Here is 17th Contest entry #13:
My Weekend With Woody
Silver balloons hang all around my house. They dangle from eaves, the balcony, and windows. Donnie and I saved for over twenty years to buy this place. Now it looks like a bordello.
The man at the Department of Natural Resources said woodpeckers are protected. We can't harm a feather on their pointy little heads. Not even to defend our home. He also said they like cedar siding. I made a few more calls and found out that our house isn't protected by any agency. No one cares if it's pecked to pieces. Donnie says he isn't surprised. He likes to play the cynic, but I know him better than he knows himself. Donnie secretly hopes to be surprised. In my book that makes him an optimist.
The DNR man told me to replace the cedar siding with aluminum, or hang silver balloons around the house. Woodpeckers hate silver. Siding is expensive.
Mr. DNR doesn't know this woodpecker. Woody's a wily pecker. Street smart, the bird world's version of an inner city kid. He laughs at the balloons and pecks away. I'll say this for him, he's industrious. He can put a hole in the house faster than I can reheat last night's leftovers. And his holes are always symmetrical. Gotta admire that in a bird.
It's Saturday and I'm home alone. Donnie's away on his annual duck-hunting weekend. He lives for these three days in October. Donnie always tells me how much he needs the time away from the stress of everyday life. Like I need convincing. I have stress, too. After the boys left yesterday I put a mudpack on my face. I'm not sure what that's supposed to do, but when I rinsed the mask off my cheeks felt as tingly as a 4th of July sparkler.
I doubt the guys will get much hunting done. The weather's lousy, one of the fellas just had knee surgery, and I saw how many cases of beer Donnie put in the truck. I love watching him get ready for these trips. Back and forth from the house to the garage, his forehead wrinkled in a scowl and his mouth curled in a smile. Up and down the stairs, carrying camouflage boots, pants, tops, vests, hats. He even has a camouflage boat. That's another reason I don't think they'll get much hunting done. The boat's still sitting next to the garage. Maybe he didn't see it. I know, lame joke. But I like to amuse myself, and I got a chuckle out of it.
Saturdays are the most relaxing days of the long weekends. By then I'm used to being alone, and I'm not listening for the truck like I am on Sundays. Saturdays may be the most relaxing, but Sundays are the best. Donnie comes in the door wearing dirty, smelly clothes. His cheeks and chin are bristly with whiskers, his hair is wild and messy, and his eyes look tired. Then he sees me and it's like someone flipped a switch. A light goes on in his eyes and they shine at me. He smiles till I can see the dimples underneath his scratchy beard.
He always gives me a big hug, and then pulls away and says, "I must smell like a goat. Talk to me while I shower, Meg. I missed the sound of your voice." No kidding, he really says that. I'm not mentioning this to be mushy or to paint Donnie as a softie. I'm just trying to prove a point. Every year, right before he leaves, I have to say things two and three times because he tunes me out. I don't know what the point I'm trying to prove is, but there has to be one. Such a major change over a just few days has to mean something, doesn't it?
After Donnie's shower we go to the kitchen and I make soup. He sits at the island and tells me how he almost got a duck, but Matt tipped the boat or Jimmy sneezed, and he missed his shot. Those October Sundays are the best.
Enough woolgathering. It's still Saturday, and the house is chilly. Nothing like a fire to chase away the autumn cold and damp. When we first moved in we had a regular fireplace. Donnie wouldn't hear of converting it to gas. Must be a man thing. After two winters of stacking wood and scooping ashes he changed his mind. Now we just turn a knob, hold a cigarette lighter to the fake logs, and presto! We've got heat and ambiance.
I settle back on the couch and watch the flames. Peck. My ears prick up. Damn that bird! He's a psychopath. I stand, telling myself it's now or never. Left unchecked Woody will have our house looking like Bonnie and Clyde's car after their final shootout.
If I'm caught I'll act dumb, and the authorities will believe I didn't know about their bird protection rules. They'll just give me a stern warning. That's an advantage women have, a lot of men think we're clueless. With Donnie safely away I can take care of the whole messy business and probably won't do one day of hard time. If he were home it would be another story. They'd cart him off to the hoosegow.
