Tag Archives: Animal

Mitzi

We’d been lying in the shade together for quite a while. I was on my back, hands cupped behind my head, she on her side facing me. I talked about things bothering me at the time while she stared intently into my eyes. I was just a kid but I remember knowing how lucky I was to have her by my side. I noticed her long eyelashes each time she blinked, but I didn’t love her for her long eyelashes, didn’t love her for her perfectly white teeth, and didn’t even love her for the way she seemed to adore me.

She was still looking directly into my eyes when she burped in my face, wagged her tail twice, and continued chewing on a stick.

I loved her because I was a boy and she was a dog.

Mitzi was a collie. I was only nine when we went as a family to meet the litter. I don’t remember which one of us picked her, or whether she picked us, but in short order we were on our way home. Mama and Daddy in the front seat while my sisters and I in the back fought over whose lap the fuzzy puppy should ride home on.

It would take a lifetime to tell about her lifetime and anyone who’s loved a dog knows the telling doesn’t do it justice. You have to have felt it. As a puppy she was hugged and kissed constantly. As she grew up she was naturally our best friend. As she aged she earned the respect of family and friends as an intelligent, faithful old girl. We treated her like any other member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

During those years Mitzi made hundreds of trips to the pasture, ran countless miles behind our bikes, refereed dodgeball games, gave us away during hide-and-seek, and waited patiently while we worked in the garden. She was a happy constant when we returned from school and she didn’t just wag her tail; her entire backside swayed when she saw us coming. Many families have several dogs over the years, my family did too and we loved them all, but as a nine year old boy that collie puppy was the dog. Thirteen years into her life, I was twenty-two and that happy old collie was still the dog.

When she fell ill it happened fast. I went to work but called home later to check on her. Mama hesitated but told me poor old Mitzi had died. Back in those days, in spite of regular vet trips starting with her spaying and continuing with regular vaccinations, heartworm prevention was not what it is today and sadly she was a victim.

I hung up with Mama and went to tell my boss that I needed to go home. When she asked why, I said there had been a death in the family. My phrasing had nothing to do with dishonesty. It was to me the genuine reason. I’d heard she had a dog at home so surely she would understand.

She expressed her condolences and asked who had died. When I said “my dog” there was a pause before she giggled slightly and said she just couldn’t let me go home for that reason. With no one who could easily cover for me, I’d have to stay. I left her office and talked to my coworkers who agreed to cover for me, no problem. I then let my boss know I’d made arrangements for coverage but she repeated to me that no, I needed to stay.

I left.

There was nothing I could do when I got home; Daddy and one of my sisters had already buried Mitzi there in the same pasture where she’d played all her life. Nothing I could do, but to stay at work with that load of grief would have been pointless for me. It was Friday and on Monday I’d talk to my boss about it again. If I still had a job.

It was a sad weekend. We cried, laughed, talked about Mitzi and talked to Mitzi. Family and friends called to say they were sorry. They treated her death as though she’d been a real member of the family.

Because that’s exactly what she was.

Early Monday morning I learned from coworkers that my boss had been very unhappy about my leaving on Friday after she’d told me to stay. I started working and waited for my fate, but my boss didn’t come in. On Tuesday she was there.

I tried to read her face as she walked towards me. My boss said nothing as she handed me the envelope and walked away. I looked at it, puzzled she’d said nothing, and ripped it open expecting my dismissal letter. It contained nothing official, just a small card from her to me.

A sympathy card.

I learned later why my boss hadn’t been at work the day before. Sadly, her own dog had been hit by a car over the weekend and in spite of the vet’s efforts, it hadn’t lived. My boss was understandably upset and stayed home that Monday. She had let management know her absence was due to a death in the family.

Because that’s exactly what it was.

Stuart M. Perkins

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A Bucket of Teamwork

Several summers ago for work, I attended a week-long team-building conference held on a college campus. Attendees were divided into groups of five and members of each group were to collaborate on various projects for the duration of the conference. Small assignments began on day one and we were informed that the conference would culminate with a day-long special teamwork exercise. On the last day of the conference a project unique to each group would be assigned and required to be accomplished by day’s end.

“To demonstrate how your group has become a solid team.” the instructor explained with an evil grin.

