The larger of the two buzzards circled once more, keeping a sharp eye on both today’s object lesson and on the younger bird pacing him just a short distance away.
“It’s not moving,” offered the junior of the two.
“That’s usually the first symptom of what dead looks like, son.”
“Should we go and get it?”
“How about you go and get it, and I’ll watch?”
“But Dad, I’ve never gone by myself before.”
“There has to be first time, and I think this looks like a good first time.”
“What if it’s not dead?”
“You’ll soon know if it’s not—we have that effect on other creatures. Go on. Give it a try. You have to do it on your own sometime. I’ll be right here, circling. Don’t worry.”
If pop said he’d be there, well then, he’d be there. The smaller bird gently banked, carving spirals in the sky as he lost altitude. He kept a close eye on his prey, willing it not to move, wishing it to be well and truly dead.
There were two ledges below. The outer one was festooned with flowers and on its rim perched a bird feeder. That was of no interest to either of the buzzards. They had no taste for birdseed. However, immobile on the inner ledge lay lunch—at least that was what the younger of the two scavengers hoped.
He made one more circle and then came in for his landing, claws reaching out to grab the ledge, wings beginning to fold like flaps to slow, then stop, his forward motion at the perfect moment.
There, I made it.
The buzzard turned a bright eye toward the object of his desire. It was still there, but his heart sank. This was going to be a little harder than either he or his dad, still circling high above him, had thought. The creature, tantalizingly close, turned two huge eyes in his direction and flattened its ears. It seemed to grow in size as the young bird watched.
Drat it. It’s not dead after all.
It was then that he realized something else. There was a third ledge, the back edge of the second, and it was on this that the cat, for that was what the creature was, rested. The sharp eyes of the buzzard noticed yet another thing. His dreams of lunch died as they made contact with ultimate reality. In the middle of the two conjoined ledges was a closed window that separated the young bird from his prey.
The cat let out a fearful, anguished cry, as though it felt the claws and beak of its enemy digging into furry flesh.
The young bird cast a beady bright eye on its non-prey. The barrier was inviolable. He could see lunch but there was no way he could touch it.
The cat continued to cry. It did not run, seemingly paralyzed with fear.
With a disgusted look backwards, the young buzzard launched himself off the ledge, caught a passing current of air, and returned to where his father was circling, far above the building.
“You knew about the window, didn’t you, Dad?”
“Yes, I did. I once landed on that same ledge myself.”
“So why did you send me down there if you knew?”
“It’s all part of what dads teach their kids—what’s worth going after and what’s not. Some prey we can’t touch, dead or alive. You did good.”
“But I didn’t get any lunch.”
“No, but instead of banging your head against that window wasting your time trying to get at that cat, you were smart and flew away.”
“Why did it make such an awful sound, like it was already in my claws? It must have known that it was safe and that I couldn’t touch it.”
The two birds turned in unison, in perfect harmony with the gentle updraft that wafted through the valley, while the big one considered his answer.
“Trust, son. It’s all about trust. Sometimes these creatures just don’t seem to understand that what limits their freedom, also keeps them safe. Sometimes when they are afraid, they forget about the barrier protecting them.”
The big buzzard would have smiled, if he could have.
“Let’s go then. Now that you know what not to bother with, I show you where some of the best pickings in town are. Watch and learn, son, watch and learn. This time we’ll find something unprotected—and dead. Trust me.”