Several years ago, I spent the latter half of my workdays at our middle school facility. My boys rode the bus there from the elementary school. They puttered around in my classroom until I was ready to leave. We always exited the building through a side door, followed a covered walkway, and stepped onto the blacktop parking lot. I was fortunate to garner a respectable parking space in those days by arriving soon after another fellow traveler departed for the high school. My spot was not far from a large sweet gum tree that grew beside the building. It littered the lot with stemmed balls sporting spines. I routinely stepped on that tree's balls on my walk to the car. Depending on the season, and their squooshiness factor, those Sweet Gummy balls could wreak havoc with a person's stride.
One fine fall day, footing my way across the pavement, I nearly turned an ankle. My son, the one we call The Pony (due to a strong aversion to a pink My Little Pony girly-toy mistakenly slipped into his boy-specified Happy Meal by an incompetent sixteen-year-old server), saw it happen.
"Are you all right, Mom?"
"Yeah. I just stepped on one of those tree things."
"Uh. No you didn't."
"What do you mean?" I kept walking while The Pony lagged behind.
"You just stepped on a dead bird."
That stopped me in my tracks. I turned to look. My older son, Genius, was already on the case.
"You sure did. You stepped right on it." He poked it with the tip of his shoe. For the record, Birdy was partially obscured by autumn leaves. It's not like I sought him out to grind under my heel in an effort to release the day's pent-up frustrations.
The boys thought it hilarious that I had stepped on a dead bird. They virtually crowed about it. They chattered like magpies about my burgeoning avocation as a bird-stomper. The Pony was swift to parrot his brother. Together, they nearly drove me cuckoo. It was just a lark to them. As they were humming along, besmirching my walking skills willy-nilly, I swallowed. I warned them to stop their mocking. They were violating the cardinal rule of Val: enough is enough. I needed to stop them before Birdy became my albatross. Just my luck that The Pony had eagle eyes. I most certainly didn't see Birdy before I tromped on him. Tired of their sniping, and about to turn into a cantankerous old coot, I told them to settle down and stop being such turkeys.
You would think I had stalked that bird, set up a blind, darted out when the time was right, grabbed him by his birdy feet, flung him to the ground, and hopped up and down on him until his free-as-a-bird days had ended. I was a victim of circumstance. Birdy was already taking a blacktop nap when I chanced upon him. And I do mean upon him.
Something was fishy about Birdy. Day in, day out, sunrise, sunset, like sand through the hourglass, he rested in one piece on the parking lot. I know, because I inadvertently stepped on him about three times per week. Which was brought to my attention by the hoots of my offspring. You would think that a neighborhood cat might have pounced on Birdy, seized him as a gift offering for his master's porch. Or that free-running dogs would have rolled and wallowed over him, spreading the remains. Or that microbes would have devoured Birdy over the course of several weeks, a real-life exhibition of time-lapse photography. But no.
Birdy remained in the same place on the parking lot through Christmas and into springtime. I know he stayed in the same place, because I continued to step on him. Three times per week. You'd think I would have altered my route. But I was not thinking of Birdy every day when I left work. I had bigger fish to fry.
Then one day, Birdy wasn't there. I'm guessing that my constant treading ground his bones to a fine powder, microbes belatedly fulfilled their role in the cosmos, and the feathers blew away. Only a slight discoloration marked the near-eternal resting place of Birdy.
Birdy still lives in the imagination of The Pony. Every time we walk through that lot, he mentions my unfortunate bird-crushing faux pas.