Groans echoed through the classroom. My group’s leader was the most vocal.

None of the five in my group had met before the conference. In fact, we each came from a different state and attended the conference for various reasons. My group leader made it clear that he had been told to attend and he voiced his annoyance often.

“Is the teamwork project on the final day mandatory?” he frowned as he asked our instructor.

“Yes.” the instructor said sternly. “Don’t skip the final project.”

In spite of a rocky start my group worked through the assigned projects for the day. Everyone got along and was very nice but there was little interaction besides working together on the assigned tasks. At the end of class we left together but nothing was said as we walked from the conference hall across campus to our quarters.

The campus was beautiful. It was well landscaped, surrounded by woods, and a huge lake was its centerpiece. As my group neared the lake on the route to our rooms we passed a small dilapidated brick shed tucked into the edge of the woods. One side of the shed had collapsed to expose what was once a cellar. We got closer and heard a slight rustle from inside. Two of us stopped to peer over the edge of the brick wall that surrounded the old cellar hole. When we did, a duck flew up and out, nearly hitting us in the face as it headed towards the lake. Down in the cellar hole, surrounded on all sides by the tall brick wall, was a nest with several eggs. Interesting, we thought, and continued on to our rooms.

The next morning my group met at the conference hall to begin our day’s assignments. Once again my group leader voiced his opinion about the massive project scheduled for the last day.

“Don’t ignore the final project.” the instructor reminded.

Each day that week was pretty much the same. Our group met, completed our tasks, said little else to each other, and returned to our rooms. We did well with our assignments but it was difficult to see progress being made towards becoming a cohesive team.

We stayed very late, almost until dark, on the eve of our final day. My group leader once again grumbled loudly about the next day’s massive assignment.

“Don’t dodge the final project.” the instructor warned.

We left the conference hall to head to our rooms no more a team than on day one. We approached the old shed, something we’d done every day, where one or two of us would peer into the cellar hole to look at the eggs. This time we heard the mother duck before we saw her. She paced along the brick wall, quacking loudly. When we got closer she hesitated a second before flying away, not to the lake, but to an old azalea just a few yards away. She quacked frantically as we, this time as a group, peered over the wall and into the cellar hole.

Huddled together in a corner were nine tiny ducklings.

They were hard to see since it was late evening but we clearly made out nine fluffy balls of duck. We weren’t sure how they would get out, but darkness, preparation for the final day’s project, and the hope that the duckling’s mother knew more than we did swayed us into simply heading back to our rooms.

The next morning we met to head down the path one last time to the conference hall. The only sign that we were a team was our mutual dread of that day’s final project. We ourselves weren’t even convinced that we’d come anywhere near being a “team” capable of working together when presented with an impromptu task.

In a fog of dread we marched towards the conference hall. The loud and frantic quacking we heard near the old shed snapped us out of it. The mother duck once again paced back and forth along the brick wall and flew to the old azalea when we approached. All nine ducklings still huddled at the bottom of the cellar hole. We as a group peered over the edge of the wall together.

“They’ll die in there” our group leader announced unceremoniously.

I looked around the collapsed shed for a board the ducklings might use as a ladder but found nothing long enough. Inside the collapsed portion of the shed though, was a gripper used to change light bulbs on a rusted, but very long pole. I pulled it from under bits of the collapsed roof and took it back to the group.

“Maybe we can use this.” I said.

The pole could actually reach the ducklings – which scattered and peeped loudly causing the mother duck to quack more frantically than before. Rust prevented the light bulb gripper from closing, so it was impossible to actually grab a duckling and raise it from the hole without it falling from the gripper. They could be scooped out maybe?

As we planned our approach there was a crash in the old shed. Another group member emerged with an old bucket.

“Can you scoop them into this?” she asked.

As the mother duck quacked incessantly, the five of us looked at each other and launched into action.

I used the long pole of the light bulb gripper to herd the ducklings into a corner closest to me. One group member, held tightly around the waist by another group member, leaned into the opposite end of the cellar hole as far as she could, the old bucket dangling from her hand. I leaned into the hole, scooped one duckling into the light bulb gripper, and passed it into the bucket. Success.

