Victor Phillips, recently retired after four decades’ career in natural resources management and education, shares time between Wisconsin’s Fresh Coast and Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. His hobby interest in writing short stories fulfills a lifelong passion in creative fiction, especially those with uplifting endings. His former professional writings—technical scientific works—are approved to cure insomnia.
Once upon a time, a drab bird lived a dull existence. At long winter’s end, he and his mopey wife both felt weak and tired. Eventually the sun climbed higher in the spring sky.
“Guess it’s time to start a family,” she chirped, despite her exhaustion.
“I’ll collect twigs for a larger nest,” he replied.
Both were resigned to the task and outcome without understanding why. He toiled away making preparations. Responsibly, he put seeds on the table. She completed her share of tedious chores feathering the nest.
With everything made ready, they led a ho-hum life until a clutch of five eggs arrived. Taking turns, they spent many increasingly anxious days sitting on their eggs. With harrowing acrobatics and narrow escapes, they diverted predators from the nest’s hidden location.
At last, pecking through their shells, the chicks emerged hungrily. Now more fatigued than ever, the couple dutifully foraged in constant missions to feed the starving lot. Thinking of the bliss of former days they had remembered mistakenly as tiresome, they tucked their sore heads under their thin wings. Exhausted, they fell asleep in opposite sides of the nest. Slept, that is, until the squawks of the incessantly ravenous chicks awakened them at all hours for yet more feeding. In brief snatches of shuteye, the worn out husband and wife each dreamed of a better life. At daybreak, he noticed absently that a couple of his grey-brown feathers had pale blue blotches. Too tired to think about it, he tumbled out of the nest in search of more food for the growing family.
Some days later both birds, drowsy yet obliged to duty, foraged slim pickings in a nearby pasture. While away, a long, black snake with red eyes slithered into the nest. It swallowed each chick one by one, and with five lumps slithered away silently undetected.
“My babies! Where are you? What’s happened?” his wife gasped upon her return, dropping the dry, wrinkled berry from her purpled mouth. He crash-landed into the empty nest, gulping his payload of forage seed upon impact.
“Gone! Taken!” he shouted, realizing the family tragedy. Something else stuck in his crop besides seeds. Although stunned in misery, he felt conflicted relief at no more mouths to feed.
The very next day the shattered wife ran off with a bright yellow canary who sang in an off-key jazz band. He promised her the high life playing gigs in honkytonks packed with miners.
“Hope they’re stuffed together in a cage and dropped down a deep, dark mineshaft!” the abandoned bird lamented bitterly. Perched on a telephone wire over County Road Q, he felt profound loneliness. The setting sun’s last rays glanced off a few more bluing feathers on his back, but the glum bird didn’t notice.
In the weeks ahead, he went through the motion of seed searching although he wasn’t hungry. How did this happen to me? Orange, yellow and red leaves covered the forest floor. I’m a responsible fellow, even though a bit drab. Lost in self-pity and worry, a hawk’s shadow passed overhead, which he glimpsed in the nick of time and bolted for cover. Despite his attempts to compose himself and remain stationary, he trembled in the underbrush. A few more feathers had turned blue.
Now he perceived that his home territory was teeming with coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, and snakes. Strange I hadn’t noticed before how many predators were on the prowl. With frayed nerves, he approached a puddle for a quick sip and getaway. His reflection startled him. He had black bags under his eyes, his eyebrows had turned white, and his back seemed shockingly blue. The first frosty blasts of approaching winter wind ruffled his feathers as he contemplated a bleak future. As darkness fell, his local mail deliverer, a passenger pigeon, saw him in the twilight.
“You molting or something, man? You don’t look so good, kind of blue in the gills.”
“A snake ate the bellowing kids. The wife ran off with a fly-by-night canary. This place is crawling with dangerous predators with sharp teeth and big claws. I’m down-and-out, lonely, and hungry, with winter coming; a shivering bundle of woes.”
“What’s with the blue feathers, man? How you expect to last in that getup?”
“What does it matter?”
Another several weeks of near starvation and close calls with an owl and fox increased his spiraling depression. Without will to live, the sad bird now shone ever brilliantly in a bright, almost iridescent, blue. His transformation was obvious to everyone. The coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, and snakes approached him with caution, as they had never before seen anything like him in all their natural days.
“What kind of bird are you anyways?” they asked him.
“I’m a blue bird,” he whispered in a despondent voice.
“How did you become so blue?” they asked with curiosity about his vivid color.
“My kids were eaten alive, my wife flew the coop, brutal winter’s coming, and villains like you are running loose in the land. Do what you will with me. I don’t want to live.”
The snake said, “That’s the saddest tale I ever heard. And I thought I had problems.” The other animals agreed.
“You are undoubtedly the saddest, bluest creature we ever saw,” they said. “Knowing your awful troubles makes us forget all about our own small, insignificant ones. Seeing you suffer actually makes us feel better. Compared to you, we feel quite happy.”
“So, you’re not going to kill me?” the bird said.
“Kill you? Absolutely not! Every time any of us sees your bright blue feathers, we’re happy we don’t have your troubles. You are our bluebird of happiness!”
As they trotted, crawled, flew, and slithered away in elation, the formerly drab bird pondered how was he going to retain his protective brilliant blue coat? That is, if he wished to live after all.
“What new woes might I embrace?” he said to himself with a frown. Then he smiled.