© James J. Doyle 2012
He read the last two words, raised his eyebrows and scanned the audience over his black-rimmed glasses.
Clapping their hands, the listeners sat on chairs, lounged on sofas and squatted on the carpeted floor.
They appeared much like you.
The Storyteller stood and opened the second book.
“The Tale of Gryczzk the Ugly Bird.” He turned one page, another and then another.
After the title, there was nothing, not a word.
The remaining pages were blank.
He set the book down.
“Sorry, folks, but the tale seems to have disappeared.”
He thought for a moment and took off his sport coat.
“I guess we’ll just have to make it up as we go.”
Walking to two little girls sitting on a couch, he sat down on the floor in front of them and studied their faces.
“This bird was different,” the Storyteller began.
He paused and continued the tale.
In the nest, he did not look like the other little birds. He wasn’t one color. Dirty splotches of browns and yellows covered his bird body.
His first memories were the other little birds making fun, laughing and pointing with their beaks.
He grew bigger and stronger, and he started to fly with the other young birds. He beat them. He flew faster, higher and farther.
It didn’t help.
No one stayed around him.
The other birds didn’t care for him.
They didn’t help to clean his feathers.
One day, he just left.
He flew off.
* * *
Lonely Mountain was a barren place, with few trees and little grass.
There was no one else there.
No one lived there.
There was no one to make fun of him.
He was growing bigger, but his diet wasn’t good.
He was eating ugly bugs and the wrong kind of mice.
His talons were streaked and dirty, and he didn’t brush his beak.
He wasn’t taking care of himself, and he didn’t care.
* * *
From the rock ledge of Lonely Mountain, he saw the town.
He needed to fly, he liked to fly and his eyesight was amazing.
Soaring high above the village, he spied a yellowed crust of pizza and a fragment of carrot.
Swooping down, he landed, grabbed a decayed niblet in his beak, tossed it in the air and caught the moldy scrap in his mouth.
Aghast, the townspeople shrank back. Mothers pivoted their strollers to shield the babies. Little boys threw things and sneered “Gryczzk, Gryczzk, Go way, Gryczzk!!!”
The name stuck.
At the sight of Gryczzk in the sky, people lowered their heads as their smiles slipped to sad frowns.
* * *
He didn’t know his real name.
It is unusual, but sometimes you can forget your real name, especially if you are hurt and by yourself.
He had forgotten and now he was Gryczzk the Ugly Bird.
* * *
In that town, there were two little girls.
One day, those two little girls watched as Gryczzk dive bombed a dumpster, speared a piece of old fish and emerged covered with garbage.
Everyone else turned and walked away, but the little girls stayed.
They looked at the yellow and brown feathers. Some were broken and bent, sticking out at odd angles. The beak and talons were streaked with who knew what. Yehhkk. It was not a pretty sight.
Then, they both saw something.
“Maybe we can help him,” one said to the other, who nodded because she was thinking the very same thought.
“Ms. Margaret,” the other said to her sister, who nodded back.
* * *
“Ding . . . Dooong,” the door bell rang.
Ms. Margaret opened the door and saw the two little girls. Ms. Margaret was a retired teacher who lived a few doors down from the girls. She was very smart and kind.
“Is it time for cookies and milk?” Ms. Margaret asked.
“Yes, Ma’am,” they echoed. It was after-school time, and they often stopped by for a snack.
Seated at the kitchen table, they both took a polite bite and sip before one asked, “Can you help us with a bird?”
“Do I know this bird?”
“Yes, Ms. Margaret, you do,” the other answered. “It’s Gryczzk.”
Ms. Margaret shivered. That bird bothered her, but she trusted the instincts of the little girls.
“What do you want to do?” asked the teacher.
“We don’t know,” one said.
“How do we learn what to do?” the other said.
Ms. Margaret was a wise teacher.
She thought and she said, “I don’t know.”
She thought a little more and said, “Maybe, tonight, after you say your prayers and are falling asleep, you’ll have an idea.”
The little girls smiled, finished the cookies and milk, gave their friend a hug and ran home to do their homework.
* * *
Later that evening, after Mom and Dad had kissed them “Goodnight,” said “Sweet Dreams and Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite” and left the door almost closed with just a sliver of night light entering the room, the two little girls got out of bed.
On their knees, they prayed for a way to help Gryczzk.
Back in bed, with her eyes closed, one little girl whispered, “How about this?”
And her sister answered “How about this, too?”
