The Cardinal


What the Cardinal Saw ...

My father was a stern man. Thank God he never knew, Joshua, thank God. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if he had known? Now all I must do, can do, is write; that is all, but imagine if he had known.... Here, help me with this writing, Joshua. I need words.

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--Ha! Ha! feather her. I like that! let him ruffle her feathers for her. Let him stick it to her. I'd like to see that! Oh, my aching brain.

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--Now I am stuck, Joshua. What should he say next? When will I have him fly to the other window and look in? What will he see in there? I mean at first. Not what he will eventually see. I already know that--almost. It could be something like "Rear Window" with a twist--you know, through the bird's eyes. I wonder if Cardinals do it on a branch, in the air, or on the ground? Maybe I should check the library, ha! How can I find out? Not the kind of thing you see in bird books. That testosterone bit is a little heavy. How would he know all that? I may have to cut it. Hate to, though. Good thing I have a screen-blanker. If one of them came in here and started reading over my shoulder, looking in my Windows, he'd think I was nuts, nuttier than I am, anyway, or hard-up for a story. I might get moved up and out. Fortunately, Superior and his cohorts don't deign to come this way very often. He has seen enough already, and it makes me blush to think about it, Joshua. You should, too. What we two have done is already inscribed in the devil's scrolls. My heart is bad; maybe it's time, anyway. I'm getting tired of this room. Desk, chair, computer, bookcase, dresser, my bed. Boring place.

They told me to write. Said it would be good for me. Said it would help still my still-beating brain. Writing therapy they called it, eh, Joshua. They don't know about you. Keeping me company. We've been best friends since as long as I can remember. We were kids together. Even my mother didn't know about you, but she did sometimes hear me in my room talking. When she asked me, I just said I was talking to myself or to the birds on the window sill. She never found out about you, old friend. The others said writing would get me out of my doldrums, help cure my soul. God knows, I need help. But here I am struggling with words that won't come, or if they come they are too perverse to put down, and I am making a fool of myself in front of myself and you. What's an old man to do. An old man who knows nothing of the world outside his window but what his window sees, and the library tells him. Why can't I make that bird speak as well as you do, Joshua? I am still afraid, after all these years. Half the time when I look in the window I see only myself, looking back through all that greenery, like some Puck in a tree. Or the devil, maybe. This world's perverse, boys, perverse! Oh, thou Nature, thou art evil. Why am I compelled to write about thee like this? Joshua, you know better; tell me. Why so silent today?

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-- It all seems distant now. The stars have retreated into their cold dark silence. I can no longer catch them in my outreached hand. It is as hazy as looking through a dirty window pane. I am fearful. All I can do is look out my window and try to write. And the beating in my brain, my temples. I fear I shall go mad.

There he is again. He sure is bright in the spring when all his juices are in full flow and he has his new plumage, not yet battered or faded from the heat of the sun or full of the dust of summer. He's escaped the belly of the cat, that gray one that prowls the edges and lurks in corners and under the bushes. What's he thinking now? I wonder how long he's been looking in my window. "--or if a Sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel." Keats. I wonder how much he's seen. He sees each Sparrow fall. What about Cardinals? Maybe he's seen more than I've seen of him. I wonder if he looks in windows and sees people feathering each other. Does he like to do that? Perverse fellow! I bet he does. Confess! Confess! Now what's that Crow talking about from the top of the tall Spruce? Me? Is he calling or announcing? They all look like Crows the way they waddle in line. ... Speak.

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-- I wonder if I spelled testosterone right. (Enter spell-checker.) Ah, ok.

Maybe I can get some mileage from the Dictionary of Quotations. "Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." Ah ha,

When sparrows build, and the leaves break forth,
My old sorrow wakes and cries.

Why do others always say it better than I? Be penitent, oh my soul. Confess, confess, and bleed red blood. Cast yourself into yonder bird and partake of his humble existence. Joshua, help me here. You know more about these things than I do. You've been out in the world. I can't get the words right.

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-- This writing is like pulling a hard weight. Oh, Joshua. Or pushing, pushing the rock up the hill. Why am I in such torment? Each word is a thorn to my temple, a scourge to my back. I feel my back redden. It glistens in the morning sun. Oh I am scourged with reeds. My back is blistered by birch. The boys, oh, the boys! Don't blame them! ... Lighten, oh my soul. I am dragged down by the weight of the sticks (or is it Styx?), and the words stick in my mouth. Will I be a pillar of stone, or of salt? The humble bird flies free! My good old friend, help me with writing this. You have known me for a long time. They told me to get out of myself, to imagine something completely foreign from me, to pretend I was the creature that was my victim. To atone.

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-- Remember? Well how about some help now?

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-- What should I have him see? I am at a loss for words again. Or is it I am afraid to put them down? A crisis of imagination? I am overwhelmed by shame! I cannot think what I think I want to think. I cannot write what I think I want to write. My eye was always at the keyhole, the passage to Hades. Confess!

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-- Oh wretched eyes that did see such things! Now I am punished! Confess. Confess. And that Cardinal is singing so joyously! Cheer. What does he know that I don't? What does he know of my pain, of my inability, my frustration! My fingers move so slowly over these keys. I hunt and peck for words. Joshua, I am a worm crawling on the cement, and he is soaring, singing from the treetops, flashing his red feathers like a victor knight at a joust.

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-- Oh, my soul. My left arm is heavy. My shield weighs me down. I have been battered. I submitted. My left arm is heavy. My temple beats. Dies Irae.

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-- Oh, the forbidden memory arises. Down, down memory. I have placated you with prayers. I have confessed. Do not return. It sweeps over me like a wave of forbidden scents.

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-- There are the crows again. How they walk like nuns in a line, dipping their heads. They have a funny waddle. They have no color. Poor things. They have to stay all winter and endure the cold. I wonder, are they like Scotsmen? You know. Don't wear things under, you know, down there? I've always wondered about that. Joshua, what do you think? Might be drafty in winter. But that's their penance, I guess. Did they get caught under the covers, too? I wonder. I don't think so. They are too pure.

Joshua why do you mock me? You always mock me! You think I'm crazy don't you. Well I'm not. I'm as sane as you. I just don't like to go out of doors, that's all. What's wrong with that?

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-- Oh, you mock me you old wrangler, you! Joshua, this is the end! You are trying to strangle me. You have deceived me; all these years I thought you were my friend. Old childhood friend, I relied on you to get me through. Take your hands off my heart! Oh, my left shoulder, how it burns! My brain is beating!

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--He clutches at the phone. Fumbles. Knocks it off the hook. Dials. 9 - 1 - 1 - . . . .

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-- Oh, Lord! Joshua! The boys. I knew it all along! Damn it! The boys. God! you win! You win in the end.

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