MONDAY: Something Dropped from the Sky


Copyright is held by the author.

ARNOLD “BIRD” Swicker dropped silently from the sky precisely between his father’s new Case corn planter and the open barn door.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

Bird and I’ve been friends since pre-school. Back then, it was that magical summer space between graduating public school and starting Saunders Secondary an hour away in the rust brown-yellow bus driven a tad recklessly by Bert Goodwin, brother of the mayor, relative-by-marriage-then-messy-divorce to Grace Longdon, Chairwoman of the Temple Lake School Board.

Arnie first believed he should be able to fly – “just like that ol’ red-tailed hawk that flies over Foster’s barn looking for a quick meal of chicken wings” — when we found a plump dead pigeon under my parent’s backyard feeder.

We were ten.

“We should bury the poor thing,” I said to Arnie. “Give it a decent burial.”

“Hell, no, Twix, I’m going to take it apart. Figure out what makes it tick. Look at all those feathers on its wings. I’m taking them home to look at under my Doc Evan’s microscope.” And so he did.

After about a week, Arnie’s mom, looking for the source of a putrid smell coming from Arnie’s room, discovered the rotting, wormy pigeon carcass on the window sill behind the pulled-down blind where Arnie was hiding it from prying eyes. He was grounded for a week and lost the pigeon. But his autopsy on that dead pigeon ignited my friend’s passion for flying.

I remember Arnie asking the school librarian — a Miss Lopo-Suarez — to find him all the books she could that dealt with flying. As I recall, she found four on the library shelves and brought one from home — The Wright Brothers by Fred C. Kelly. “My husband’s a pilot,” she said by way of an explanation which wasn’t.

From then on, flying was all my friend ever talked about. It didn’t take long before everyone started calling him “Bird.”

High up in the hayloft of his barn, Bird began putting together his first set of flight “wings.”

“No point startin’ with the fuselage, Twix. I need to learn what it feels like to fly solo with some homemade wings.”

“But you can’t ever fly like that ol’ red-tail, Bird. Not ever gonna happen.”

But Bird was set on it. I helped him secretly construct a set of wings from salvaged wood from the cut-offs pile out behind the barn and taped together cardboard sheets we cut from boxes “liberated” from the liquor store and Foodmart in town. On our bikes, we’d carried a lot of flat cardboard boxes from town out to Bird’s farm.

Bird personally cut his “flight feathers’ from the cardboard sheets, using a design he drew up in his room at night when his parents thought he was fast asleep. Using some paste-type glue he found in his Dad’s machine shop, Bird carefully anchored each stiff cardboard feather to the left and right side wooden frames. Old leather belts from the bottom drawer of his Dad’s dresser strapped a feathered wing frame securely to each arm. Up in the loft, Bird practiced flapping his wings in a rapid motion he roughly patterned off of the wingbeats of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that were so plentiful in his family’s “Victory” garden.

On the morning of the second Wednesday in August, Bird announced that he was ready to try out the wings. His father was out harvesting in the backfield, and his mother was in town with the United Church women planning their annual Fall fundraiser. There would be no parents around to get in the way.

“Just you and me, Twix. It’s gonna be fun.”

“I’m going to launch from the barn peak up there and glide over to the driveshed.”

He pointed out at the shed, easily a half-football field away. It was a crazy idea, but I’d learned a long time ago there was no luck trying to talk sense to Bird when it had anything to do with flying.

I nodded, “Good luck,” and headed down from the loft to a position halfway between the barn and the driveshed.

Bird had practiced climbing from the hayloft onto the edge of the barn’s tin roof and carefully wiggling his way to the peak about twenty feet higher up. Lying on his back alongside the ridge, he unhooked the wing frames from his backpack, then shimmied his way into each wing, cinching the belt straps tightly to his arms.

Once strapped in, Bird made a slow standing motion until he was slowly swaying upright at the peak, wings extended out like that Christ statue hanging from the cross above the main doors at Lady of Mercy RC church across from City Hall.

Flapping his wings in a modified up-down Hummingbird motion, Bird leaned way out beyond the safety of the barn roof peak.

He launched himself into the swirling air currents.

Bird dropped like a giant, brown feathered turd to the barnyard at least fifty feet below. His arms were still beating as he hit the ground in a slow side roll to the left, Bird’s strong side. It was the beating of his arms that saved him.

The left wing hit first, shattering the wooden and cardboard frame into chunks and Bird’s arm and shoulder into three distinct pieces. Followed by three ribs cracking on that side while his forehead bounced off the grass and rocks in front of the Case planter. Somehow, Bird’s right wing and arm survived the fall. The whole thing sounded like when we threw a watermelon from Bird’s mother’s garden out the hayloft door, which exploded with a deep, watery thwack into the barnyard.

Bird wasn’t moving. Unconscious. His left arm and wing frame were twisted in odd shapes over his body. Blood was beginning to trickle from his nose. What appeared to be one of Bird’s front teeth was lying just in front of his open mouth. He was a mess.

I ran into the farmhouse and dialed 9-1-1, yelled the situation into the phone and ran back out into the barnyard.

Volunteer firefighters began arriving in their farm trucks, blue emergency lights strobing on dashboards or fastened to driver-side roofs. They made Bird as comfortable as possible and waited for the Firehall ambulance from town.

Bird recovered, but it took the rest of the summer and into the first months of high school. But he never gave up his wish to fly like the red-tailed hawk that soared every couple of days over the barnyard.

I’m sharing this memory of Bird’s first flight with the cardboard wings because I was just talking to him on the phone.

He called from Changi Airport in Singapore. His plane leaves for Vancouver in about an hour.

He’s not a passenger.

He’s the captain: of a Boeing 777-300ERs — the largest international long-haul passenger jet in the Air Canada fleet.

Everyone still calls him Bird. Even his parents.


Black and white image of Don Herald, white-haired and beard in a cardigan.

Perhaps it’s his lengthy career in social work and organizational consulting, but Don delights in taking note of common life events that twist unexpectedly or the intriguing personalities he sometimes encounters in his daily activities. These observations provide the inspiration for many of the situations and characters that eventually appear in his stories. Don’s short fiction, flash and poetry are being published online in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. He is a co-founder and active Writers’ Group of Peterborough (Ontario) member.