TITLE: The Bird Girl
By Cynthia Carter
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The Bird Girl
The moonlight slipped through the trees and nudged me awake. Oh no. Those were not trees. They were bars in my jail cell. I had been dreaming of the cemetery where we had hidden the statue. The long gnarled branches of the massive live oak snaked out over the waterway, like arms reaching for me. Its moss laden limbs had guarded the cemetery for over a hundred years. Now it guarded the statue buried in the sand beneath its wide canopy, a landmark we could easily find. The moss hung like bony fingers caressing my cheekbone. I screamed. That wasn’t moss. It was a cockroach crawling up the side of my face.
I tried to jump off the hard cot where I lay. I was in the Savannah jail. The smell of unwashed bodies smacked me in the face. The handcuffs threw me off balance and I hit the cold concrete floor with a thud. A snore from the cot beside mine made me jump. There was a commode with a sink on top. I shivered as my eyes followed the crack that ran across the floor. I heard a moan and then I saw her. It was Tori Beth. My emotions surged. Should I hug her or strangle her?
I struggled to get to my feet. Tori Beth also had handcuffs. She lay like a discarded rag doll in her orange jumpsuit. The sand on her face glistened in the moonlight that danced through the small window in our cell. Where were our clothes? We had been naked when the cop found us on the deserted beach. This was all Tori Beth’s fault. I hoped Tori Beth had sand in other less comfortable places too. Darn her. I knew better than to listen to Tori Beth. She had been getting me in trouble since third grade.
Oh how my head ached. What was I going to do? I had come to Savannah with my best friend (Now ex-best friend) Tori Beth Campbell. Tori worked for the airlines so we had flown free. We were visiting my son Curtis who was in the army. Oh no. He could not find out about this. For heaven’s sake he was an army ranger. How much more disciplined could you be and here his mama was in jail. No. He could not find out about this.
My son was dating the Colonel’s daughter Kelly. The Colonel had arranged for us to stay in the Hunter Army Airfield Lodge. The free accommodations had allowed me to splurge on a tiny red sundress. It was one of those “come-and-get me” dresses and I knew it looked good in all the right places. The Colonel didn’t have anything to do with my choice of outfit but he was handsome and available.
Tori Beth was a master gardener in our small hometown in North Carolina. We had spent the day touring the gardens of Savannah. The Bonaventure cemetery was our last stop. When Tori saw “The Bird Girl” statue she had what my grandmother used to call a “ hissy fit “ One of those lay down in the dirt and kick your feet until you get what you want things. Tori said the statue reminded her of her divorce and she must have it. She kept muttering something about justice. The statue was modeled in 1936 after an eight year old girl. There were only four casts made at that time and one sat in the Trousdale family plot in the Bonaventure cemetery.
After being dragged around Savannah all day I was happy to get back to the lodge for a long relaxing bubble bath. The fragrance of wild cherry had filled the room and lifted my mood. Oh what I would give for a bubble bath right now I thought as I gazed around the jail. My mind wandered back to last night’s events. I had fixed my hair and quickly jumped into the red sundress. I was rather disappointed when I found out neither my son nor the Colonel would be joining us for dinner.
Tori moaned with pleasure as she gobbled down the fried chicken. “Boy that Paula Deen knows how to cook some groceries.” She sighed between bites.” Do you want the rest of that biscuit?” Oh how I wished Curtis could have been there I thought as I watched her grab my biscuit. But when the son’s away mama will play. So we went dancing. Tori Beth was having the time of her life. She danced with everyone. The cowboy who kept ogling me was kind enough to keep our drinks coming. Tori’s fun came to a swift halt when she pinched one of the bouncers on the rear just as his girlfriend walked by. Since her daddy owned the bar we were shown the door and told not to come back. I had lost count of the Fuzzy Navels that we had consumed. I seemed to remember going back to the cemetery we had visited earlier.
I was trying to recall the events from the night before. It rushed back. That’s why we were naked. We had taken our clothes off and wrapped the statue in them. Oh no. My red dress was probably ruined. We had dragged the statue to the waterway in front of the cemetery. We had already buried it when Tori started throwing up. I tried to shush her but it was too late. The cop had heard us.
The traffic cop had been putting a bouquet of rosebuds on his young daughter’s grave. Her plot was right by the waterway. He came each night when his shift ended. He had lost her the month before in a single car crash. She had been drinking. When he found us naked and drunk on the beach, I think he arrested us more out of pity than anything else. He did not know about the statue.