And so it went, back and forth, as they fell asleep with a plan forming in their heads and in their dreams.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, especially if two people are close and are thinking about the same thing, they can have the same dream and they can remember it when they wake.
The girls ran upstairs, the dream began. It was after school.
“It’s good to see you two munchkins.” Mom was working in her home office. “There’s a snack downstairs in the kitchen. After you’re finished, can you help with the cleaning? I left the vacuum out.” The phone rang. “Got to take a call. I’ll check with you two later.”
The sisters smiled at each other. It was a perfect fit with the plan.
Downstairs, they went right to the vacuum, opened it and pulled out the dust bag. Together, they lifted the bag in the air above their heads, turned it over, started shaking and dusted each other with the dirt that was spilling out.
In a second, the two little girls were gone and two white doves streaked and splotched with dust and dirt were flying around the living room.
Bruno, the dog, jumped and yelped with excitement and ran head-on into the front door. “Smack.” He hit the door hard. It bounced open as the stunned dog watched the two little doves fly out.
“He’s up there,” one said in bird talk.
“We have to fly higher,” the other chirped.
Gryczzk was cruising over the town, high up, not really watching.
“Would you like some company?”
Startled, Gryczzk looked over to his left at a dirty little white dove.
“No, go away.”
“Want to be friends?” Gryczzk looked to his right at another messy little dove.
“No, I don’t need any friends.” Without thinking why, he added, “And you two need a bath.”
“So do you,” they chirped together, “and we know where to get one and some good food too.”
What was this, Gryczzk thought, the attack of the miniature dust-ball doves? At least, they didn’t put on airs and act high and mighty. In a small way, they reminded him of himself.
“Okay,” he said. “Where’s the food. I don’t need the bath.”
In bird talk they said together, “Land by the ‘bright-shiny’ tomorrow between ‘bright-dark’. The ‘little walkers’ will help you.”
“I don’t need any. . . .” He started to say “help,” but before he could the two birds were gone.
He couldn’t see them anywhere.
It was as if they had disappeared.
* * *
Waking the next morning, the girls smiled at each other, dressed quickly and rushed downstairs.
“Mommy, Mommy,” they cried from the stairs, “can you buy us some of those white grapes at the grocery?”
Their mom laughed. “Sit and eat your breakfast. Why the grapes?”
“It’s for the plan,” they echoed.
Raising her eyebrows, their mother almost asked why.
“Tell you what. If you help me, I’ll help you. For some reason, the living room seems dusty. Vacuum and dust for me after school, and the grapes will be waiting for you in the fridge when you’re done.”
“We’ll do it, Mommy.”
“You’re welcome. Now, off to school, you two little birds.”
Why did she call them that, she thought, as she ushered her girls out the door and waved them goodbye?
* * *
After school, in the little yard next to the house, the two girls put some of the grapes on a metal plate that reflected the afternoon sun. The plate was the “bright-shiny.” Birds can’t resist investigating a bright shiny light. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the “bright-dark,” half way between noon and sunset. The two girls, the “little walkers” in the way that birds see children, stood moving from one foot to the other, waiting.
Gryczzk landed beside the plate, plucked a grape in his beak, lifted his head and swallowed. He waited a second and then went for another.
The little girls approached with their hands behind their backs.
Gryczzk watched with one eye as he picked up another grape.
“It’s okay,” one said.
“We’re here to help you,” the other said.
Odd, thought Gryczzk, their voices sounded bird-like and familiar. He wouldn’t normally allow anyone this close, but these two little walkers were different. It seemed okay, like something he’d missed but didn’t know he needed.
Well, the grapes were good, and they were just little walkers. What could they do to a big ugly bird?
“You need someone to help you with your feathers.” The first little girl reached from behind her back, pulled out a pink hair brush and started smoothing away some of the dirt and weeds.
“And your toes are a mess.” The second little girl opened her dolly manicure kit, sprayed a talon with soapy water, wiped it with a clean cloth and started buffing.
Hmmmm, thought Gryczzk. It doesn’t hurt and the food is free.
He helped himself to another grape.
* * *
Every couple of days, he’d land when he saw the bright shiny light.
At first, it was just the two little girls. They brought him different foods, all clean and washed. He admitted it, the food was tasty and delicious. “Delicious” was a word the little walkers used. They talked to him and cleaned his feathers and feet, even his beak when he wasn’t snacking. He didn’t mind. In fact, he liked what they did.
