Melodie Corrigall is an eclectic Canadian writer whose work has appeared in Litro UK, Foliate Oak, Toasted Cheese, Emerald Bolts, Earthen Lamp Journal, Six Minute Magazine, Halfway Down the Stairs, FreeFall, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Corner Bar, Persimmon Tree and The Write Place at the Write Time (www.melodiecorrigall.com).
THE BIRD ACCORDING TO JACK
Jack-Be-Nimble—seventeen, energetic, restless—stretched back on the grassy bank, his feet dangling in the brook. The cool white water bubbled past, tugging his toes and ticking his arches. Eyes closed, he savored the sound of the water gurgling and the murmur of the wind in the leaves. He studied the soft grey clouds floating across the white sky. One could see things in the clouds: strangely shaped creatures.
Above him a fat old lady sat cross-legged, a shawl pulled over her head. Beside, or perhaps pursuing, her was a large humped serpent. The two slowly moved across the sky on their relentless chase.
The serpent seemed content to bide his time. Maybe he wouldn’t know what to do if he caught his victim. Jack sympathized. He too was confused; he didn’t know what to do. At his age, rather than seeing serpents and old ladies in the clouds he ought to be searching amongst the silver sunlit dust for the Bird.
Since childhood Jack had heard references, scraps of confusing adult chatter about the illusive Bird. There were so many conflicting theories; it was impossible to imagine what It looked like.
Some people said that the Bird, although not large, had powerful wings and a curved ripping beak. Others argued that It was so massive that faced with It a person would only see an all-encompassing feathered belly. The large-Bird-people maintained that no matter how far back you stood you couldn’t ever get far enough away to see the entire Bird.
There were also passionate arguments about the color of the Bird. Some believed It was pure shimmering black and glistened in the sun like ebony. Others believed It was speckled. Once Jack had read in a Neo-Sciences journal that a group of scholars in Chile had proven beyond reasonable doubt that the Bird was pure white.
What was one to make of it?
Although the question interested Jack, with all the little worries of twenty-four hour life he didn’t have much time for what his mother referred to as ‘idle speculation’ on such subjects. His usual concern was what color T-shirt to wear or where to get some grass or whether Mary-Anne would and if she would, would he be able. When he got nervous he always made a botch of things and Mary-Annes were so impatient. But today, lying beside the brook, he had all the time in the world.
Today, Jack was ready to think about the illusive Bird. There was something uplifting about considering a conundrum that so many people thought and argued about. Of course, lots of people also talked about sewers and pollution but that was mundane. The Bird was different. It was eternal and worthy.
Jack closed his eyes. His hands wandered lightly over the grass. It tickled his palms. The moving water felt like black speckled fish nibbling at his feet. He dozed off. The hot white sun beat down on him: silence, the sun’s heat, the prickly grass, and the cool bubbling water.
Suddenly: the Bird. There with his eyes closed, his feet chilled, his face burning, Jack saw the Bird. He bolted up. The color. What was the color? It wasn’t black. It wasn’t white. It was. It was. It was something else, something incredibly, indescribably else.
It had three long tail feathers folded looped up and all three of a different something else color. All three held up by a shiny black button to the Bird’s behind.
How to describe the colors of the Bird? There were no paints to color It. They weren’t black, white, grey, stripped or dotted. He had seen It. He, Jack-Be-Nimble, had seen the real, the very real Bird. He was burning to tell what he had seen. But how?
He thought and thought. Massive grey clouds drifted by overhead but Jack no longer saw them. He scrabbled about the recesses of his mind and finally he found a way to tell of those strange, strange but very real feathers. Yes. He would name the colors in words by describing them as sensations. Yes.
One color was how the fun felt on his face. Yes, yes, the sun on his face. The next was the cool water on his feet. Yes. It was fish nibbling in the cool water on his feet. And the third? Think. The third was like the grass, the rough grass but not black. Like the wind, but colored.
The image of the Bird had been seared into Jack’s mind.
From that moment on whether Mary-Anne would or wouldn’t, whether he was high or low, whether he laughed or cried, he could not forget the Bird. It had been revealed to him and his burning obsession was to reveal the Bird, in all its splendid colors, to humanity.
