Short Story | ‘Saving Sylvia’ by Christina C. Franklin, Illustration by James Brown
Harry stared at the wet ring his glass of Jack Daniels had left on the end table, as a crack of thunder roared in the distance. Marge would have scolded him had she still been alive. But she wasn’t. It had been six months, and he still couldn’t dampen the pain. Every last tear he had was already spent. He wondered how that woman could affect him to such a degree.
Motionless, he stared through his agony towards the window watching a pigeon land on the porch railing. It walked over to the window, tapped on the glass with its beak and looked in.
“Shoo!” he yelled through the window. “Go away! Get out of here!”
The bird stood her ground refusing to yield to his rant.
Harry shook his head grumbling to himself, as he used his sleeve to wipe the table and the bottom of the glass. Surrendering to a fusion of anger and sadness, Harry gulped back the remaining liquid and reached around for the bottle which sat on the floor adjacent to his feet. He unscrewed the cap and smelled the sweet amber liquid as he poured himself a refill. Taking another gulp, he felt the warmth slide down his throat and hoped that it would soon temper his pain.
“Coo,” Said the pigeon.
“What?” Harry yelled back at it. “Mind your own damned business.”
He sat back in his recliner watching the porch swing sway in the breeze that the approaching storming had brought. The damp air carried to him the scent of the nearby lilacs. The floral smell carried with it memories of a happier, more joyful time. But Harry’s chest felt heavy, like a brick was crushing his heart as he tried desperately to block the memory of Marge cutting long stems of lilacs for the vase on the kitchen table. These memories were too painful. They made him feel so very alone.
Harry looked at the pills sitting next to his glass. They had helped Marge during her illness and now they would help him. He figured he could finish them off with the help of what was left in his bottle of Jack, and then there would be no more pain.
“Coo, coo,” came the cry from the window.
“What?” Harry snapped.
He glanced up at the pigeon that was now anxiously pacing back and forth, its silvery feathers glistening from the dampening rain.
“Coo, coo.” She again sounded as another loud crack of thunder accompanied a downpour of rain. She was now frantic and struggling to keep her balance as she was being pelted by the rain.
“What? Now you want me to save you?”
“Ah, Hell,” Harry said, starting to feel sorry for the bird. “Just a second. Just a second.”
He rose from his seat, inadvertently knocking over the bottle of pills, which silently rolled under his chair. He grabbed the dish towel from the kitchen and opened the living room slider. He calmly approached the frightened pigeon scooping it up and patting it dry while walking back into the living room.
“There, there now,” he curtly said to the silver bird. “You’ll be fine.”
“Coo, coo,” she replied looking at him with her beautiful orange eyes.
“Well aren’t you a pretty one,” Harry admired. He saw the band around her leg and knew instantly that she was someone’s homing pigeon. “Yes, you certainly are. I’ve never seen such silvery feathers and beautiful eyes. Silvery Sylvia,” he declared. Harry paused as he suddenly realized he had named the bird.
“Oh, damn,” he mumbled. He knew that was something Marge would do, naming the wildlife. He always teased her about that. Once she named something, she couldn’t let it go.
“Well,” he said to the bird, “we’re going to fix that, now aren’t we?”
Harry went over to the coat closet still holding the pigeon and rummaged around until he found an old bird cage that was shoved towards the back. He pulled it out, opened the door and placed the bird in it. Harry affixed a small container with water in the cage and brought it into the living room with him. He turned on his laptop and proceeded to search the Internet for all of the pigeon associations he could find.
Unyielding, Harry made call after call trying to identify the owner of silvery Sylvia, but despite his efforts he could not penetrate the brick wall that he continuously confronted as afternoon slowly turned to evening. No one seemed to recognize the association lettering that was identified on her leg band. He was given additional names and phone numbers to try, but those too came to a dead end.
“Let’s try one more,” Harry sighed feeling tired and defeated as he looked at the clock realizing several hours had already passed.
“Hello,” said the man on the end of the line.
“Hello sir. My name is Harry. I have found a homing pigeon and I am trying to find her owner. The association directory said you were the chairman of this organization, so I –“
“How many times do I have to tell you people? I am retired. I no longer race pigeons! Leave me alone!” Click. The phone line went dead.
“Well, someone was a little grumpy,” he said turning to Sylvia.
“Coo,” she replied looking back at him, her head bobbing up and down as if in agreement.
Harry laughed. “Yeah, you’re right. Some people just need to get a life.”
He scratched his head and listened as his stomach now grumbled at the time. He hadn’t eaten any lunch and hadn’t expected to be around for supper, but now it was approaching dinner time as he was famished. Harry rose and walked back toward the closet.
“Well Sylvia, let’s see if I still have some seed. If I’m hungry, I’m sure you must be too.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m looking.” He yelled back to the bird from inside the coat closet as he lifted out a half full bag of bird seed. “Well, this should do for now.”
“Now don’t go making a fuss. Just eat the damned seed, silvery Sylvia.”
“Yeah, I named you. So what of it? You’re silvery and that’s why I named you Sylvia. Now just deal with it.”
The bird cautiously approached him at the front of the cage.
“Oh, don’t be afraid. Here you go now,” he said in a much softer tone. “Eat this tonight and tomorrow we’ll go out and find you some pigeon seed.
Old Harry couldn’t have known it, but the bird was looking up at him, smiling inside.
“Then we’ll have to see what scraps of wood I have in the garage to make you a coup. We’ll then set up a feeding area, water, and . . .” The old man’s voice trailed on as he excitedly relayed to Sylvia all of his plans.
Still talking to the bird, he walked over to the kitchen and popped a frozen dinner in the microwave. He brought both his heated dinner and Sylvia into his bedroom and placed her cage on his desk. He pulled out some paper and started to sketch out plans for a small coup while eating his meal. As the night fell dark, he ate while talking to Sylvia and making adjustments to his coup design. Harry had a plan for tomorrow, a tomorrow that would now come.
And as for saving Sylvia? Well perhaps it was she who saved him that night.
Illustration by: James Brown