24 March 2012

The Quetzal

fiction by RMC

When Maynor went for the newspaper in front of the house there was a quetzal parked on the hood of his car. His car was perched in the driveway, where he always put it, in front of the front door. His car was a Nissan Sentra. He called it a Tsuru, the word from his country. It was the car used by taxi drivers there. He used his as a taxi here. He didn’t have a yellow cab, just a Sentra with the word taxi written in black magic marker on the back of the sun visor. It was a cold morning. There was some frost on the windows. Maynor bent down and picked up the newspaper. The headline read, The Continued Success of the Free Market. The quetzal sat on the hood, still—its long tail flowing down the side of the hood and touching the ground. Maynor’s back hurt. It hurt every morning. Usually, there was no rare bird on the hood of his car. Quetzal feathers were the most beautiful feathers. The whole bird was beautiful. It was green. It was very green, about four inches tall, and had curly spiked hair on its head. It had a red chest and a very long blue and green tail--the color called yax in his country.
Most people never saw one in all their lives. There were shaman, jungle dwellers, people who could speak with plants, who never saw one. Kings, in the previous era, employed workers to take their blowguns to the jungle. They were quetzal-searchers. As soon as they saw one, they fired. If they brought the king feathers they were promoted to cajuaob--a word meaning Lord.
Maynor couldn’t look at the quetzal any longer. He tiptoed inside and to the bedroom. He didn’t want to scare away the bird. He woke his wife. “There’s a quetzal,” he said, “on the hood of my car.”
She rolled over. “It must have fallen out of your pocket,” she said in a tired, scratchy voice. “Carry dollars.”
This was a good, sober answer since Guatemala’s currency was called quetzales.
“No, mi vida. This is not money. It is a quetzal, long tail and everything,” he said.
“Nobody ever sees quetzals, and certainly not here,” she said. “Let me sleep!”
Maynor let his wife sleep late. It was Sunday morning. She was entitled. He slithered out and then into Marleny’s room. She was sound asleep and he was reluctant to wake her, but he had to show someone this bird. He glanced out the window. There it was, on the hood of his car. He felt pride welling up in his chest. He nearly cried.
It was a great honor to see one of these birds. It must mean he had been chosen for some work, special work, by and for the gods. He needed to show someone.
“Marleny, wake up,” he said. “Daddy wants to show you something.”
She held a little stuffed animal--a mallard duck--to her chest. “Mr. Dean doesn’t want to wake up.”
“Come on, honey.” He said.
“Show Mr. Dean later.” Marleny turned over. She wrapped her pillow around her head.
Maynor slammed the door on his way out, the sound echoed through the quiet house. He went back outside where the bird was. It was still there, on the hood of his Sentra. Nobody else saw it. Most of his neighbors came from his country and would have recognized it. He wanted to ask it something. He had so many questions. What did the gods want of him? What was he to do with his life? He was a professor in his country and here he was useless.
He looked to the bird for an answer. It stared straight ahead. The wind blew, moving the bottom of its tail.
“Why did you come to me?” Maynor said. “You think I could be doing something else.”
The bird was magnificent. The colors shined. It was more than a bird, it was a totem, it was a god, it was an ambassador to the cosmic serpent. It was the most beautiful animal on the planet, but it was silent.
Maynor thought it had all the answers. If only Maynor could get them.
“What is the work that I am chosen for?” Maynor asked.
The bird remained absolutely still.
“You’re like talking to my wife,” Maynor said.
Maynor moved slowly toward the bird, stepping gently on the pebbled driveway. He didn’t want to scare the bird away. He took small, light steps. The bird watched him, but didn’t fly away. Maynor managed his way to the car and sat on the hood, next to the quetzal.
There they sat looking at each other.
Marleny came out. “Daddy, Daddy, you got me a pet. She ran to the quetzal and picked it up in her arms. “Oh it’s so beautiful. Thank you.”
She stroked its spiked hair. The quetzal lifted its head. “See, Mr. Dean. I told you we were going to get a present.” She started inside.
“Honey, wait.”
She ran in and Maynor was left sitting on the hood of his taxi.

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