One by one I scooped ducklings into the dangling bucket manned by two of the team members. With each scoop, the remaining ducklings scattered. The other team members, using long sticks they found in the woods, leaned into the cellar hole to herd scattered ducklings back towards me. It took quite some time but we finally had a bucket of ducklings. The mother duck continued to quack frantically from under the old azalea as her babies peeped louder and louder in the bucket.

Together, the five of us walked towards the mother duck with the bucket. She backed away, frightened by so many of us, so our group leader went alone. He made his way slowly to within a few feet of the old azalea and gently dumped the nine ducklings onto the ground. They huddled motionless. The mother duck kept up the frantic quacking, moving closer to the fuzzy huddle, until one by one each duckling stood to run directly to her.

Her frantic quacking ceased instantly. She waddled slowly but steadily towards the lake with a mass of ducklings following closely between her legs. We actually applauded!

“Now that was teamwork!” our group leader said.

And with that comment we realized we were late for our last day’s mandatory project.

We hurriedly made our way to the conference room. Covered in rust, mud, and duck poop we mentally prepared ourselves for what the instructor would say about our tardiness. A feather floated silently in the air as we opened the door. The instructor turned to face us.

“Well!” the instructor began. “I was certain your group was going to duck out of this final assignment.”

“We did duck out!” our team leader responded.

The instructor didn’t understand why we five laughed in unison, as a team.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Who’s It Gonna Hoight?

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

He wasn’t looking for an answer. His rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that he needed one.

The old fellow in a grease-covered uniform had an accent I hadn’t heard since Archie Bunker. I smiled and waved to the sweaty man who seemed very tired.

Evening walks through my neighborhood take me mostly by houses and condos, but a few blocks further along is an industrial area with the usual mix of manufacturers, package delivery services, and even a brewery. On one corner is an auto repair shop. By that time of day the mechanics are rolling in tire displays, hosing down bays, and performing general closing procedures.

For a couple of weeks I’d noticed the Archie Bunker mechanic walking from the repair shop and up a grassy slope toward an overgrown fencerow. The small hill was an effort for him, especially because he carried a plateful of something in each hand. I’d seen him walk up that slope so many times that my curiosity got the better of me. This time I stopped on the street to watch him.

He first lit a cigarette. Holding it in his mouth he made his way to the top of the slope, careful to keep the plates steady on his way up. When he reached the top he stood for a moment to catch his breath. He leaned down towards the overgrown fencerow and in a voice more high-pitched, yet soft, than one could imagine coming from an elderly, oily, mechanic with a cigarette dangling from his lips, he very sweetly called “kitty kitty?”

Instantly, three scrawny kittens rolled from the brush and bounded over one another to get to the plates he had set on the ground. The Archie Bunker mechanic stood up straight, flicked ashes from his cigarette, and in fine falsetto continued to baby-talk the kittens as they inhaled the plates of food.

They were still eating when the mechanic took one last puff of his cigarette, flicked it aside, and stepped carefully back down the slope. He had seen me watching and as he passed by he smiled, nodded his head, and summed up his simple, kind effort in the one rhetorical question.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

A couple of weeks later I was walking to lunch with a coworker. As she and I passed the front stoop of a small convenience store, an old woman sitting on the step with a styrofoam cup asked if we had any change. My coworker kept walking as I slowed up just a bit. I knew why she kept walking. We’d had conversations about panhandlers. Neither of us had ever given any of them money. She was very adamant on the subject.

I thought, stopped, and took a couple of steps back to the woman on the stoop. I had no cash and the little bit of change in my pocket couldn’t have been more than a dollar, but I dropped it into her cup. She thanked me and I turned to go to lunch.

My coworker didn’t say anything. The shocked look on her face said it all.

I wasn’t looking for an answer. My rhetorical question was more of an explanation. Not that I needed one.

“Ah, who’s it gonna hoight? Me, I got enough.”

Stuart M. Perkins

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Giving is for the Birds

I read the simple message while driving to work that morning. It was quite a few years ago but I remember the church’s sign: “Give To Others – Sacrifice” was its straightforward directive. As I pondered those words, I noticed another sign at a fast-food place across the street.

“Try Our Blueberry Biscuits”

Those words required no pondering.

