Chapter 15 - Nest Build'n Is a Woman Thing
We continued along the road, each of us lost in our thoughts. Dorothy was excited about going back to Aunt Em and Kansas, the metal man wanted a heart, and for the moment, I hoped only that William was thinking about better butter rather than telling humiliating gizzard jokes. I cast a suspicious eye her way and wondered if her air of cow-like innocence was a ruse. She seemed real enough, but I was becoming increasingly certain that she coveted a sinister secret, the secret of her name…William! As I considered the best way to broach the subject of her name…again, William pointed out two old folk ahead, sitting on a log by the side of the road. Huddled close and fluffed like two birds, on a telegraph wire, one rocked back as the other rocked forth. As their heads passed in the rhythm of their rocking, the first mumbled, and the second, grumbled.
The day was comfortable and didn’t command the need for the weathered and blackened grey coat worn by the old woman. She also wore a dark shawl, and he a cap. As we drew near, I commented to Dorothy that I had never seen a coat at least made in part with feathers; some were long and shiny black, others dull, short, and grey, while some were fuzzy and fine like down.
“That’s a feathered boa,” Dorothy whispered to me.
Interesting…perhaps, but Dorothy’s notion was a foolish one, nonetheless. Feathered boa, hah! How could she not know that boas are deadly serpents, not feathery creatures that lounge about on the shoulders of oldsters? Call it what she may, but I took it to be a coat. Old and dowdy described it best, as did the well-worn woman who wore it.
The old man was on the far side of her and as we drew nigh, I saw that he wore a similar coat of feathers, but his was in better condition – maybe new as it was full, glorious, buffed, and well oiled.
When we were nearly close enough to trip over them, they noticed us. He squawked in surprise and she screeched. In wide-eyed panic, they shuffled along the log, away from us.
Dorothy gasped and stopped in her tracks. “They don’t have people feet…, but claws like those of birds.
“That surely explains their feathery coats,” offered Scrobins, “but by their reaction it’s clear that we’ve ruffled their feathers.”
Dorothy giggled and continued. “Their feathers are part of their bodies and without them these bird-folk would be naked as jay birds.”
A scary thought that was…because their human parts, their arms, and legs were gaunt and dark. While I imagined their anatomy without feathers, my examination of their aged and expressive faces, with more wrinkles than a sun-dried cotton shirt, marked them as clearly human. Their noses, however, were well on the way to becoming beaks and claimed a great part of their face. My surprise continued when what I had mistaken for her shawl and his cap turned out to be crowns of short feathers that had replaced the hair of their heads.
“What do you want with us,” cried the old woman.
“We haven’t a thing, absolutely nothing, not even a good worm to share,” added the old man.
“Please leave us be,” cried the old woman with a distressed cackle. “We’re old, homeless, and haven’t a thing of value.”
The reality before us was one of twixt and between; two old people had become part bird or two birds had become part old people.
“I’m sorry to have frightened you,” Dorothy said. “But why are you homeless?”
“He,” she pointed to the old man with a flick of her tan beak, “Tried to build us a nest, but he’s too old to fly. Nor had he any idea how to go about building one…because he ain’t been to bird-school.”
“He,” again she flung her beak his way, “had plenty of time to better his self over the years, but never bothered to do it.”
“We never thought about need’n to go to bird-school,” the old man recoiled with a chirp. “You been crowing at me my whole life, but never once did you say, ‘Hoooo……raaaaace, why don’t you go to bird-school…just…in case one day a witch turns us into birds and you need to build us a nest.’”
A look of curiosity replaced the annoyance on the birdman’s face as his eyes drew a bead on us. “Any of you go to bird-school?” he asked.
When none of us answered, he continued, “Metal man, you been to bird school?”
Chip Chopper shook his head slowly.
“Cow..., you…?” said the old man.
“Mmm-no-o-o-o,” said William as she chewed loudly.
He poked his beak at Dorothy and asked, “What about you, kid?”
“No sir, not I. We’ve no bird schools in Kansas, at least none that I’ve heard of.”
With feathers fluffed, the old man stood erect as any proud bird might. He pulled his neck into his chest and jutted his beak to within inches of the old woman’s. Slowly and forcefully, the birdman said, “Cow ain’t been to bird school, kid ain’t been to bird school, and metal man ain’t been to…”
“I ain’t been,” added the scarecrow.
With a flick of his beak toward Scrobins, “He ain’t been,” said the old man. “That’s cause there ain’t no such thing as bird-school and if there is…it ain’t for people.”
Having to get the last word in, the old woman pushed her beak into his and said, “You...still had enough time in the evenings to learn how to build a nest.”
“Nest build’n ’s a woman thing…,” he crowed.
