Belson stared through the miniblinds out the window up on the 25th floor and looked out past the shopping center and across the highway to the vast expanse of cemetery, a section of which was filled with tall gnarled oaks entwined with Spanish moss. Beneath one a funeral was taking place with a group of people standing and gathered around what he assumed must be the coffin.
Belson didn’t think about death often, but with the dead opossum in the road in front of his house, and the cop getting killed last night responding to a domestic dispute call it was on his mind. But not in a fearful way. He’s always been pretty accepting of his own mortality — in fact, he’s more accepting of his own than of others.
He remembered his first encounter with death. He was a young boy, five maybe six years old. At the corner up from his house by the Baptist church he found a pigeon on the sidewalk. Hunkered down as if it were nesting on an egg and with its eyes closed, Belson thought it was sleeping. But it wasn’t. He’d found that out when he finally got the courage to poke it and instead of it coming alive and flying away in an explosion of sound and feathers, it simply rolled over on its side.
Belson didn’t wonder why it died or what had happened. He was just suddenly and incredibly sad. Furthermore from somewhere within him he felt responsible. Not for the bird’s death, but for its burial. So he ran back home and from under the sink grabbed a paper grocery bag and before mom could process what he was doing and ask him why he’d run back out and over to the bird, which he put into the bag and started off in the direction of the little wooded glen at the other end of the street where he intended to bury the bird.
As timing would have it the neighbor boy Larry, who Belson didn’t like very much, saw him bag the bird and ran and told his mom who picked up the phone and told Belson’s mom who thanked Larry’s mom and promptly came out front where she intercepted her son and his cargo and wanted to know what he was doing carrying around such a filthy disgusting thing.
“It’s not!” he yelled. “And I’m going to bury it.”
“No you’re not young man,” she said. “You’re going to give me that bagÂ and go inside and wash your hands –Â right away!”
But Belson didn’t. Instead he ran away from his mom who screamed at her retreating son that he’d better stop that instant or face a spanking when he came home. He kept on going and his mom screamed some more which of course brought Larry and his mom out and the three of them gave chase for a minute until the two women dropped out leaving Larry in the hunt.
Belson turned the corner at the church and with the bird banging against his legs as he ran, he looked over his shoulder could see Larry coming after him. And gaining. So, since he was tiring, he stopped and let Larry catch up to him at the next street.
“Whatcha gonna do with that bird?” Larry asked, winded.
“I’m gonna bury it,” Belson said, also breathing heavy. Then asked “How’d you know it’s a bird?”
“I saw you put it in the bag. Then I told my mom and she called your mom.”
Belson liked Larry even less now.
“Well I’m gonna go bury it,” he said again.
“No you’re not,” Larry said. “I’m supposed to take the bird from you and bring it to your mom for her to throw away,” and as he said that he reached for the bag, hooking a finger onto it so that when Belson yanked it away it tore down the side and the bird fell out with a soft thud to the concrete.
“Gross!” Larry yelled, recoiling. But Belson didn’t think it was. Now he was even more sad and he knelt down and picked the dead pigeon up by one of its wings which stretched out as he lifted it up and he took off crying and runningÂ down the street one over from the one he lived on, until he got into the cool safety of the glen. Larry didn’t follow this time.
In short order he picked out a tree. An old oak with Spanish moss dangling from it and he brought the bird up close to him and folded the wing back against its body. Carefully he placed it on the ground near the tree’s trunk and once again it looked like it was taking a nap while protecting an egg. Belson looked at it every now and then as he hurriedly dug a grave out of the lose soil until it was about a foot deep. He didn’t have any prayers so instead he just said “God bless this pigeon,” and then he put it into the hole and started crying again as he covered it up.”
Afterward he made his way through the glen back to his street and his house and his mother, who asked him what he’d done but knew the answer because she could see his hands.
“You can spank me if you want to but I buried that pigeon like I said I would,” he said defiantly behind tears that cut channels through the dirt on his cheeks. Stifling a smile his mother ordered him upstairs to take a bath instead.