I spotted the warbler again, staring through the window of my second block calculus class, concealed in the bushes. I dug lead into the parchment hard and tried to find meaning in the numbers and printed lines, but I couldn’t. The paint of my yellow number two bled onto my palms. The pencil splintered. My fingers grew stiff and my mind wandered from integrals and equations to two prying eyes that watched me from outside. I wished somebody else would notice that damn bird, I really did. The faint noise, the zeep zeep zeeps, could be heard through the thick glass. To my right sat Mary Bates, crouched over her worn down and clumsy red notebook. I liked Mary Bates. She had straight pearl teeth that were easy to talk to and the way she looped her Y’s made everything feel a tad bit better. She was also my neighbor. The Bate’s lived in a crumbly beige house surrounded by rows of tulips. I had always admired her mother, who had spent many hours of her weeks dirtying her pant legs, tending to her lovely mauve and pink painted flowers. One afternoon she had even heard my parents yelling at each other while she was in that garden. She asked Mary to check in with me, sweet lady.
I reached out my shaky jaundiced fingers and lightly brushed the shoulder of her olive sweater. My touch startled her, her head snapped up from her work, hair moving wildly, curly antique couch springs. Her posture uncoiled after the realization that the tap was not from an apparition, but of a classmate. “Look outside the window,” I asked, pointing one bony finger off into oblivion.
“What is it?”
“See that bird?” As I asked, she squinted her eyes, attempting to make sense of the sooty figure, crouched amongst the earth. Mary laughed, her giggles were a flower bed.
“Well that’s odd,” she offered, balancing her pen between two gaunt fingers, “funny almost.”
“Wanna hear somethin’ even funnier?”
“Of course,” I could tell I had Mary’s attention now, surely. Her black pen fell from her fingers to her wooden desk, and she shifted her bruised knees in my direction.
“That little guy’s been following me around,” Mary’s eyebrows raised in confusion, “Past couple night’s he’s been screamin’ out at my window,” I laughed, “even followed me to school!” My words were veiled with humor, I wasn’t too keen on letting Mary Bates know how the warbler made me feel anxious and unnerved and all.
“You don’t think it could be another bird?”
“No, it’s him,” I spoke. This made Mary Bates laugh. Soon our focus on the bird wavered away and we both fell back into the humdrum of formulas and functions. It was nice to have a friend, to have something other than a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. The flecks of ivory in Mary Bates’ teeth gave me something to focus on besides the black, besides the black throated grey warbler. The seeming friendship of Mary Bates was the antidote, encased in a glass vile like in those movies, so easily shattered.
When the clock’s calloused hands grazed 2:00, the red brick schoolhouse expelled students in all directions, spitting them out like a child would broccoli. There were many hues, dots and people in this wave, a tsunami of hair and sweaters and backpacks and commotion. This Monday mirrored any other Monday. Students itching, until their skin was left raw, to go home. The sound of heavy footprints colliding onto pavement still rung in my ears and so did the sound of popping pink bubble gum. I overheard Bobby Metz tell Charlie Woods, the quarterback, he was going to ask Sylvia Freeman to go steady with him. This is a secret I had kept and this was something that would never happen. In the crowd, I began to search for the warbler. I could tell he was watching; he was always watching. The zeeps had been drowned out by an orchestra of voices but I knew they were there, a steady metronome. I could tell, the way my palms had began to shake like an addict’s and that pit in my stomach arose once more, growing again exponentially. Exponential growth and decay, second block calculus, Mary Bates. He was always there.
I turned onto Hanover street on the walk home. Attempting to dodge cracks and breaks in the cement, I wished not to harm my mother though at times it felt as if she wished to harm me. This was a habit I had picked up at six, compulsion clung to my shoulders like freckles would, all of my remembered life. Mary Bates was only a few paces ahead of me. With each step, her curls bounced. The warbler was nowhere in sight. I needed to get her attention, I needed Mary Bates. I yelled. “Mary!” My voice startled her, she turned her neck, hair whirling, squinting over the shoulder of her olive sweater.
“Hey Wheeler,” her strides slowed until I caught up with her. We walked besides each other in silence for a few moments, exchanging only the sound of breaths falling and rising.
“How’d you do on that test Friday?” I asked.
“I think I did well, not my best, but well” Mary smiled, “What about yourself?”
“I wish I could say the same,” I laughed, with the laughter I felt slight weight remove itself from atop my ribcage.
“Have you seen that oddball bird again today?” I was glad Mary remembered.
“I saw him sixth block too, not since then though. He’ll turn up soon.” Mary bit at her thin pink lips in confusion.
“Why’d you say that?” Her pitch skewed itself until her voice spilled out from her chapped lips sweetly, with the consistency of honey.
“I can just tell- I feel all weird when he shows up,”
“Try scarin’ him or something, you know, frighten him. Clap your hands loud and look real big, maybe he’ll just fly away,” she giggled and her cheeks became spotted the color of the flowers occupying Mrs. Bate’s tulip garden.
“I thought that’s what you’d do if a bear came up to you,”
“It’s only an idea, Wheeler. Take it or leave it.”
“Well, Mary Bates,” I looked her in the eyes, “that is one grand idea.”