A myriad of birds flew above little Marie’s head. She gawked in awe as they gracefully migrated across the crystal blue sky. Though she did not have many friends because the children her age didn’t seem interested in being around her, Marie found plenty of joy in watching birds. The amazing creatures had always fascinated her young mind. Looking up into the sky, she ran as fast as her legs could carry her in an attempt to catch up with the flock of birds. Suddenly, Marie crashed into something, lost her balance, and fell.
“Are you okay there, girlie?” a face appeared in her line of sight. It belonged to a pale old man with a dark birthmark on his left cheek “Here, let me help you up,” He reached out his hand and hoisted her to her feet. “Watching the birds, huh?” Marie nodded her head vigorously. “I’ve always loved watching birds. Sometimes I wish I was one. Then, I could fly around eating random food that people set out for me!”
Marie laughed. “I like the beautiful colors, the graceful feathers, the incredible songs, and their ability to fly,” she glanced down at her watch. “Oh, no! I have to go, or I’ll be late for school. I’ll see you later Mr…?”
“Earl! Just Earl, no Mr. necessary! See you later, girlie!”
Marie scurried off toward the bus stop. “Marie’s my name!” she called back to him.
“See you later, girlie named Marie!” he waved to her and she waved back before turning the corner just in time to get on the big, yellow school bus.
Marie had an awful day at school. She couldn’t keep her mind focused on anything. She longed to go home.
It seemed like years passed before she was able to get on the bus and leave school. As she walked along the sidewalk to get to her house, she remembered that she had met Earl that morning.
I know what I’ll do! She thought. I’ll stop by his house and give him a visit!
Marie knocked on the red door of the house that she had seen him at earlier that day. A gust of autumn wind chilled her nose as she waited on his front porch. A few minutes after she had knocked, he opened the door.
“Hello, there, girlie named Marie!”
She grinned from ear to ear. “I was wondering,” she began. “...if you have binoculars that I could borrow to watch the birds,” she held her backpack straps in her hands and swayed slightly, as many young people who struggle to keep still do when they are waiting.
“You were wondering if I have binoculars, huh?” Earl said. “You should have been wondering what kind of binoculars you want to use! I have an entire collection! Wait here!” he held up a finger before shutting the door and going into his house to grab his collection of binoculars. He came back with a massive box filled to the brim with various pairs of binoculars. “I think I have just the pair for you,” he dug around in the box before pulling out a small, pink pair of binoculars that were decorated with delicate flowers.
“These are perfect!” Marie smiled and put the binoculars up to her eyes. “Wow, your nose looks so big!” she giggled.
“And for me…” Earl heaved an enormous pair of binoculars out of the box. They were deep blue and had a thick strap that he hung around his neck. “...these big fellows!” As he pressed the binoculars to his eyes, Marie could see in the other end. His eyes had been shrunk down ten times smaller than their original size. She had to squint just to see his pupil. The lenses on the binoculars were so thick that Marie could admire them layer by layer.
“Wow…” her jaw fell open. She loved few things more than a wonderful pair of binoculars.
“It’s nothing impressive, girlie named Marie!” Earl took the binoculars down from his face and let them hang around his neck. “Most old people have terrible vision!”
He and Marie laughed together on the front porch. As he climbed down the one step that led up to his house, he waved his hand. “Come on, girlie named Marie! I have a perfect spot to watch the birds in my backyard!” Marie jumped off his porch and followed him into his backyard. It was a beautiful lawn - filled with flowers, trees, bushes, shrubbery, decorative stones, and, most plentiful of all, birdhouses and bird feeders. “You want to stand right here,” Earl informed Marie, planting his feet in a specific location. “... and look right up there!” Both of them put their binoculars over their eyes and looked up at the sky. There was a very tall tree a little distance away that was filled with birds! Marie could see them so clearly that she was able to count their feathers. She looked over at Earl and saw him reach into his pocket and pull out a small, green book, The cover read “The Ultimate Guide to Birds” He quickly flipped through the pages and found a picture.
“Are you identifying a bird that you see, Earl?” Asked Marie. He tapped the page of his book.
“I knew it! A red-billed woodpecker! If you listen really closely, you’ll be able to hear it pecking at the wood!” They cocked their heads and forgot about everything except for sounds. After a few seconds, Earl and Marie heard the faint and persistent noise of a woodpecker drilling a hole in a tree that is far away.
“Incredible!” Marie gasped. The sun was beginning to set and they were struggling to see the birds. “I should probably get going now,” Marie sighed. “Thank you so much for letting me borrow these binoculars and watch birds with you!” she stretched out her arm to give back the pink binoculars.
“It’s no problem! I had a lot of fun!” He pushed her arm away. “Keep them! They’re yours now,”
Marie looked quizzical. “Are you sure? They’re so nice, you ought not to just give them away,”
Earl waved a hand in an it’s-no-problem sort of way. “Nobody other than you have used those in years! I insist,”
“Thank you, Earl! I’ll see you another time so we can watch the birds more! I’ll make sure to bring these!” she waved the binoculars in the air. Earl waved back to her and she made her way back home.
“Where have you been all afternoon?” inquired her mother when Marie walked in the door.
“I’ve been bird watching with Earl! Look at what he gave me!” she proudly displayed the pink, flower decorated binoculars.
“Those are beautiful!” Her mother smiled. “Wait… do you mean Earl the old man who lives down the block, or is there another Earl that I don’t know about,”
“I mean Earl the old man who lives down the block! He’s really nice and he loves birds, too!”
Marie spent many afternoons and weekends bird watching with Earl. They would see the most beautiful birds sitting in the branches of that huge tree or gliding through the air. They both loved the time so much. Even Marie’s parents got to know Earl well because of all the time Marie spent at his house.
One crisp, Sunday morning, Marie woke up to her father rubbing her mother's shoulders next to an open window. The breeze blew the curtains that rested on the window. Both of her parents looked very solemn.
“Sweetheart,” started her father. “We need to talk to you,”
Gingerly, they sat Marie down and told her that her beloved friend, Earl, had been so old that he had gotten sick and passed away.
“No!” she fell to her knees and cried. She bawled her eyes out. Her sobs made her shoulders shake.
Marie forced back her tears as she saw a small being come through the window and land on the ground next to her. When she got a good look at it, she stared because the sight brought her such joy, even through her terrible sadness. It was a bird that was pure-white but for a small, dark mark on it’s left cheek. The bird gently sang her a gorgeous song that soothed all her sadness away.