I would indeed try them. Having ample time before work, I would even go inside to sit as I enjoyed their flaky goodness. I could smell the biscuits when I walked in to place my order. On a large rack behind the cashier, someone from the kitchen drizzled icing generously over a dozen or so freshly baked blueberry delights. I ordered two.

After all, the sign had clearly indicated plural.

My mouth watered as I sat at a table between a window and a row of potted palms. I spread my blueberry biscuits before me, smelled their warm icing, and heard their plump blueberries call to me. I noticed movement on the other side of the potted palms but excitement over my biscuits kept me from looking up. Just as I was about to pick up the first biscuit, the movement stopped and I heard a woman’s voice.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked.

Not sure I had correctly heard such a question, I wiped the anticipatory biscuit drool from my mouth and waited for a second.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked again.

I turned to see a frowning elderly woman staring through the potted palms. I assumed she might be homeless when I saw her. Her clothes were frayed and wrinkled, and although her hair was pulled neatly back and held in place by a clean red ribbon, she was otherwise very disheveled and dirty. She carried a soiled tote bag on her arm.

“Are you Jesus?” she asked me for the third time. She frowned a bit harder.

I admit that I slid my blueberry biscuits away from her and towards the window on the far side of the table before I responded.

“No Ma’am”. I said. “Definitely not.” I spread an extra concealing napkin over my biscuits.

I thought she might leave once I cleared up that little misidentification, but she lingered quietly by the potted palms. I kept the biscuits covered and willed my salivary glands to cease working. She edged closer to my table. I pushed the biscuits closer to the window.

She sat down across from me.

My biscuits cooled, my mouth watered, and guilt crept over me as I remembered the first message I had read that morning. “Give to Others – Sacrifice”.

Well, great. Why did I have to see the church’s sign just before being shown the door to blueberry deliciousness! Oh well. I removed one biscuit from its hiding place and slid it towards the elderly woman.

“You can have this.” I said.

She said absolutely nothing but took the biscuit, wrapped it tightly in the napkin, and slipped it into her tote bag. She still frowned. Not even the slightest smile.

There. I had “given to others”. I felt better, she had eagerly taken the biscuit, and as soon as she got up I could still enjoy the one I had left. I could smell it there under the napkin.

She didn’t get up.

“You have a good day, Ma’am.” I said, thinking she might move along.

She still didn’t get up. She frowned at the lump under my napkin.

I had already checked my watch several times and knew I had to get to work soon. I just wanted to eat my blueberry biscuit! I had done what the church sign said. I had “given to others”!

Well, the sign had said a little more than that, I thought as the elderly woman frowned persistently.

I uncovered my second biscuit and handed it to her, saying nothing. She took the second as eagerly as the first. She wrapped it quickly, slipped it into her tote bag, and walked to the door to go outside. She frowned all the while.

No matter, I thought. I could simply pick up another biscuit, or two, on my way out.

“We stopped making blueberry biscuits twenty minutes ago.” the cashier said. “No more back there.”

My stomach growled. So did I. One of my biscuits handed to the elderly woman was “giving”. Both of my biscuits handed to her, now that was “sacrifice”! But, she would enjoy them I kept telling myself, as I imagined her biting into the icing covered blueberry treats.

As I headed to my car, I heard their wings flapping before I saw them. Pigeons. So many pigeons flying in that they blocked my view of what attracted them. Then, through an opening in the flock, I saw what they were after.

An elderly woman with a tote bag. She crumbled and tossed piece after piece of blueberry biscuit into the air as pigeons scrambled to eat them.

She was finally smiling.

Stuart M. Perkins

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No Hamster

Today a coworker stepped into my office to invite me to a function celebrating World Animal Day. She handed me a flyer showing photographs of native wildlife, house pets, and exotic animals. I told her that might be fun and I laid the flyer on my desk.

“Hey, do you have any pets?” she asked.

“No, I don’t.” I answered.

I live alone in a third floor condo. Between work days and weekend travel, any pet I owned would spend most of its time alone. Unfair, I think. Before I could explain that to her, she had a question.

“You don’t like animals?” she asked, in apparent disgust.

I tried to respond, but she interrupted.

“Your parents never let you have pets.” she assumed, and rolled her eyes.

Again I tried to respond, but she had another question.

“You never even had a hamster?” she asked as she appeared to hyperventilate.

