His birdhouse books were lined left to right on the shelf in order of size. All were upright except the last three lying flat for lack of a bookend. His scrap wood was tucked on the beams above his head and according to type; fir, cedar, aged cedar, barn wood and mossy greying treasures. His prized shingles were loosely bundled and off to one side. Herbie had boxes of what he called his accoutrements; old taps, doorknobs, glass cupboard pulls, knots and what-have-you that he had collected from garage sales, dump sites and second-hand stores. He had even taken the odd button from the dry cleaners where he worked and slipped it into his pocket on the sly. After all, who would miss a button? A subdivision of unique bird homes was balanced on a thick plank at eye level. Some of this collection had potted trees, others rock chimneys. There were one-storey bungalows and two-and three-storey character habitats. As they were more for decoration, he didn’t think a bird would be the least bit interested in setting up housekeeping in them but placed in a back yard and forgotten, they settled in and mouldered and took on the patina of graceful aging.
On this particular Sunday, Herbie Thistle took to his workshop in back of the cottage, an out-of-square ramshackle building that he used to construct his birdhouses. Although the building looked neglected from the outside, the inside was clean and organized. Normally on a Sunday, Herbie would be taking flowers to his mother’s grave but he’d told her on his last visit that he’d be missing this week so he could work on his constructions. He had been missing out on the last two craft fairs in the park as the woman who sold them for him, Lista Labinski, had been trying and failing to sell her own full-skirted dolls that daintily concealed a roll of toilet paper. However Lista had acknowledged that most of her sales were his and she missed the commission he paid. She had called to say she would now resume giving him part of her table if he was interested.
Herbert Thistle loved his mother. Not many that knew him in his backwater kind of town would deny that. Herbert walked with purpose on this spring-like Wednesday, favouring his gimpy left leg, along the narrow paths of the graveyard, brushing through the overhanging willows to reach his mother’s grave. He made the journey on his days off, Wednesdays and Sundays, to visit and rearrange the trinkets and floral tributes he had left on previous occasions. Mrs. Thistle had liked her trinkets and had been especially fond of ceramic cocker spaniels. Herbie had partially dug spaniels into the sandy soil surrounding the headstone and they appeared to be emerging from the grave and another assortment of similiar spaniels was having a picnic in the grass. Their main course was a headless bunny, once a saltshaker.
His mother’s cottage was just the right distance from the cemetery. Not so far that one would get winded but not close enough that it felt uncomfortable. She had passed on Sept. 9th. An auspicious day--09/09/09. As a marriage commissioner, Ethel Thistle had travelled the area performing her brand of weddings. To keep things interesting, she would hold sway over the wedding party and the guests with stories of past nuptials. At the last few ceremonies she had worn a soft, foam neck brace as she had been involved in a car accident--her fault entirely. They always were. But she wore her neck brace proudly, hoping someone would ask her the reason for it. And if they did, for twenty minutes she would regale them with the incident while the bride consulted her watch every thirty seconds.
As her closing number, with the wedding over and the guests still present for the signing of the official papers, Herbie’s mother would entertain them with a couple of choruses of “When I’m Cleaning Windows”. The guests loved her and clapped enthusiastically for the performance. Thus, at seventy-one years of age, she could come away from the whole service looking cute. But cute only went so far.
Following her last wedding of the afternoon on September 9th--she had officiated at four that day--she told Herbie she could use a cup of tea, then after hanging up her purple wedding ensemble to shrug into her thin flannel nightgown, she took to her bed. Herbie brought the tea up to her room and set it down on the nightstand. She thanked him, which was most unusual, and patted his hand. The next time he checked, she was dead, the teacup and saucer balanced on her motionless breast. He stood stunned, not believing someone as vital as she could actually die. But she didn’t look as fearsome in death as she did in life. The lines around her mouth had relaxed.
Herbie was an orphan at thirty-eight.
copyrighted Maureen Foss