13 January 2009

A Visit From Brother Heron

Heart sat on the rocks at the waterline, tossing pebbles out onto the thin sheet of ice that lay out in front of him like a green-black mirror. The faint tiktiktik of the stone against ice reminded him of cat claws on a hardwood floor. It formed a counterpoint to the slow ticking in the engine of his mind, cooling rapidly after a long hard, drive.

He felt like shit. Shit on ice, as the rocks digging into his ass reminded him. It was cold.

Another three pebbles on the ice as Heart tried to sink them into the little patches of open water outlining the jagged stones. He missed all three, eliciting a wry smile as he recalled that he never was good at basketball. I ain’t got game, he sighed, never have, maybe never will. He looked down into the gaps between the bigger stones to root out some more pebbles. The raspy noise of dirt against stone was astonishingly loud in the quiet, cold air. It nearly drowned out a low swish-splash to his right. Heart jumped slightly, startled. His heartbeat spiked a little, and he froze in place.

Out of the corner of his eye, Heart could see a big blue heron standing among the rocks, not three feet from where he sat. Heart thought the bird unusually tall until he realized that was because he was sitting down and the bird was standing up. The heron fluffed his wings out quickly and looked right at Heart, with an eye of opalescent gray. Brother Heron was back, and he spoke.

Heart, you keep crying like that and that snot is going to freeze to your face” the heron said in a raspy tenor, “and it’s going to ruin those supermodel eyes”. Heart grinned, embarrassed, and reached for the tissues in his coat pocket. He hurriedly wiped the tears and mucus from his nose and cheeks.

Heron, good to see you. It’s been awhile.”
“Reckon it has, chico. This weather has been bad. Keeps the softies away from the lake.”
Brother Heron cocked his head, fixing his gaze on Heart.

So what brings you here, my wayward son?

Heart looked over and replied, “A little spiritual crisis, I think.”

Why does that not surprise me? Actually, I guessed from the look on your face. What did you do this time?”
“Brother, you know how sometimes you outrun the wolves, but sometimes they outrun you?”
The heron stood very still. He then opened his beak slightly and a sound like the squeak of a rusty hinge came out, almost a laugh.

“Well, I have more of a problem with dogs around here, but, yeah, I get it.”
“Yesterday, the wolves caught up to me. I was…you know…that cloud of anger thing. Couldn’t get away from it.”
“The kids?”
Brother Heron swallowed as he eyed something in the shallows.
“Yep. In my head again. I may have said some things…”

Brother Heron croaked again, this time raising his beak to the sky. He lowered his gaze and sighed, at least in so far as a heron can sigh.

Heart, you…well, I guess you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t running your mouth about something. Let me guess: God problem, chapter 50.”
“Yeah, something like that. He still makes me lose my shit sometimes.”

Brother Heron stepped forward suddenly, quietly, like a stop-action figure as he froze, one foot up in the air an inch above the water. He was peering intently at something below the surface. Heart knew enough to keep silent and not move. Brother Heron lunged forward, a blue-green bolt of lightning plunging a needle beak into the lake. Just as quickly he brought his head back and tilted it up into the air. Clutched in the tip of the beak was a small silver-green fish. It wriggled briefly until Heron snapped his head back, quick as a sushi chef with a knife, the fish disappearing into his gullet. Heron clacked his beak in satisfaction.

“You miss those kids still, don’t you?” The tone in his voice indicated he already knew the answer. Brother Heron really knew how to draw people out.

Heart replied, “Yeah, every day. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. It always hurts. And the pain makes me crazy. If I could gnaw a limb off and get out of that trap, I would. But how do I gnaw off my own head?”
“I don’t reckon you could. Besides, as big as your head is, that would take too long. Probably die of boredom before you finished.”

Heart couldn’t help it. He burst into a belly laugh.

“I suppose you’re right, Brother.”