Seeing that my explanation stood no chance, I simply said, “No, no hamster.” and turned back to my computer.

She reached in slow motion to take the flyer from my desk and left my office as though I were a leper.

I really never had a hamster.

But as a kid at home we had several dogs I loved, like our Siberian husky, a spayed female. She once instantly befriended a pregnant stray dog that wandered into our yard. When the time came for puppies, although Daddy had built the stray a doghouse of her own, she chose our husky’s instead. While the stray had puppies inside, our husky stood guard outside and had to be physically pushed aside, tail wagging all the time, when Mama checked on the stray’s progress.

We also had a beautiful, faithful collie who was once bitten on the foot by a copperhead. The swelling, peeling flesh, exposed bones, and weeks of applying salves and medication while keeping the horrible wound clean was something I’ll never forget. Our collie did walk again, but always with a limp. We had some really great dogs.

But no, no hamster.

Stray cats appeared occasionally, much to Daddy’s chagrin. One came as a kitten and was still there twelve years later, loved by us all. Daddy continued to claim he disliked cats, even as this one slept on his lap. He wasn’t as fond of the stray cat who entered our garage through a broken door to have a litter of kittens in the Brunswick stew pot. Mama vowed to never eat stew from that pot again. Daddy joked that it only helped to “season” it. Once the kittens were given away, Daddy bleached the stew pot and repaired the garage door.

Mama was generally afraid to come into my room. The green snake I kept in a huge terrarium might have been the reason. The terrarium was temporary home only for a few days to the tiny snake, then I turned it loose again. Sometimes the terrarium housed a toad or a box turtle. All stayed only briefly before I took then back to where I’d caught them. I was always fascinated by any animal. The only lizard I ever caught proved himself a skilled escape artist. I awoke one morning to find him staring at me from the lamp on my nightstand.

But no, no hamster.

Mama wasn’t happy when I hatched quail in my room from a mail order incubator, but she hadn’t been fond of fowl in my room since the day she walked by and saw several baby chickens lined up on the footboard of my bed, preening in the morning sun. Finally getting their wing feathers, who could blame them for taking a first short flight to the sunny footboard? Mama was not amused.

People brought young animals to us they thought had been abandoned. Countless baby birds passed through my room to be cared for and turned loose. One spring I had nine tiny baby rabbits to be fed by eyedropper. Their nest had been run over by a tractor, their mother killed, and they were brought to us. All nine survived and were turned loose in the pasture by our house. For the next few years rabbits came from the pasture to sit at the edge of our yard.

But no, no hamster.

In high school I had to complete a biology project. We had several choices, but I opted for the one requiring the purchase of a mouse which I would then teach to run a maze. Mama was already at her wits end with the number of animals I had. In order to get one more I convinced her it was in the name of education. My teacher advised me to purchase a male mouse since a female would likely be pregnant. Naturally, I then asked specifically for a female but managed to purchase the only virgin. Babies never came. She proved a fast learner though, helping me get an “A” on my project. She then lived out a happy retirement in my room at home.

I once had finches, parakeets, and a wounded but recuperating pigeon in my room all at the same time. My fish tank was full of very prolific guppies. We had a big white rabbit for a while. Once, while bike riding with a cousin, I saw a dead kitten on the side of the road. I rode closer to see make sure it was dead, and it was, but another kitten then crawled from the ditch. I scooped it up and took it home. We had cows in the pasture for many years. Animals of many kinds were always a part of my daily life.

I would have told my coworker these things had she cared to listen. As I sat at my desk thinking back on the many animals I’ve loved in my life, I heard my coworker talking to someone at the copier.

“Did you ask Stuart too?” she was asked.

“Oh yes,” my coworker responded, “but I don’t think he’s into World Animal Day. He’s never had a hamster!”

No, I never had a hamster.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Hi Ben

During my walk through the cemetery this afternoon I noticed rabbits tucked here and there, watched countless squirrels skitter across gravestones, and heard two blue jays bicker with a crow as it picked something from an old paper bag. Acres in size, this cemetery is full of wildlife from backyard birds to a family of foxes living in a back corner where brush is piled. Once I walk into the cemetery all traffic noises are gone, no sirens blare, and I forget I’m only four miles from downtown D.C. Watching a pair of cardinals in the shrubs by the gate, I sat down at a bench beside one of the gravestones.

