The Ferruginous Hawk

Dad had already left, and I was just finishing my breakfast when Grandfather came into the kitchen, pulled out a chair and sat. Right on time again. Funny how an old man keeps such a regular schedule.

As he always does at this time, he pushed the book toward me and said, “Pick a good one today.”

Mom set a plate of food down and said, “Eat your breakfast, Grandfather.”

I looked at her. Mom in the morning. Her rollers. Her impassive voice. So flat, so mechanical. I thought, funny that she always calls him Grandfather. He’s my grandfather. It was just her way.

“Pick a good one,” Grandfather said.

It was a beat-up and well used old bird book. He knew all the birds in it by heart. As was our little custom, I closed my eyes, flipped through the pages and poked my finger suddenly down onto one.

We both looked to see what bird I picked for him.

“Ferruginous Hawk?” he said.

“First time I ever gave you that one.”

“A challenge, all right,” he said.

“Eat your breakfast, Grandfather,” Mom said.

*

When my grandfather was my age, he liked the birds, and knew their names. Since he retired, he’d taken up bird watching again. It got him out of the house so Mom could do her work during the day.

To make it interesting for him, one morning long ago, I kiddingly picked a bird at random from the old book and said, “See if you can spot this guy.”

Every day after that we played the same game. Evenings at dinner, I’d ask him how he did, and he’d lie, “No problem, kiddo. Just gotta know where to look.”

Mom would say, “Eat your dinner,” to both of us.

*

That evening, on the day I’d given him “Ferruginous Hawk,” Grandfather didn’t come back. When Dad came home from work, we went to look.

“Damn foolish, this bird thing of his,” Dad said. And I could see he was worried more than mad.

Grandfather’s tracks were easy to follow, and they went on for more than a mile. When we found him, he was barely alive.

He was lying bareheaded on the ground, his face awfully gray, his breath shallow and raspy.

“I saw one,” he said to me, his excitement plainly there under the weakness.

“Let’s get him back,” Dad said. We collected Grandfather’s things, got him up and breathing better, and led him home.

“I saw one,” he said again.

We were still feeling worried and serious, so I didn’t say anything back. I was tempted to say, “Ferruginous Hawk?”

It could wait.

*

Once inside, Grandfather’s breathing became completely normal, and his strength returned. He went directly to the kitchen table, sat, and began leafing through his bird book, looking at it harder than I’d ever seen him look at it before.

Dad sat and said, “Pop, this bird thing, it’s gone too far. You’ve got to stop.”

Grandfather didn’t even look at him, but just kept studying the book, turning its pages and looking at them one by one.

“Pop?”

“Shhhh.”

“Eat your dinner, Grandfather,” Mom said.

Then Grandfather closed the book and put it down gently on the table.

“I saw one,” he said to me, and smiled. But it wasn’t his usual smile.

I didn’t know what to say now.

Dad said, “Saw one what?”

Mom said, “Eat your dinner, Grandfather.”

Grandfather threw the bird book at Mom then, and when it hit, it hit hard, exploding, and all those brittle old pages flew around the room, scattering themselves over the floor.

Grandfather stood, and in one smooth movement, surprising for an old man, kicked Mom in the side hard enough to knock her off her rollers.

She fell onto her side with a clang. Sparks flared under her. And the room smelled of hot ozone.

“Eat your breakfast, Grandfather,” Mom said, her voice flat. Then she said it again, and Dad had to get up and switch her off.

*

“What’s gotten into you, Pop! First you practically kill yourself, going around without your air helmet. Then you break the robot!”

“I saw one.”

“One what?” Dad screamed.

“One bird.”

“There aren’t any birds, Dad. Not for at least fifty years!”

“What kind was it, Grandfather?” I said.

Dad said, “Stay out of this, son.”

Grandfather looked at me and laughed. “It wasn’t no Ferruginous Hawk, I’ll tell you that much.”

5 Responses to “The Ferruginous Hawk”

  1. Nyla T. says:

    Love your stories. I always get my “BOOK” out to read about the birds you write about. Yes sir, right there on page 72 is the information and across on page 73 is a picture. My book is so full of notes I’ve written on the side I could have filled a book myself. Continue with “The Two Fisted Bird Watcher”. I read every email a few times ‘just to make sure I haven’t missed anything’.

  2. Michelle says:

    Nice stories…

  3. Rich Willott says:

    Well done, thought provoking, and portending a future I want no part of.

  4. Nyla says:

    Love the stories. Wish I would have kept track in “the book” as to all the birds we were led to hunt for. Enjoy the ‘field trips’ and searches. Continue!!!

  5. typehype says:

    “Her rollers.” in paragraph 4 is brilliant. It really fooled me. I thought, old school mom with her hair set and old school family treating her like a slave. Even when “Mom” got hit with the book and fell and clanged and sparked. I thought, ah, she’s in an electric wheelchair. The Mom robot took me for a loop. As did the horror of the vanquished birds.

    It’s fun being surprised at the end. This story also made me think about overly caring family members and how they can sometimes inhibit their elders from enjoying life because they’re afraid a little enjoyment might kill them.

    It won’t. They’re going to die anyway. Why not let them enjoy life while they still can? It might save the world, and a few birds.

    Great story.

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