Well, maybe a family, then.  I hope he doesn’t have a family in there.”

“I’m half tempted t’ go let ’im back in there,” Jamie said, softly, as though speaking to himself.  “Better’n lettin’ roamin’ dogs scarf ’im up.”

Debbie shuddered at the image of stray dogs catching and eating the beautiful bird.

“He’d prob’ly run outta food in there,” she replied.  “An’ he’d certainly run outta water.  No way t’ get any inside a store.”

“Yeah,” Jamie agreed.” He couldn’t of been in there too long, ’cause he’d starve.”

Slowly, the two teens started walking again.  Jamie’s car was not far from the empty storefront.  They’d driven from church, and had parked at the opposite end of the lot from the restaurant, because the parking lot had been filled with the cars of Sunday shoppers and diners.  Fortunately, it was a nice day to stroll hand-in-hand.

 

Three

 

“Didja see that?!” cried a girl in a big, blue, Ford station wagon, rolling down her window, as the car pulled up beside Jamie and Debbie.

“Ya mean the pheasant?” Jamie asked.  He and Debbie stopped walking, and faced the car. 

“Is that what it is?” the girl asked, her blue eyes bright with excitement.  Tight ringlets of rusty orange bounced around her freckle-spattered face.  Debbie didn’t recognize the girl; in the shadowy gloom of the cars tinted windows, and under the bill of a dark ball cap, Debbie couldn’t even see the driver’s face, although she thought it was a boy, about her own age.

“Yeah, it’s a ring-necked pheasant,” Jamie confirmed.

“We were down by Patio Italia, just got in the car, and there it flew, zoom, right past us,” the girl explained, hectically, her speckled cheeks flushing a dusky red.

“Yeah?” Jamie prompted.  “We thought it flew out of that empty store.”  He pulled out his phone, and snapped a couple of pictures of the bird, which still sat, looking up at the door, as if hoping to get back inside. 

“No, no!” the girl exclaimed, gesturing with the hand that gripped her own phone.  It was flying like crazy.  Barely missed some guy back there.  Flew right over his head!”

“Wow!” Debbie said, following the story with interest. 

“Yep!” said the girl, sounding satisfied with the effect of her tale.  “Then it flew right into that door.  Smack!”

“Oh, poor bird!” Debbie said, involuntarily repeating her first response to the event.

“It really looked, to us, like it flew outta the door,” Jamie said, again, but that makes a lot more sense.  “Musta looked like th’ reflection in th’ glass was open sky.

“We should call someone,” the red-head said, looking at the bird.

“Maybe Animal Control,” Debbie suggested.  “They could help it.”

“Not around here,” Jamie said, dismissively.

“Oh, right,” Debbie muttered, quelled.  She'd forgotten that wild animals didn’t arouse as much concern, here in the country, as they did in the small cities where she’d spent most of her young life.

“We gotta call 9-1-1,” the read-head said, glancing approvingly at Debbie.  “Get ’em t’ rescue it.

“We, I guess,” Jamie said, dubiously.

 

Five

 

The girl must have had the emergency number on speed-dial.  Before Jamie’s reluctant fingers finished dialing the three digits, the girl was talking to a dispatcher.

“It won’t matter,” Jamie said, cancelling his own call, and tucking his phone into his shirt pocket.

“Two people calling about the same thing might make ’em take it seriously,” Debbie argued, quietly.  However, she didn’t pull out her own hone, which rode in a small, black, leather purse, at her hip.

Just then, Jamie gasped and stiffened.  He stated.  Debbie’s eyes followed his gaze.

The pheasant flapped his wings, and the sheen of his feathers shimmered in the warm sunshine.  After a few false starts, the beautiful bird lifted off the ground.  Turning its back on the offending, glass door, the pheasant flew up and away, across the parking lot.

Debbie heard the other girl, still talking to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, say, “Oh!  Never mind.  There it goes.”  The girl set her phone in the console, between the front seats of the station wagon.

“Well, there he goes,” Jamie said, as the teens all watched the bird fly around a building, and out of sight.

“Bye,” called the red-head, and the silent driver put the car in drive; they left Jamie and Debbie alone.

“C’mon,” Jamie said.  “I better get you home.”

They were at the shiny, emerald-green, Volkswagon Bug in moments.  Jamie held the door, as Debbie climbed into the passenger seat.  He made sure her skirt was tucked safely in, and then closed her door.  Skirting around the rear of the car, Jamie folded his considerable height and breadth down into the cramped confines of the driver’s seat, which he kept pushed back as far as the seat would go.

On the way home, Debbie said, “I’m glad the pheasant was just stunned, and was able to fly away.”

“Yeah,” Jamie agreed.

“They’re beautiful birds,” Debbie said.  “I never actually saw one, before.”

“Yeah,” Jamie said, again.  “They’re pretty.”

The car meandered along the rural roads, past fields, in which grazed sheep, cows, horses, and even a llama and a pair of donkeys.

“An’ they’re tasty,” Jamie mused.  “But not huggable.”

“Not huggable,” Debbie agreed.  “An’ they’re safe, now.  They’re out of season.”

“Yep,” Jamie agreed.  “Hope I meet ’in in season, though.  Meet ’im wi’ my shotgun.  Yum.”

“Yum,” Debbie agreed, “but not today.  Today, he flew away.”

They drove the rest of the way home in companionable silence, hands clasped, fingers intertwined, atop the gear-shift, between them.

© 2020 Debbie Barry


Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Honest reactions and creative criticism appreciated. Please let me know if see typos, but I'm more interested in readability.

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Added on February 25, 2020
Last Updated on February 25, 2020
Tags: pheasant, ring-necked pheasant, ring necked pheasant, teens, rural life wildlife, birds, animals

Author

Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



About
I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

Writing