I knew from other walks in the cemetery that if I sat on this bench long enough, the family of chipmunks living under the granite base of the tombstone next to it would soon get the nerve to come out. I’m not sure how many live below since there is a constant flow out of the hole, in the hole, back out, two of them now, no wait three, all gone, no here they come again. Once I had four in sight as they scrambled over each other like kittens, paused, then dashed back under the granite, tails in the air. All of these animals today reminded me of the many, many times as a kid that we took in abandoned animals brought to us by well-meaning people.

Our house was always full of animals. Not just the cats and dogs we had, but baby birds, baby rabbits, and even a lizard with three legs someone brought in case we could help it. I currently live in a third floor condo so a pet of any kind is almost out of the question, but something as simple as an afternoon watching rabbits, foxes, and chipmunks can sometimes fill the void.

As a chipmunk bounded from the hole and headed towards a crepe myrtle, a plump robin landed beside me on the back of the bench. I instantly thought of Ben, the name Mama gave to a baby robin someone brought to our house years ago. Mama was usually pretty exasperated by the number of animals I kept, but for some reason she took over caring for Ben the instant he showed up in the bottom of a shoe box. He was just a chunky, fuzzy blob the day he arrived, but in no time Mama had him fat and feathered.

We had a huge screened porch where Mama kept Ben, so he was able to fly as he grew. Ben was satisfied to stay on the screened porch and land on the arms of neighbors who came to visit. People would always ask Mama, “Doesn’t he go to the bathroom on you?”

“Ben would never do that.” Mama always said.

As weeks passed and summer went by, Ben became an adult and began acting interested in other robins in the yard. Mama worried about it, but not wanting to hold him back, she decided she would let him go out to see what he would do.

He flew away.

In an hour he was back. Mama tapped on a can, something she’d done each time she’d fed him, and he flew back to the screened porch. He spent the night there but the next day the pattern repeated: Free to fly in the yard all day, sit on the gutter over the back door which was now favorite spot, then back to the screened porch at night. After a few days of this, Ben no longer returned to the screened porch at night but still spent a lot of time on the gutter over the back door.

“He’s going to sit up there and go to the bathroom on you.” Daddy would say to Mama as he laughed.

“Ben would never do that.” she maintained.

Mama would tap on the can, Ben would fly from the gutter to the porch railing to be fed, then off to the yard somewhere to socialize with his own kind. This new pattern continued for a few more days then we stopped seeing Ben waiting on the gutter. As weeks went by we saw the occasional robin on the gutter, or one in the yard that didn’t seem particularly afraid, but robins never really do. As fall and then winter came the robins disappeared and we wondered if Ben had adjusted well enough to leave with them. We hoped he could survive.

We thought about Ben often during the winter.  As spring came, the more robins that showed up the more we talked about him. One late spring morning I went outside to see a robin on the gutter above the back door. It didn’t fly away. I called Mama who hurried and started talking to the bird. It cocked its head at her but made no effort to move. She stepped inside, grabbed a can from the recycling bin, and came back. As she tapped the can the robin cocked its head again. When Mama tapped a second time, the robin flew down from the gutter to sit on the railing.

“Hi Ben.” Mama said. The robin sat still as she talked. “Hi Ben.” she said again. The robin cocked its head once more and actually hopped along the railing towards Mama. It sat still, staring at her. Then, in a flutter of wings it flew away over the pine trees and was gone. If it was Ben, we never saw him again that we know of. Mama still talks about Ben to this day.

As I sat on that bench in the cemetery remembering Ben and the many, many animals we took care of for short periods of time, I felt a little wistful. There’s a feeling we animal lovers get from having them around, the interaction, the bonding, and the comedy they can provide. There was a feeling of melancholy that came over me remembering Mama’s success with Ben and how I really do think that was him who came back for a visit the next spring.

Feeling full of nostalgia, I turned to the plump robin still sitting on the bench beside me.

“Hi Ben.” I said.

The robin cocked its head at me and just before flying off, it unceremoniously went to the bathroom down the back of the bench.

Ben would never have done that.

Stuart M. Perkins

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