Donnie gave me a BB gun for my birthday. People think that's a stupid present, till I show them the ring he also gave me. It's gold, with a genuine diamond chip on the top. Donnie's like that, sweet and sour. I rummage in my sock drawer until I find the gun. I'll need a coat, something that will blend in. I pull my brown suede jacket from the closet and tug it on. Tissues in case my nose gets runny. Dark shoes. I'm ready to bag a bird.
Outside the wind makes my eyes water, and I hope that doesn't interfere with my aim. Woody hears me and takes off, like he always does. That's okay, I need time to build a woodpecker blind. I sit in a dead flowerbed next to the fence and pile red, gold and brown leaves around me. I bring my knees to my chest, making a handy brace for the gun. Something to help keep my hands steady. Woody comes back and I lower my head, looking over the barrel to make sure I've got him in my sights.
The trigger's stuck. It won't budge. What theoh! The safety. Woody takes off. That's okay, I need time to figure out where the safety is and how to work it. My nose and eyes need a quick swipe with a tissue.
Peck. He's back and I'm ready. The trigger moves, but nothing happens. I look at the gun, twisting it from one side to another. When I point the barrel downward a gray ball rolls out and lands at my feet. Woody takes off. That's okay, I need time to figure out how to work a BB gun.
I aim at a leaf dangling on a tree limb and pull the trigger. Nothing. This time no little gray ball lands at my feet when I lower the barrel. I hear BBs rattling around inside the gun, knocking against each other like my teeth do during a thunderstorm. What theoh! Doesn't Donnie pump his BB rifle when he uses it? I look for a lever to pump. There isn't one. Well, hell. I stand, brush dirt and leaves off my clothes, and go inside.
I'm sure the gun came with a manual, but knowing that doesn't do me any good. Donnie always says instructions are only manufacturers' suggestions. He uses the papers that come with all our new stuff as coasters, and then throws them away when they start getting soggy. See what I mean about Donnie? Sweet and sour. He ignores directions but takes care not to leave rings on our tables.
I've watched Donnie use his BB rifle enough times to know how it works. I put my gun on the table and get Donnie's rifle out of the cabinet. Pellets rattle when I shake it, and I nod my head in approval at Donnie's preparedness.
Woody hears me and takes off when I come back out. That's okay, I need time to resettle in my woodpecker blind. Sitting down, knees drawn up, leaves piled around me, rifle aimed; I'm ready. Woody's back. I scrunch my eyes shut and squeeze the trigger. The shot is as loud as a cannon.
Oh boy, this is awful. I killed something. Damn, damn, damn. It happened so fast, and now I want to turn the clock back a few minutes and undo the carnage. The wetness in my eyes isn't from the wind. He was just a bird, for heaven's sake. Doing what birds do. And I had to go and kill him. I open my eyes a slit, hoping the corpse isn't too bloody.
He's not there. Not on the ground or in the bushes. His family must have come for him while I sat in the dead flowerbed, surrounded by dead leaves, and cried for a dead bird. They must have swooped in and carried him off.
I blow my nose and go inside.
I need a drink. A real one; this isn't a Snapple moment. My nerves crackle like downed power lines. We could have re-sided. What's money compared to a life?
I sit at the island in the kitchen and take a huge sip of my drink, then another. I'm feeling calmer now, and set the wineglass down in front of me. That Chardonnay sure goes down smooth. The glass is half-empty. Or half-full. You decide.
If I drink enough maybe I'll forget for awhile. Is that why Donnie and the boys always bring beer with them to the cabin? To forget? Of course, they don't do any real killing. Not like me.
What's that noise? Is that a peck? Yes! And not just any peck, it's Woody's! No other bird sounds like him. Somehow he survived the attack. I told you he was wily.
"Thank you," I say, looking up toward heaven. I'm not a killer. If I were younger, or just more agile, I'd jump up and click my heels together. Instead I dash outside, chase the menace off, and in that instant my life is back to normal. So's Woody's.
I shut off the fireplace, another nice thing about converting to gas. They shut off as easy as they turn on. Then I pick up my purse, and grab my coat. Maybe the genius at the DNR was wrong. Maybe woodpeckers are afraid of gold, not silver.
Things are turning out so good, I begin to hum a song as I back down the drive. I'll have a great story for Donnie's shower, and gold balloons will look better than silver ones with our cedar siding.