Oh no. We had to find that statue and put it back where it belonged. I was sure my purse was near the statue. I had to find it. That purse contained my driver’s license, money, room card and my ticket home. Had the tide came in? Was everything washed out to sea? How was I going to get out of jail without my son finding out? My brain was spinning out of control. Why did I listen to Tori? I might as well choke her now since I was in jail anyway.
I snapped back to the moment when the jail door was flung open. The guard walked in with the Colonel on his heels. I thought I would die. This was the end of my son’s army career and my life as a free woman.
The Colonel winked at me and said “I liked you better in red but the orange is not bad. Come on I have some of Kelly’s clothes that will probably fit you. We’ll come back for Tori Beth after she has time to sleep it off.” In my ear he whispered, “We have a statue to put back before daylight.” He handed me the crumpled red dress and a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.
I was totally confused now. How did he know what I looked like in red? Where did he find my dress? How did he know we were in jail? I quickly changed Into Kelly’s clothes. My hair was a mess but that was the least of my problems. I followed the Colonel out to his jeep. He helped me in and I decided silence was my best defense.
He pulled out in traffic. The radio was playing “Twilight Time”. I was trying not to sing as I swayed with the music. The song was interrupted by a news bulletin broadcasting the death of Steve Irwin “The Crocodile Hunter” who died the day before when he pulled a sting ray barb from his chest.
“Oh no, “I cried. “ He and I were born on the same day. I can’t believe he is dead. He’s too young to die. What will his poor family do? He has small children.”
“That guy was an idiot.” The Colonel snorted as he turned the radio off.
I bet he thinks I’m an idiot too, I thought as I nibbled on my bottom lip.
“So when is your birthday?” the Colonel asked softly.
“February 22.” I brushed my hair back.
“You have the same birthday as Kelly. How convenient. I just read that marriage is the alliance of two people, one of whom never remembers birthdays and the other never forgets them. Let me guess which one you are?” He smiled. “We need to talk about last night.”
As we sped to the cemetery the Colonel enlightened me on the events of the night before. He confessed that he had scheduled my son for the road march. He wanted to see me but didn’t want Curtis and Kelly to know about it just yet. He had been so against his daughter dating an enlisted man. He and Kelly had fought a rough battle over that one. Of course Kelly had won and her dad realized he had been wrong. He and my son had quickly become very close. Curtis had talked so much about me that the Colonel secretly wanted to meet me. He informed me that dating Curtis had been the best thing that could have happened to his daughter.
After the troops had started the road march and he got back to the lodge Tori Beth and I had already left for dinner. He followed us to the restaurant and then out dancing. We had lost him when we were kicked out of the bar. That must have been when we went to the cemetery.
After the Colonel gave up looking for us, he went to his favorite hangout, an all night coffee shop. The cop was there sharing his exciting evening with anyone who would listen. When he mentioned the two naked ladies he had arrested earlier on the beach, at first it did not register with the colonel. He said “But I knew it was you when the officer said you kept moaning ‘Curtis can’t find out about this.’ I knew you had on clothes the last time I saw you. Who could forget that red dress? I was afraid someone had attacked you. I knew you were safe in jail so I went back to the cemetery to find your attacker or any clues that were left behind.”
“At the cemetery I found your clothes and your purse. The tide had partial uncovered the statue. That’s when I figured out what you had been up to.” He explained. It seems that “The Bird Girl” has a long history of being kidnapped.
My heart sank when I realized that the Colonel had been interested in me. Why did I always manage to blow it when something good came into my life? We quickly found the statue under the sprawling oak tree and put it back in its rightful place. I climbed back in the jeep and waited for the Colonel to take me back to the jail so we could get Tori Beth. I thought about checking myself back in. He handed me my purse and I knew this was the end.
“Please don’t hold this against Curtis.” I begged “He can’t help it if he has an idiot for a mother.’
He swung around to face me. He gently took my face in both of his large hands. “Don’t ever let me hear you say that again. All I have heard from your son is what a wonderful, responsible, beautiful mother he has. He told me how you sometimes worked two jobs to provide for him. He told me that you never give up. You are exactly what I always wished Kelly had for a mother. You don’t look bad in a sundress either.” He said with a wink as he gave me a kiss.
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