“He’s right, you know,” Dorothy said, “Nest building is a woman thing. I can help you. I’m young and strong and can climb trees. Some things are just natural in nature. Like his coat is nice and shiny and yours is…well…dowdy, like the female of any specie except women-kind. What I’m saying is that I’ll help you build a nest. However, help me to understand first, where did you live before?”
“In a cabin, a course,” replied the birdman.
“Our home of many years…, a fine cabin it was,” the old woman lamented, “by a stream with the sweetest water.”
“We had the best garden and the largest vegetables in our shire,” added the old man.
“What happened,” asked Dorothy?
Aye, aye, aye, I thought, here we go.
“We was work’n the garden…perhaps a fortnight ago, when an old woman come up, name of Dilibus, and asked for lodging. Traveling north…no place to stay…had teeth like a beaver she did,” said the old man nodding.
“We had a bad day…, me and him been at it pretty much all day,” the old woman said and again threw her beak toward the old man. “He can be so irritating.”
“I was happy to have Dilibus stay and we fed her good,” chirped the old man. “Good company she was and seemed right nice, kept getting in the middle when she…” he cawed and threw his beak back at the old woman, would peck at me. Dilibus tried to referee, but this ole biddy sitting beside me can’t go a day without harping about something and pecking at me.”
“Come sundown,” the old woman said loudly, “we set a blanket out for her to bed down on. She was tired and fell to sleep quickly. But, it weren’t our custom to bed down when the sun did. We liked to stay up later to discuss things.”
“Seems like you discussed too much that night,” said the old man as he cocked his head with a distinct bird-like gesture to his mate.
“After a couple hours, that nice old lady jumped up and wat’n so nice. Dilibus takes to waving this stick at us and says. You two need to figure out what you are. You look like two old folk, yet you act like two old crows with your pecking, crowing, complaining, and cawing. Therefore, until you decide what you are, you’ll have parts of both, but you’ll live mostly as crows, because despite your human appearance, I do believe your Maker erred in not giving you feathers from the start.”
“Poof…just like that,” croaked the old woman as she shook her head, “All that we owned was gone, even my favorite fry pan.”
“Good thing too, and that’s cause Dilibus liked me and saw you a swing’n it at my head,” he crowed.
“It’s your good fortune to have boarded a witch that liked one of you. There’s no telling what would have become of you both otherwise,” said Scrobins, "but I dare say that I think the witch did have it right when she said you were both more crow than people. It does seem to fit you…the feathers and all…”
“I agree. Your personalities as crows suit you. Like me, you angered a witch; I once was a man also,” said the metal man. “I’m truly sorry for your discomfort and hope that you’re able to sort out who you want to be. Until you do, I’d like to offer up my cottage. Treat each other with civility while you remain beneath my roof and you’ll be welcome. Door and Cottage will be glad for the company.”
“Show us the way, Kind Sir, show us the way!” said the old man.
After the metal man described the location of the cottage and told the old couple what to say when they knocked, William added, “You can’t miss it, it’s the only cottage with the front yard pretty well trimmed back.” It’s less than ten clicks as a crow flies…and a walk…a normal man might make before sunset.”
The old man studied William at great length and said to her, “You happen to be the first cow, that me eyes have rested upon…and a talker at that. So, take ye no offense at me question when I ask what manner of thing it be, that black hairy thing that’s a hang’n from your udder? Is it natural to all cows or is it goiter or parasite?”
I was just finishing up milking my lunch as I rested in the sling beneath William. There were far too many folk talking and I was not about to add my voice to their squabble by opining on witches, bird school, and manmade nests. But…, when that old bird said parasite, I popped my right eye open to see if it was me he was looking at. He was startled…but the old woman let loose with a sound that would have pleased the crow in her, “Squahhh ahhhh ahhh ahh, it’s alive, it’s alive, there be an eye amongst that curly blackness a look’n out at me!”
“That’s no parasite,” laughed Dorothy, “that’s my little dog, Toto! If he’ll ever let go of that milker, you’ll see we’ve set a sling in place over William’s back to support him. We were spending so much time stopping to get everyone fed and milked that our travel to the Emerald City was taking forever. See those cute little legs? The way he tucks them in when he hangs there…kind of looking like a black hairy hornet nest: truth is with those little legs of his, we make better time when Toto isn’t walking.”
The old man scratched his head, became distracted by the feathers that replaced his hair, then focused again on me and said, “And the cow din’t care none?”
“Not at all,” William answered. “That tiny little dog doesn’t bother me a bit. He’s not much bigger than a mid-size rat where I’m from.”
The old man thought about that a bit, plucked at his chin and said, “A mid-size rat…,” He cocked his head as any good bird might, turned toward William, and said, “Where did you say you was from?”
“Yeah,” said the old woman, “cause I ain’t taken on rats as neighbors, especially giant ones.”