A Little Fiction and Fun
Yesterday the warm California sun baked my bones and I realize that so much of my life has returned to normal. Birds no longer terrify me and this is a major victory as I’ve always been an avid birdwatcher. I’ve adapted well to the laid back west coast life style though that took at least a year what with my origins being strictly the hectic east coast. It’s was no easy decision to pack up and move clear across the continent but then I was running for my life not to mention my sanity.
Yes the mourning doves dine peacefully on my millet offerings and my roses still bloom in October. So I’m not yet married or even with such an event anywhere in my horizon. After my experience with Red it’s to be expected that recovery would take time. All in all I’m doing just fine. I know that Red will not, cannot, stalk me again. Someday I’ll trust a man again. A normal man. Because Red was not a normal man in any sense of the word.
Red Smith wasn’t even human.
“Find your Soul Mate. We have the entire planet earth to help you find your match. He or She is out there. Sign up and we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.”
I never did get around to suing Soulmate.com or cash in on that guarantee. This is mostly because they’d never believe me anyway; like the cops would never believe me. Heck, my own mother wouldn’t believe me.
The “comment” window was the last field to complete before sending my vital statistics off to cyberland to await the choices of handsome, dashing and debonair men who would view my picture, some personal information and read the comment I was about to compose. After the read, they’d send Soulmate.com their information and picture which would be forwarded to me for my decision to pursue or not to pursue.
“I love to garden and watch the lovely birds. While it might be a bit corny, my ideal man would be like my favorite songbird, the cardinal. Male cardinals are not only lovely with their burning red feathers, they are excellent singers, adore their lifelong mates, and are as dedicated to their children as any female. If you are anything like this bird, and like what you see and read, please respond. My nest is a bit lonely.”
Well I thought it was cute. I reviewed all my information then clicked the “send” key straight-away.
Soulmate.com sent me five replies the very next day. As each profile crossed my email I mentally eliminated each for some problem as I perceived it. One had no job yet but was “seriously working on it”. Another talked of strawberries and lovely toes on slender, high-arched feet. Yeah, it takes all kinds I supposed. When I clicked on the email from a “John Smith” I was skeptical after only reading the header. No one really had such a name, did they?
It was when I clicked on the picture of John Smith I almost fell over from the shock. For John Smith had the most electrifying, outrageous, unruly, gorgeous head of red hair I’d ever seen.
“When I saw your reference to the cardinal I couldn’t resist. :>
I don’t know if I have all the personality characteristics you admire in the bird but I’d like to think so. With hair like this you have to know the cardinal is also my favorite bird. I’d love the chance to correspond with you. If nothing else, we both like birds.”
I read John’s comments with a slight smile. It was kind of cute, him with all that red hair and everything. I noted he lived just north of the Pennsylvania line, only 60 or so miles away. He had a job at a peanut factory and looked forward to settling down and having “lots of children”. I dashed off a response and within the hour Soulmate.com forwarded his answer.
Within the week I gave John my email address, within the month my phone number, and within a few more months, I agreed to meet him in person.
“I can’t believe it! That hair is really real!” I greeted John with a big hug then ran my fingers over his head seeking the wig cap or any indication that his wild and woolly mop was a fake. It was not.
John and I had learned quite a bit about each other during our cautious “relationship”. I told him about my brief but tragic marriage; married at 18, abandoned at 21 . Hesitantly I mentioned that at my then age of 28 I wanted very much to have a special relationship that would lead to something better. John responded to everything about me in such a positive manner that I actually began to hope this might work out.
We sat down to eat Chinese as we had planned.
“With your hair so unruly, why do you let it grow so long?” I asked him over Mai Tais.
He shrugged. “A sign of my manhood.”
An odd response I pondered. John’s hair was not only glowing red, it was naturally curly. It was a good eight to ten inches long from his scalp center part. This sort of hair is not normally considered a sign of raging masculinity.
After our pleasant meal, John begged me to let him come pick me up at my apartment next time. I agreed enthusiastically. We’d made it through emails, phone calls, meeting in a neutral locale. I was ready to invite him into my life. I jotted my address and directions down on notebook paper, kissed John lightly on the cheek, and agreed to cook him dinner at my place the following week.
That’s when the trouble really started. Not, as would be suspected, when John came to my apartment. The trouble started the day after that Chinese meal but John, at least so I thought, had nothing to do with it.
I was pulling up yet more bindweed in the apartment complex garden when, of all things, the cell phone in my hip pocket jingled. I carried the cell phone around with me at all times in case of an emergency call from my job. As a computer technician I’d learned long ago that your life was never really your own. Some dolt can’t boot up his machine for being unplugged and you’re called in there to troubleshoot. The day of the bindweed I was fourth in line for emergency calls and couldn’t believe my services were needed.
“This is Martha Robinson,” I answered with my cell phone response.
“Hi. I miss you.”
I had no idea who was on the line but was pretty sure it wasn’t anyone from work.
“I think you have the wrong …” but I couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Martha. It’s Red.”
“John?” I asked because John had told me his friends called him Red. Still, it was odd for him to be calling me on the cell phone and odd for him to be introducing himself to me by his nickname.
By then I was perplexed but also delirious because John had called me and I was a bit worried I might not hear from him again.
“Why are you calling me on my cell phone?”
“Because you’re not in the house, silly. I wanted to talk to you, not your answering machine.”
Right there I should have been tipped off but silly me, I didn’t even stop and think about how John knew I was outside. Right there I was just too happy and didn’t want to offend him in any way.
We talked about our date the prior evening, where we might go the next time, my life as a computer technician.
