A Bird in Hand can hurt


For an instant, which was time enough as my remaining life would be measured in instants, I reflected on how I had gone from a dedicated father and captain of his own ship to a drowning man at the mercy of a 14-year-old. And the girl hated me—because of a lousy pigeon.
Two days earlier, three a.m. and five days out of New York the weather was miserable. Rain rattled against the canvas windscreen, splashed through my slicker and trickled down my back. I was tired, wet and cold. Another hour until Karin would relieve me; even then I wouldn’t sleep well.
I wasn’t happy about allowing her along. Sure, she was an accomplished sailor. She should be after being brought up on a sailboat and trailing after me as I took one skipper’s job after another. But Karin had never gone on a long offshore jump—two or three weeks at sea on one of my yacht deliveries. She had been bugging me but she wasn’t ready. Then my partner broke his arm and I had no choice.
My musings were interrupted by a soft fluttering over the patter of rain followed by a muted thump. I turned, and there hunkered a confused-looking bedraggled dirty gray and dirtier white pigeon; a genuine New York street bird.
“Well, hello, Pidge. Welcome aboard.” I reached my hand out in greeting.
“Brrrrck.” Snap!
“Ouch!” I glared at him as blood oozed from a beak-tip-sized peck.
The bird glared back. Muttering, he tucked his beak under a wing while keeping a beady eye on me.
“Wow! Look at the pigeon,” Karin exclaimed. The bird appeared to be fast asleep.
“Watch out,” I warned, flaunting my wound, “he's armed and dangerous.”
Karin glanced aft as she took the helm. She had a soft spot for anything cuddly. Well, I had warned her; let her suffer the consequences.
A couple of hours later I was back on deck. Karin looked confident at the helm. Cuddled in her lap was the pigeon.
“How …?”
“He's friendly,” Karin gushed. “He came right over to me. You guys just got off on the wrong wing. C'mon and make up with Pidge.”
I tentatively outstretched my hand.
“Brrrrck!” Snap! “Ouch!” That was it.
In a rage I grabbed Pidge and tossed him overboard. He was supposed to fly but he didn't. Screeching, he fluttered into the water and disappeared in our wake.
Karin turned to me in astonishment.
“We have to get him.” Hysteria edged her voice
“That’s ridiculous…..” We couldn’t just reverse course. It would be impossible. But Karin’s expression forewarned a life of woe for me.
We turned back. Two hours later in the black of night and rising seas, the impossible happened. There, off the port quarter, we spotted the bird. But, it was dead, floating limply. Well, that was that.
“I’m sorry sweetheart,” I began bringing Taurus back on course.
“We have to get him.”
“There's no way. I can't leave the wheel...”
“I'll take the wheel,” she screamed, “Use the bucket to scoop him up.”
The bucket didn’t reach. I lay down on the foredeck and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d over the side bucket in hand to scoop up the dead bird. I slipped. My foot snagged in a deck stanchion. And there I was hanging upside down head under water looking up at the underside of Pidge. Scoop; I had him. Father drowns while retrieving dead bird to please daughter.
The engine slipped in and out of gear as Karin maneuvered Taurus. A line wrapped around my foot securing it to the stanchion. I forced my head out of the water. Karin glared down at me.
“Get back up here,”
I levered myself on deck hauling the bucket containing the dead bird and staggered aft.
I took the helm from Karin as tears streaming down her face she picked the bird out of the bucket. I reached over to show a far from heartfelt sympathy.
“Brrrrck.” Snap!
“Ouch.”
Pidge drew blood and glared at me with renewed malevolence; Karin let out a joyous shriek. Instead of grabbing him from her arms and giving his neck a good twist before tossing him, I managed a weak, “how wonderful.”
Pidge took off as soon as we made landfall leaving behind a yellowish splotch. Karin has become part of my delivery team. We take our cat with us now.

S Reininger

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