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Homeward (part two)

by Nancy Ames

The old woman never saw the bird again and she
didn`t ever speak to anybody about him either.
Her daughter and son-in-law were due to come and
retrieve the children on Saturday, the day after
tomorrow. But when she tried to imagine telling
them about the strange episode of the homing pigeon
the old woman knew that she wouldn`t be able to put
it all into words. And anyway, her story would most
probably only get interrupted.

The following evening, on the Friday night, the old
woman was sitting in the armchair beside the stove,
trying to keep her eyes open long enough to enjoy an
hour or so of solitude and relaxation before going up
to bed. The location of her farm was quite remote,
which meant that the car she could hear was most likely
approaching on her lengthy driveway. But she simply
yawned and assumed that one of her neighbours must be
out looking for company... or perhaps her daughter and
son-in-law had returned sooner than expected from this
holiday of theirs. Then, however, the policeman in the
police car sounded his siren briefly and flashed his
scarlet emergency lights outside her gate.

"Absolutely unnecessary!" the old woman grumbled to
herself after she was up and moving toward the front
door. Outside, she hastened down the porch steps, wanting
to prevent the policeman from coming up to the house and
possibly waking the children. She could easily see the
man`s smile under the light of the rising moon where he
stood leaning up against the darkened police car.

As she slowly walked toward him, he began to talk with an
obviously artificial friendliness, alarming her. The old
woman was very tired and she was already anxious about the
possible explanations for this excessively late visit from
the authorities, anticipating news of an accident. Then she
got close enough to recognize the federal insignia on the
man`s uniform and her experienced brain began to ask several
other questions.

The man really was smiling too much and talking too fast, she
decided. He was giving her all kinds of apologies and awkward
reassurances at first, and then he got around to telling her
he was inquiring around "the neighbourhood", doing a favour
for a friend, somebody or other who was a member of the local
police force, he said. This friend of his kept homing pigeons
as a hobby, apparently, and was distressed - that was the word
he kept using, "distressed" - because one of his best racing
birds had recently failed to return from a cross-country
competition.

The man continued, in a bored and pessimistic tone now, "Did
you happen to notice a bird like that, Ma`am? With an orange
band on one leg, Ma`am? Did you either see it yourself or perhaps
hear anything about anybody sighting it in the neighbourhood
lately?" And then he quickly cast a longing glance back down her
long, bumpy driveway.

It was very easy to play upon the elitist fantasies of the man in
uniform. In fact, there was almost nothing she had to do. The
uniform already saw her with dimmed and antiquated vision. To him,
she was just another poor, downtrodden peasant, someone who worked
with hands and feet, not with the higher centers of the brain like
he did. But she was used to that. She had been underestimated her
whole life.

So she spoke slowly and used small words. "No, Sir. I did not."

The old woman thought she could see a small boy`s head at one of
the upstairs windows. For good measure, she made blank but quite
respectful eye-contact with the police officer, nodded her head
once, and said, "Good night, then."

She turned and made her way back up the walk to the house as slowly
as possible, to reinforce his first impression of her decrepitude
and uselessness. Laboriously, she climbed the front steps. Then she
could stand under the angle of the porch roof, safe in moon-shadow,
and watch the red tail-lights of the police car slowly making its
way back down along the driveway to the main road.

She went quietly inside again, turned off all the lights, and climbed
the stairs up to bed. But she didn`t close her eyes for a long time,
and she felt like crying. She couldn`t remember the last time she had
been so brimful of tears. She told herself that it was probably just
a side-effect of all the bright silvery moonlight outside... usually
she felt so very dry. The old woman slept for two or three hours
toward dawn, when the moon was sinking behind the forested hills.

And then, of course, the morning of Saturday was spent getting the
children ready for the arrival of their parents and the return to
their house in town. Naturally, they were all over-excited, and the
older ones were deep in conversation about going back to school the
following week. But she managed to get some bacon, eggs and toast into
them and she even made a cherry cake with pink icing for everybody
to have when the grown-ups got there, along with a big pitcher of
lemonade.

She was standing on the front porch when they drove up to the house,
her daughter and son-in-law were out of the car and embracing the
children one by one, when the oldest boy jumped up and announced,
"There was a policeman here last night, Mom. I saw him!"

And the old woman, carefully wiping her soapy hands on her white apron,
was startled to hear her own darling daughter`s angry voice, sounding
really quite harsh, and her daughter was saying, "Oh, Mother! What
did you do now?"

09/30/2018

Posted on 09/30/2018
Copyright © 2018 Nancy Ames

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