Jack ran home that famous afternoon and explained to his mother, in the minutest of details, the Bird’s appearance. She listened from time to time. When he finished, she apologized that said she hadn’t had the education that he had and he should focus on finding a job. Imagine such idleness as talking about colors that weren’t colors. It was absurd.
When Jack told his father, who was ‘in business’ the old man said that he could vaguely remember the color of cool water on his feet but it was long ago and better forgotten.
He was more successful describing the Bird to his young friends than to his parents. But even they, after much late night discussion, could only come to short agreement.
Whatever the challenge, Jack was committed to his cause. He worked unceasingly to spread the word. In time, many brave young men and women agreed that there was, or quite probably might be, a Bird and that It just might be of some color other than black or white.
At the tender age of 19 Jack’s essay disclosing the color of the Bird was published in the Political Monkey, a highly influential periodical. Jack refuted, or rather amended (with guidance from the more learned), his initial thesis the following year, explaining that what he had originally described as the hot sun sensation was more accurately defined as the sting of a slapped face. The shock of the vision had confused him, he explained. Since he had first seen the Bird he had studied the whole question logically, maturely, and the pragmatic conclusion was sting not sun. It was the same sensation only the semantics had changed for clarity. Clarity is expedient, especially in difficult times, and times were becoming increasingly difficult.
The following year, the second sensation was reinterpreted. Under the sweet influence of a lady-friend, Jack decided to reiterate the cool water sensation. It was an unfamiliar one to many. He explained the color as perhaps being more aptly experienced as the beat of a black boot on a grey pavement. Most people understood. Pragmatism was important if they were to succeed. Some felt frightened, others betrayed but most followed Jack.
Several years later, Jack contemplated a deeper study on the third color. His followers fidgeted. The young people got angry and abusive. The third color, the wind or grass tickling the hand, had such a steadfast group of supporters that Jack dared not refute it, yet.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jack’s revelation, there was a grand celebration. Jack marched in the lead, stumbling along as fast as he could. The hearty Be-Nimblists behind him marched smarty. The enthusiastic parade was dotted with large banners printed in black on white or white on black. All the popular slogans were displayed proudly: “Black grass tickles.” “The Color of a Stinging Slap.” “The Pounding of a Black Boot.”
The day ended in violent fighting between opposing factions. The principal disagreement was the color of the Bird’s head. The United Controllers, linking arms, insisted on black and won.
Over the years, the Be-Nimblist Organization gained in strength and size. The day came when it was considered unfashionable not to be a Birdist. The students and the intelligentsia went even farther and to a one were Be-Nimblists. By his final year Jack-Be-Nimble’s name was a household word.
Shelves of literature had been written about him and his vision. His word rocked the cradle and burnt the corpse. The mark of the 50th anniversary Jack was wheeled back to that famous spot beside the white brook, now merely a trickle in the black mud: the spot worn grey by pilgrims. They placed Jack on a blanket. As on the first day (the day of revelation) he stretched back. He was too old to put his feet in the muddy water.
There were cameras nearby and microphones dangled near his wrinkled face. A few thousand faithful crowded near their hero singing “Jack-Be-Nimble soon.” Millions more around the world clung to their electronic devices straining to be part of the historic moment.
Jack closed his dry parched eyes. He waited. He saw nothing. Still he waited; still he saw nothing.
After a time, with the restless crowds rumbling in the background, a black quill appeared and with a painful slowness it began to trace the outline of a bird: one long continuous line scratching from tail to beak to tail. Black line on white ground. And inside was neither black nor white. It was void. Jack waited, breathless for the quill to continue but it faded. There were no tail feathers.
“Empty,” Jack groaned.
“What,” shouted a jowly man swooping in and jamming the microphone into Jack’s quivering lips.
“Move in the camera,” roared an excited reporter.
The Be-Nimblists pushed forward, a swelling tide.
“Pty,” Jack croaked, his eyes opened slightly then rolled back.
“Pty, Pty! Pty’ the crowd whispered and the whisper became a roar: a roar across the nation, across the continent, across the world.
Black banners, white banners, speckled banners all at half-mast for Jack. And the battle cry for the short future was “Pty! Pty!” For thus had sayeth Jack.