Birds of a Feather

by Karen Bradley
 

Mildred Johnson sat down on her favorite park bench with a newspaper and a cup of coffee, just as she had every morning at 8:30 for the past ten years. She loved the quietude of her mornings in the park. Minimal humanity.  She pulled a mirror out of her purse, combed her white hair and licked her red lips, before settling in to the front page news.

"Hey Millie! I see it's still all about your looks, isn't it?" said a familiar voice.

 

Mildred looked all around her and saw no one there.

 

"Down here."

 

She looked to the sidewalk to see a pigeon strutting back and forth in front of her feet.

 

"Yeah, it's me talking to 'ya," the bird said, opening and closing its beak as the words came out. She gasped, suddenly recognizing the voice and wondering how and when she'd lost her mind. Her heart began to beat erratically. She turned around to make sure no one could see her before she looked directly at the bird.

 

"John? Is that you?" Her voice quavered.

 

"In the flesh, or I guess I should say, 'in the feathers.'  You didn't think I'd miss our anniversary, did you?" He chuckled in the way she remembered he used to when he was being sarcastic. She still hated the sound of it.

 

"Our anniversary? It's not our anniversary. We were married in June. Today is May 16th."

  
She sat up straight as she noticed a young woman in shorts, with a little boy and a basset hound, just a few yards away. They were headed in her direction.

 

"Oh, it's that goddamned dog that tried to chase me when I was over by the bridge," the pigeon said before flying up to a branch in a nearby tree.

 

Mildred mustered up a grandmotherly smile as they passed by. The boy pushed a toy truck along with his foot. A bumble bee lay on its back in the bed of the tiny vehicle, its legs barely moving. As the sidewalk took a steep incline, the truck rolled away from him. He giggled and ran after it.

 

The pigeon waited until they were at least ten yards away before flying down again and continuing the conversation.

 

"I'm not talking about our wedding anniversary, you dumb broad. I'm talking about the anniversary of my death. Remember? When you put the arsenic in my chicken soup?" His black eyes glinted in the morning sun.

 

Mildred's heart began to pound. She felt light headed.  With an age-spotted hand, she reached into her purse for her heart medicine. She fumbled with the cap and dropped the bottle. It followed the path of the toy truck, down the incline. No one was in sight to help her.  Desperate for her pills, she stood up on shaky legs. All at once, she couldn't breathe and the trees began to spin around her. A heavy pressure grasped her chest and would not let go. She was vaguely aware of pain when her right elbow hit the cement. Then the darkness settled over her.

 

Meanwhile, John watched the whole thing from the grass. He let out another chuckle and stretched his wings.

 

"Yes. Payback can be sweet."

 

He turned his back to her lifeless body and flew away.