Heart and Brother Heron grew quiet, two statues at the waterline. There were some gulls out on the ice in a thick grey-white cluster. The two companions could see ducks and geese in the few patches of open water in the ice. There was a faint murmur of bird calls echoing across the lake. Aside from a lone jogger in the far side, there were no people. Thirty heartbeats went by before Brother Heron spoke again.

“He didn’t abandon you, you know. God, that is.”

Heart snorted. “Heron, you quite literally have a bird brain. Why should I believe you?”

Brother Heron did not reply. He fluffed his feathers, flapped his wings and continued to look out over the lake. He didn’t move for a long time. Heart was about to open his mouth when the heron suddenly said, “I saw your Gramma a short while ago.” Heart paused, surprised.

“You saw Gramma? You are freaking me out, bro. Where?”
“Out birdwatching. I see her all the time, we talk now and then. She’s quite fond of you, her knucklehead grandson.”
“I miss her, too. She always did like birds. I remember that pair of big binoculars she kept, Big Bro and I would always play with them when we went to her house.”

Heart grew silent, throwing some more pebbles out on the ice, clikclikclik. Heron watched the pebbles skitter and slide until they disappeared into a hole in the ice.

Heart said, “Come to think of it, I remember seeing you there, Heron.” Heron looked at Heart, and inscrutable eye scanning Heart’s face. “Yeah, in that big bird book she had, the Audobon hardback with all the color paintings.”

Heron clacked his beak and said, “Nah, that wasn’t me, probably a great-great-something or other of mine. I’m not that old.”

Heron looked straight into Heart’s eyes. “Heart, do you remember what you asked Gramma just before she died, that last time you saw her in the hospital?”
“How could I forget? I asked her if she was afraid to die.” Heart tensed as he felt something move in his chest.
“And what did she say?”
“She said no, she wasn’t afraid to die. She told me she had lived a good, long life, she had a lot of friends and…”
His voice broke off. Heron spoke up, “And?”

Heart swallowed hard, a flood of memories pouring out of his brain and lodging in his throat. He swallowed fiercely, pushing them down and away. He could feel them wrapping around his heart. His reply was a whisper.

“She said she wasn’t afraid to die because…God…was going to take care of her.”

Heart dropped his head, a fat ball of tears rolling down his nose and dripping into his lap. He convulsed trying to stifle a scream of anguish. Brother Heron shifted his stance to ready himself for take off. He spread his blue-green wings and said in a voice gentle for such a big bird,

“Don’t forget that, my brother.”

Two muscular flaps of his wings and Brother Heron was wafting his way across the lake, a gray shadow, slowly blending in with the light mist that was clinging to the surface of the water. Heart stood up to go, trying and failing to say goodbye. He watched the heron head for a clump of trees on the far bank; it landed with a grace that belied its size.

As he turned to go, Heart swore he saw someone standing next to Brother Heron, an old lady wearing a slightly tattered housecoat. She had a pair of binoculars in one hand and was waving to Heart with the other. Heart waved back, more out of surprise than courtesy. He blinked hard and she was gone, leaving Heron to search for fish and frogs amongst the wilted cattails on the bank. Heart hurried to his car, anxious for home and warmth.


  1. Hey Gumbo - where are you submitting this? Your sending stuff out to print magazines, right?

  2. YOU'RE I hate freaking typos. Make me crazy. Sorry to take up your comment space with my own petty issues.
    Your writing would still be brilliant even if riddled with typos.

  3. Michelle: thank you. i'm whispering because i have a really bad headache :(

    OAM: working on it. ironically, the job search is making it difficult to get organized to submit! and thank you for saying the writing is brallint, er, barllaint, er, GOOD. :)

  4. Dude.

    I want to write like you when I grow up.

    Good stuff.

  5. i'm with the others on this. it was beautiful and touching, mr. irish g. you're a good writer--keep on keeping on. :-)

  6. wow. Kevin- I really, really don't have the words. I feel as if perhaps you are some famous writer writing in cognito so that we can truly validate your talent.

    Cause you got game, man. You. got. game.

