There are three birds flying. These three birds exist now, today, in the world and universe we live in, only they can talk to each other and the things they say are written here as English, as spoken words that you or I would use. It’s not really that important how that happens or if it’s a translation or if they are special, so try not to get bogged down by the logistics and just know they are three birds flying now.
They’re flying high above the water, these birds. They’ve been flying for a long time; they’re the kind that can do that. If a person were to look up, say they were on a boat or something, and they saw these three birds soaring above, they’d probably guess they were seagulls. But that would be wrong, seagulls aren’t this far from land unless they caught the wrong wind. Nor would seagulls normally be so high or be able to soar without more flapping. These birds, and it was easy to miss without anything to measure them against, were much bigger than gulls. They were white, like a gull, had the classic shorebird webbed foot and longish bill, but the birds’ eyes—if you were on land or somehow in their eyeline—the eyes had dark smoky grey feathers that bled slowly into their white head.
At this point, all three were flying more or less in a line rather than a V, like geese would. They spoke loud enough for each other to hear and they never mistook who was saying what because their voices were clearly distinguishable from each other.
They spoke about all of things you would think. They spoke like moms watching their kids at the beach, they spoke like drivers doing the long-haul over the CB radios, they spoke like politicians and teachers and farmers and the group of waitresses that talk to each other back in the kitchen rather than to their tables. The point here is that you don’t let the being-a-bird thing make you think they don’t contain the multitudes that we do.
Right now, they’re just talking about the weather though. Cassidy is saying how long this winter has felt. We’ve given these three names by the way. This is just to help us delineate the different birds; but birds don’t use them.
Cassidy is going on about the weather and the other birds maybe exchange and eye or two but they stay silent or give a polite cluck or nod. Cassidy is doing that thing we all do sometimes; she’s talking about one thing while actually talking about another. It’s not immediately clear she knows she’s doing it here. Cassidy, you’ve got to know, did have a very hard winter, which was maybe why it felt so long, because in reality it was a few weeks quicker than usual (complicating the migrations and child-rearing that has to happen seasonally).
Cassidy’s long winter mainly stemmed from her partner, we can call him Glen, though it’s not important. Glen and Cassidy were raising their chick—these birds only have one chick per season—and traditionally that’s a group effort. The father brings back food and the mother brings back food, this happens while the chicks all stay on the island, that is until that season ends and the chicks either learn to fly or they don’t. This is an island that a flock of couples chooses to keep their chicks on. These three birds we have here all use the same island during the season. Cassidy and Glen had a great chick by all accounts, who was getting heavier and looking stronger and stronger. But then Cassidy came back one day, this was weeks since she’d been to the chick last; again that’s normal, getting food can sometimes take hundreds of miles, and anyway she gets back and notices he hasn’t eaten in a while—too long. She asks a few other parents and they say they noticed the chick looking for food around the island, and no, no they hadn’t seen Glen come back in a while. Anyway, I won’t bore you here with the politics and the neighborly rumor mill, but Cassidy never saw Glen again. That was 6 months ago now and the chick—well the chick isn’t the problem—these birds rarely see their offspring when the rearing is over, but the point is Cassidy is now in the process of deciding whether or not she needs to find a new Glen.
Beatrice—that’s another bird here—and Eleanor—the third—finally cut in. They try and change the topic. If everyone was honest here El would probably want to just fly in quiet; she’s a quieter, more introverted flier, and likes to handle things on her own. Beatrice is more like Cassidy, in that she likes talking it out, even sometimes just to talk.
Beatrice, a little clumsily El thinks, starts talking about her partner Pedro. Pedro, allegedly, had a new partner. This wasn’t uncommon, the males in this species occasionally took on two partnerships or even three, so long as they could bring enough food to raise each of the chicks. Beatrice knew this was common, as did the other two, but when it was just the females together, they’d sometimes allow themselves to forget how common it is, or maybe bemoan the fact that it was so common. Beatrice here wasn’t doing any of that out loud, that wouldn’t be proper, but she did find a few different subtle ways to put this new partner of Pedro’s down. We don’t need to give her a name, or repeat things Beatrice insinuated she’d been doing, but it was enough to make Cassidy laugh and El smirk.
After a little of that, things got quieter. This wasn’t from a lack of subject matter, there were always things to discuss, especially with these three. Nor was this from any tension or ill feelings. Beatrice, El, and Cassidy, had been through many seasons and all sorts of ups and downs. They’d lost chicks, they’d lost friends, partners had come and gone, there was even one bad storm that took two of them, El and Cassidy, off track and stuck following a trawler for weeks, until they found their bearing again. This quiet was just like when we take the long way home from work on one of those days you can smell Spring around the corner, or when we stare out the window for a bit and think about how we all got to where we were.
It wasn’t until that night that El, uncharacteristically, was the first to speak again. This is night but they are still flying. These are birds that can fly at night as long as the wind is consistent. Eleanor says she probably won’t return to the island this season. Cassidy is quiet because she doesn’t quite understand and Beatrice, I’m guessing here, had guessed that was going to be the case, or maybe just knew something like this was happening, but either way it was a beat or two before anyone said anything and then they both spoke at the same time over each other. Beatrice said how much they would miss her, everyone, and Cassidy said she didn’t understand. Another beat or two of silence happens and, when Eleanor doesn’t look like she is going to say anything else, Beatrice explains that, at some point, we have to decide when it's time to move on. She used the word “we” there.
Cassidy didn’t say anything and the other two didn't either and they all three listened to the wind and saw the moon, almost full tonight, bouncing off the water below them. If they were lower they’d be able to hear the water, not so much lapping, like it does on shore, or cresting and crashing, like it does during a storm, but just moving. Something that, when you get close, changes from being silent to being loud, like cicadas or a distant rain. They weren’t low enough to hear it though. They were up in the sky, soaring with a flap here and there, riding the wind north and east, finding the heat and following the food. The moon bounced off the water just like it bounced off their backs.