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Stories by Peter Logue
The Blue jays in John's back yard

From the window of his Toronto home, John had watched for the arrival of his favourite little birds for almost forty years. At the first sign of the graceful blue birds playing and swooping across his back yard, John would turn to his wife with a smile. "They're back, Jean! They're back!"

Sometimes the blue jays would come early. Sometimes they would leave late. It differed from year to year. But whenever they returned to his little garden in downtown Toronto, John's enthusiastic greeting was invariable. Up went the nesting boxes and out came the feed, water tray and garden furniture. That done, and from his vantage point on the patio, John watched them ceaselessly, taking in the habits and characteristics of each and every one.

Through the spring John would watch the little birds, taking note of where they had nested, witnessing the first flights of the little ones as they merged from the nest. "Have ye got the feed, Jean. We're goin' tae need it!"

Over the years, John's blue jays had become a passion, so much so that there was little about them he didn't know. Such a fanatic was John that he claimed to recognise each and every bird, insisting that one bluejay in particular had returned for the past nine consecutive years! "Ye can see," said John, "a distinctive lightening in the feather pigment just above the left wing."

"And he was right, as well," Jean later told me, "because whenever John forgot a feeding, a rare occurrence indeed, that very same wee bird came tapping on the window pane. Tap. Tip-tap." Jean smiled then, "Oh, whit a pleasure that wee bird was."

Later that year, life took on a terrible turn for John and Jean. After a series of tests to determine the cause of John's annoying shoulder pain, the diagnosis of terminal cancer was fully realised. They considered all the options, of course, consulted countless specialists in Canada and the US, but by late July, John was finally informed that he was, in fact, riddled with cancer and that there was no hope, no hope at all.

As John's illness progressed, he would sit in his chair by the window, looking on with sheer joy at the shenanigans of those little birds as they soared and swooped in and out of the trees in his back yard, lighting a time or two upon his window sill for a brief moment before flying off.

In the Autumn, from the confines of his bed, John sensed that the birds were ready to go. Pointing to one on a tree branch by the window, he said softly, "Just a few days now and they'll all be off." Realisation dawned then that he would never again see these little birds return to his beloved back yard. "It was the only time he cried," Jean said.

Towards the end, while incurring bouts of excruciating pain, John still found comfort in the antics of his little friends. "See now, Jean," he whispered from his pillow, "they're about ready tae go."

To John and Jean's amazement, however, days past and all but one of the little birds had flown south. "That's the wee one who's been here all these years," John insisted. "He knows, ye see. He knows."

Jean told me later that that little bird had stayed for one day, and then two days, and then three days, not once moving from his perch on the windowsill while John looked on with a smile, occasionally whispering a word or two to his little friend. In response, the little bird had pecked at the window. Tap. Tip-tap. It was one of the last things John ever saw.

On returning to the empty room on the day of the funeral, Jean noticed that the little bird was still there, still perched on the sill. "And dae ye know what?" she said, sotto voce, "I'd swear tae God that wee bird turned and cocked it's wee head at me."

Later that evening, however, the bird was gone. "It was like a miracle," Jean said, her eyes filling with tears, "Whit a comfort that wee bird was for John in his last moments. Now," she added, "every spring when those wee birds return, I'm looking oot for them just as John had."

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