TWO PAPER BIRDS
She sat in the cab of the truck writing in her notebook or reading a paperback. Just getting her to come with him on the job today had been an ordeal, almost leading to one of their arguments. It seemed like she had been angry at him for years, ever since she was a little girl slamming her door on him. He wasn’t even sure why.
Her mother sent her to spend the week with him. If it was reconciliation, it didn’t look like that was happening. Since the divorce, he supposed his daughter’s hatred of him had only grown. And he wasn’t surprised by her cold regard of him. She would sit in the apartment in the corner chair with a book. Mostly he took her on the job to get her out of there, but also he hoped she would be interested in his work, maybe even lend a hand.
Well, tomorrow she would be going back to her mother. He wasn’t sure if the trip had done any good. He could make her come along but she wouldn’t speak. She would be like one of the cement Buddhas that huddled in the bed of the truck. That was his job. He made Buddhas.
The sun shone on this one he had finished pulling into place. Its new home was in a garden corner. It was still winter but he could imagine the statue with spring flowers, crocus and daffodils, all around it. It looked good.
He took a deep cool breath and stared into the Buddha’s face, the eyes he had made with little bits of colored glass. Each Buddha was a little different. A sad part of him was transferred into this one. He knew the feeling. He let out his breath in a hitching, emptying sigh. He was very tired and about to cry. The day to day was much harder than he ever expected and he had failed in so many ways. If he hadn’t got back on track by making these cement Buddhas, it seemed like it was all just a waste. It wasn’t. He took a new breath. There was the smallest candle in him, but it cast just enough light to remind him. Maybe he’d seen it in a dream; he had been sent here, reborn in America for this purpose.
He glanced back at the yellow truck parked under a bare chestnut tree. He could see his daughter in there, her face tipped to her book.
A long row of white muddy pine planks made a track over the ground for the sled he had pulled the Buddha on. Now he had to pull the sled back. When he got to the truck he stopped it. The hard part was running it up the ramp over the tailgate. He saw the back of his daughter’s head in the window, her straw colored hair. She was still reading her book, though the sound just behind her must have been loud.
It would be nice, he thought, if she had asked him if she could help. She must have known what he was doing. She had been watching him work for days. That’s okay, he told himself…It was his business. This was what he did alone.
He followed the path of planks back to the Buddha and trip by trip picked up the pine rails and stacked them in the truck. By the time he finished that task he really was tired. He shut the tailgate, latched it with a clang and held on to the cold metal to catch his breath. It wasn’t an easy job and he was getting older; he didn’t know how much longer he could do it. But it was good to see that statue set solid in the earth. It looked very small across all that distance of winter yard.
He wasn’t quite ready to go, almost, when the cab door opened and his daughter slid out of the truck. She had something in her hand, he caught a glimpse of it, a necklace made of little origami birds. They fluttered around in a long loop as she walked across the yard, along the freshly pressed marks left by the planks. She went further from him, all the way to the Buddha.
He listened to the blue jay cry hopping down the branch above her.
With both her hands, she hooped the birds over the statue’s shoulders. It was perfect. And as he waved at her when she turned around, he smiled and looked away, and saw the two paper birds she had tied to the mirror inside the cab.