  7. I'm just glad we share the same first name!

  8. take a break from job seeking
    and make your mark in the world,
    and submit your work somewhere
    please.G-Maw would tell you the

  9. Mr Irish, you sure are somethin' else...

  10. what they said.
    i'm whispering, too, in case you still have a headache.

  11. I'm a sucker for a good story and I absolutely loved this. It's good to read something original - you'd think that'd be easy to come across, but it's not.
    If you're not already publishing your work, you really should.

    Anna xxx

  12. I have some raw grief of my own and this made me weep....in a good way, thank you.

  13. great! very great! now stop writing so well so I can actually focus on homework...=)

  14. Excellent story Gumby! Maybe you lost your job so that you can move into writing...Sometimes good comes from bad-yes?

  15. I'm really enjoying your stories, and I agree with everyone.... get them published!
    And I just discovered your name is Kevin. I like it. It's suits you. :)

  16. You got game, brother, you got game.

  17. How the hell do you write like this? Any pill I can take?

  18. a lovely story, very true-to-life.

  19. You're good. You're really good...

  20. Ploughshares - http://www.pshares.org/

    Grain - http://www.grainmagazine.ca/submissions.htm

    Glimmertrain -http://www.glimmertrain.com/writguid1.html

    A few suggestions. Damnit you are a brilliant writer.

  21. I guess you don't see how brilliant you are and that you can touch so many people with what you write. You can make a huge contribution to the world. I do think that he is carrying you until you can walk on your own.

  22. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THIS!! You must get it published! I am so appreciative of your writing ability and gift for story telling! Thank you for this!!! I am going to link it in my blog!!
    Blessings, Lisa

  23. Listen to anonymous...

    or I will KYA! *wink*

  24. Great stuff. This is a tear jerker for me.

  25. CPM: Thank you, I was hoping you would.

    Beth: Next time I’ll throw in a sweater :)

    cIII: Grow up? Crap, another thing to put on my To Do list. (thank you )

    shabby girl: Testimony out there, sister!

    Amy: Thank you. I will!

    Vodka Mom: Uh, I was kinda hoping you could tell me that (grin) No, I just have a big ol’ noggin full of ideas that have been fermenting for a while. Kinda like a big jar of sauerkraut, mmm,yumm…

    KMcJoseph: Crude? ;)

    Anonymous: Oh, I would love to. I am straining so hard against that leash…

    Braja: M’lady, I just wish I knew what that something was :)

    Pamela: (word) (thank you) (I’m aiight)

    Anna: Thank you! And I am gearing up to get the word out…

    Kris: You are welcome! And I am glad I could help.

    It’s All Good: Let’s just call it a ‘study date’…

    Sweet Cheeks: At first I didn’t think so, but now…things that make me go hmmm…

    Joanie: Thank you, and yes, ma’am. Thanks to my Mom for the name (Hi, Mom!)

    Captain: (High five) thanks, bro. Now, if I could just hit that 3 point jumper…

    bernthis: Go to your doctor, tell him you need a new med, spelled G-U-I-N-N-E-S-S…

    Sunny: Thank you. And it was indeed based on some true life experiences.

    Belle: *blush* Thank you. And I’ll say again, that profile pic, mmm, mmm…

    Laura: *blush* Thank you for the compliment and the links!

    Merrily: Thank you, and you’re welcome!

    Sandi: (bowing head) I hope so, and I welcome the help.

    Cw2smom: *blush* Yes, ma’am! And many, many thanks for the link. That is indeed an honor!

    Anndi: Have you been talking to my dad? Loud and clear, my dear, loud and clear…

    Syd: Thank you, it was for me too.

  26. May I ask how long it took you to write this? You are amazing!

    By the way, I just have to give you fair warning that I will be stealing a few of your words which I will probably use often. I will change it to first person, but they are still your words!I will give you credit though!

    I feel like shit. Shit on ice.


  27. Atmospheric and so beautifully written. I loved it.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...