Something was happening. He didn’t know how to say it. He liked being here. It wasn’t just the food. He liked being around the little walkers.
After a time, there were other children. They played and watched. Every once in a while, one of the little girls would lead a braver one over and introduce the friend with a name. He didn’t know the “name,” but he would look into the eyes and watch the movements to see that the new one had “clear-sight.” Then, he would allow the friend to straighten and brush his feathers while the little girls hovered about and chirped directions.
He’d said “No!” to the colored water on his talons. Enough is enough, especially for a big ugly bird, even if he does enjoy good food and a little attention.
They were a curious pair, those two little bird girls.
* * *
It was a Saturday afternoon, a week or two later.
The girls walked with their dad in the park near the house.
The big bird landed in front of them.
It was a really big bird, standing over three feet tall.
“Get behind me, girls.” Their dad spread his arms out and around the little girls, moving them behind him. “Don’t move. It may be dangerous.”
The bird turned its head and looked at the man.
“That’s the biggest whitest eagle ever,” the dad said. “I didn’t even know there were white eagles.” He turned his head and looked back at the bird. As he did, his arms relaxed just a little.
The girls rushed around and ran right at the eagle.
“Stop!” their dad called.
Before he could move, the two little girls reached the big bird, one on each side, leaned against the huge wings and smoothed the feathers with their fingers.
The eagle lowered his head and softly brushed the hair on the heads of the two little girls.
As the girls stepped back, the bird bowed to their dad and took off.
The bird was gone in an instant.
“You, you, know that bird? How? What?”
The two little girls laughed, took their daddy’s hands and started leading him back to the house.
“What’s his name?” their dad asked, gazing up into the sky.
“Gerard,” both girls said it at once.
They looked at each other because they didn’t know they were going to say that, but when they said the word, they knew that it was the eagle’s real name, the name that Gryczzk had lost.
“His name is Gerard,” they repeated.
“Gerard the White Eagle, I like it. He is a magnificent bird. You two are lucky to have such a friend.”
* * *
In the days and weeks that followed, the white eagle was seen more and more flying over the town. When he did, the townspeople raised their heads, stood on their tip toes and pointed as their smiles grew with happy, soaring, fun thoughts. People rushed to tell each other about the new bird. Without knowing why, they would think about things they could do to help each other.
* * *
At school, the two little girls sat in class. They both looked out the window, thinking about Gerard. When they turned back, they saw a new classmate. She was a little girl with big glasses, mis-matched socks and tangled hair.
At recess, the two little girls walked over and started talking and playing with the new girl.
The next day, some of their friends joined in a game. The little girl was smart and fast and she had a bright clear laugh.
Walking into the school the next week, the little girls met their new friend. They joked and ran up the steps together. No one noticed that the little girl with the big glasses had on matching socks and her hair was brushed back with cute little bird clips above each ear.
* * *
It was Earth Day.
As part of a school project, the little girls had helped to organize a clean-up at the park near the house. Their classmates and parents were all invited.
The little girl with the big glasses was there with her mommy, who had big glasses too. Her mother was a researcher at the medical center. She stood and watched as her daughter ran with the other children.
All of a sudden, the little girl’s mom screamed.
Gerard landed among the children.
Before anyone could react, could move a muscle, the little girl with the glasses ran to Gerard and gave him a hug.
Gerard bent down and rubbed the little girl’s head.
All the children came around, reached out and touched the white eagle.
The Storyteller read the last two words, raised his eyebrows and smiled over his big glasses at the two little girls on the couch.
“White eagles are rare. When young, they are splotchy brown and dirty yellow. It takes time for the white to shine through. Sometimes, they need help.”
Standing, the Storyteller gazed at a far window.
“Gerard isn’t at Lonely Mountain. He lives in a tall green tree near the big river on the other side of town, and he eats good clean fresh fish and watercress sandwiches. He has a friend. She helps to keep his feathers bright and lined up. The other day, when Gerard flew over the town, the girl eagle, Mrs. Gerard, was with him. Behind them were three little eaglets, struggling to keep up, and one, the strongest, was white.”
Kneeling beside the two little girls, who were starting to fall asleep, the Storyteller spoke softly.
“Next time you see a big dark bird flying way up there in the sky, stop and think. Is there someone who with some help could be just as much fun as the little girl with the big glasses or even a large dusty eagle in need of a bath? Maybe that big dark bird is really Gerard in disguise, and he’s checking to see if you remember ‘The Tale of Gryczzk the Ugly Bird.’”