“I better let you go back to your bindweed,” John said after ten minutes of our friendly chatter. I blew a kiss through the phone line and rang off.
How did he know I’d been wrestling with bindweed? I question this now but at the time the query didn’t even cross my mind.
This is how it went the rest of the week. Every time I was outside, the cell would ring. John called me in the early evenings on the regular line as well but he never talked long during those conversations. He was always too tired, ready to turn in he would tell me, though he never called later than 7 pm. We talked our chattiest on the cell phone.
The day John showed up for my home-cooked meal, lasagna and garlic bread, was also the first time I noticed the cardinal outside my patio sliding door. I’d offer the birds plenty of sunflower seed so a cardinal flying in at twilight wasn’t at all unusual. This particular cardinal was a bit peculiar. First, he hopped especially close to the sliding door and always when I was walking by. Cardinals are normally shy birds. And while they might get more comfortable with time, I’d never seen a cardinal as friendly as this one. In fact, I kneeled down on my side of the window, tapped the glass in greeting and was surprised no end that he didn't fly away. Instead, the bird tilted his head and neck in a manner that the eye on his head closest to me could see my entire body. It was adorable. I considered that this bird might have somehow been tamed in some manner by another human.
John arrived promptly at 7 pm, complete with a bouquet of flowers and, of course, that amazing head of hair. This time I noticed some oddities that I couldn’t dismiss. Most important was John’s passion for the Mrs. Smith’s frozen pumpkin pie in my freezer and his insistence that I take it out and bake it up. His constant yawning unnerved me. In my entire life I’d never met a man who totally blanked out at seven o’clock in the evening.
John dawdled over the lasagna and garlic bread but when I pulled the Mrs. Smith pumpkin pie from the oven, he positively devoured it.
“I have always loved pumpkin,” he explained his pie gluttony.
“I get up at the crack of dawn to go to work,” he further explained his evening fatigue.
By this time, for I’m not a total idiot, I began to piece together odd bits of John’s behavior. I finally noted that the man phoned me on the cell phone when I was out in the garden but I don’t know how he knew. I figured maybe he called my home phone first and when I didn’t answer, perhaps he immediately dialed my cell. So I turned off the answering machine. As soon as I began deadheading the petunias, the cell phone rang. John and I had a perfectly normal conversation as usual. Not once did he mention the answering machine not engaging.
The next day I’d just begun to fill the bird feeders when the cell phone rang.
“You ought to put out safflower seeds,” John said as soon as I answered.
“Safflower seed is expensive,” I responded defensively without bothering to ask how he knew I was filling with any seed at all.
“Yes but the squirrels eat most of the sunflower seed, did you know that? Unless your goal is to spend all your seed money on the squirrels, you’d be way better off with safflower seed. Squirrels don’t like safflower. And squirrels are a real pain don’t you think?”
I did so think and launched into an expletive-filled rant on moles and voles and squirrels as representative of all evil on the planet.
The tame cardinal also visited me throughout the week. I discovered that he would appear at the window when I tapped three times. I thought it was such a neat thing that I told John to stop by for a surprise. A cardinal that would come when called I thought to be quite an intrigue. John, I was convinced, will surely think this is amazing.
Only no matter how many times I tapped, the cardinal wouldn’t come. John scratched his wild hair but waited politely for my “surprise” that didn’t appear.
“Aw, it’s okay,” John said. “Animals do what they want to do. For what it’s worth, I believe you.”
Since John was working, he drove a truck for the peanut factory and had stopped by at my request, he had to leave. I regretted having bothered him for the silly cardinal that always came before when I’d tapped.
John was gone only five minutes when I tapped the window tentatively. Within seconds the pretty red bird appeared on the other side of the glass and did that sweet head tilt though this time I wanted to slap him silly.
It took me about two months before I realized I was being stalked and another month before I realized my stalker was a bird. A beautiful red bird that somehow called me on the cell phone, always with the same greeting, “Red calling.” The tame cardinal at my window was, I was then sure, my stalker.
John Smith was also my stalker.
For that bird and John Smith were one and the same.
So how was I going to explain this to the police?
Cardinals love pumpkin seeds. Cardinals retire for the night right at dusk. They awake with the dawn to begin searching for food, perhaps peanuts. Cardinals are extremely protective of their potential mates. Cardinals do not eat lasagna.
It was the night when my apartment’s maintenance man happened to be fixing my sink when John arrived for what was only about our fourth date that I knew I had enough. Of course I’d long ago realized that the fact that we rarely met after dark, that the bulk of our relationship consisted of cell phone conversations, was weird, but by that time I was more concerned with my bird stalker than any future relationship with the thing. Though this bird-man had never tried to harm me, I was finding the act of disentangling myself to be more difficult then I thought.
John went crazy when he saw the maintenance man and before I could intercede, he jumped on the man and began pummeling him with his fists. It was time for me to call the police. Cardinals are vicious fighters and will fight to the death for their mate.
The police came and managed to pull John off of the maintenance man. Before they could hold him down for handcuffing, John took off. The police searched the hill behind my apartment but I knew they were wasting their time. High on a nearby maple tree I could see a flicker of red feathers. The cops would never find John up in that tree.
I did the only thing I could. Right after changing my cell phone number, of course, and after putting serious vertical blinds on my patio window.
I accepted my company’s offer of a chance to relocate to their California division. The thought of my hellish life with a bird stalker and absolutely no way out prompted me to take the plunge, something I’d never do unless overwhelmingly pressed.
Now it is all but a distant, perhaps unbelievable memory. And I’d almost accept that the whole thing was but a crazy dream but I know better.
For not only is the California sun warm and sweet, my stalker would never haunt me again.
There are no cardinals in the state of California.