If Jesus Doesn’t Mind, I Don’t
If it had been any other statue in his garden, Martin wouldn’t have minded so much. But there was something wrong about birds sitting on top of the Madonna’s head and defacing the baby Jesus in her arms. There were plenty of cement figurines and ornaments to choose from. This was a big flower garden riotous with color and overflowing with plants bulging around gazing balls, animal sculptures, bird baths, a sundial and a large pink flamingo with its foot upraised.
Martin did not consider himself a religious man. He’d quit going to church when the kids grew up and left home, but standing there on the sidewalk in front of the defaced Jesus, he felt a twinge that something was just not right about it all. The Madonna had been a gift to his wife, and it was a beautiful addition to the garden, white and serene and clean sitting on the edge of a bird bath above a sea of red roses.
This wasn’t the first time this had happened. There must be something about the angle of the Madonna’s cement head which invited birds to sit there and defecate. He got his plastic gloves and the brush from its hook in the garage and with a pail of soapy water from the kitchen began sloshing the statue and scrubbing away the mess.
I could erect a wire mesh of chicken wire over it all. The consideration of various inadequate solutions was part of this cleaning routine. He’d been at it all summer. But they’d just sit on the wire and do it from there.
Here was the real problem. Since he retired, Martin had created a beautiful garden. Every year it got larger as Martin subdued another patch of ground around the house, creating uses for the nooks and tight places and plants adapted to flourish in the shady spots or the places where the summer sun beat the dirt mercilessly. He’d even worked in fruit trees and berry vines. He was proudest of the roses, but he loved his hostas and ferns which grew jungle size in the shady nooks. In the evenings, when Martin sat on the porch which ran along three sides of the farmhouse, he could move his rocking chair to face that portion of the garden he wished to contemplate. If it did not sound so pretentious, he would have called it his own Garden of Eden.
Martin wasn’t the only one to enjoy the garden. He frequently ducked a nectar-filled hummingbird and got stung a couple of times each summer by bees. He’d become an avid butterfly watcher. If the birds would just leave his Madonna alone, he would be happy.
Cayenne pepper won’t work. He once owned a convertible with a cloth roof, and his wife’s cat would sleep in the middle of it causing the cloth to sag. Spreading pepper on the roof at night fixed that. It won’t work with birds. They have no sensation to pepper.
He finished scrubbing the baby Jesus and reached the usual conclusion. Maybe the problem will solve itself. He knew that it wouldn’t though, and he’d had enough. I could shoot the birds with my son’s old BB gun.
Martin spent the rest of the morning digging out a row of Rose of Sharon which had passed its prime years before. The plants were old and bedraggled. Each year he hoped they’d look better, but he was disappointed again. The hummingbirds and butterflies like them so.
It took him three hours in the hot summer sun, but he did it, chopping at the roots with the shovel and prying the plants out of the ground with a heavy iron tamping bar, using a large rock as a fulcrum. They now lay out on the ground like soldiers shot down in ranks.
Wiping the sweat and grime off his neck and arms, Martin walked past the Madonna on his way to the garage. The face of the baby Jesus was streaked again.
That does it.
He washed up inside the house, got a glass of iced tea from the fridge and found his son’s BB gun. He sat down in a chair on the porch and waited. It’s just a couple of birds. The world is not going to miss a couple of birds.
Killing the birds, like seeing the defaced Jesus, troubled him even if he could not explain why. Would this necessary act matter in his life’s accumulation of bad decisions? Was it even important enough to be considered a sin? I don’t know many people who are going to Heaven. I know a lot who think that they are (just ask them).
Martin once told a religious neighbor that the older people got the more they worried about Hell and the less they concerned themselves with Heaven. “I know my shortcomings better than anyone except God, that is, if there is a God. Even I know that Hell is the more likely destination for me,” he said. “Of course, if there is no God, then there is no Heaven or Hell, and it only stands to reason, no sin.”
Sometimes, he surprised himself. If there is no right and wrong is there a Heaven and Hell? Or even God?
At that moment, a Mockingbird landed on the Madonna’s head. Martin eased the BB gun into position and placed the sight onto the bird which flicked its wings, turned right, then left, flickering its wings again. Martin took a deep breath and eased his finger to the trigger just as the bird leapt down onto the edge of the bird bath and began sipping water, looking up after every sip, turning, flickering its wings again before returning to the Madonna’s head and repeating the choreography.
Martin lowered the rifle. He watched his wife’s cat appear out of some Monkey Grass where it had been sunning. The cat watched the bird high up on the Madonna’s head and moved on to another part of the yard. The bird was using the Madonna’s head as a perch to watch out for the cat before it could safely land on the edge of the bird bath for water. Did that warrant execution?
He let the bird go. He could not define it, but it seemed like the right thing to do. If it would have been wrong or even sinful to kill a few birds, then deciding to do the opposite must be the opposite of being sinful. Maybe it’s these small things, the decisions that no one ever knows about, that matter and count for something. Is that God around us?
The bird flew away but was soon replaced by another who repeated the ritual before hopping down for water.
I’ll clean up baby Jesus if I am going to have guests over. Otherwise, if Jesus can tolerate it, I can. He moved his chair to a shadier part of the porch.
Michael Gigandet is a lawyer living on a farm in Tennessee. He has been published by the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Reedsy, Spelk Fiction, OrangeBlushZine, Transfigured and Potato Soup Journal. He has published stories in collections by Palm Sized Press, Pure Slush and Down In The Dirt.
Photo is in the Public Domain.