I remember the first time I realized the "Dead Bird Picture" was actually a picture of dead birds. I was in the fourth grade.
I had stared at that picture many times, wondering what it meant. I couldn't quite grasp it. The browns and grays and yellows swirled and mixed and faded into the heavy frame. The dim lighting of the living room only added more camouflage to the mirage. I strained my brain trying to unpuzzle its complexity. Why on earth would my parents hang such a smeary muck on the wall as decoration?
Then I got glasses.
I probably was wearing my yellow shorts jumpsuit the day I unriddled the mystery piece of artwork. I imagine I had on my brown knee-high socks with the little doggies embroidered at the top. My sister hated when I wore that outfit. It was my favorite. I have loads of photos in it from second grade, when it was a bit baggy, to fourth grade, when I had to let it fall in the “outgrown” pile.
I liked to stand on my head and watch TV, so I’m sure I was doing that in my yellow jumpsuit and new glasses. The “tortoise shell” frames were almost as thick as the lenses and were as big around as a Skoal can. My mom bought me some special gold letters, my initials, that I applied to the bottom corner of the right lens. I stuck them on myself, being careful to get them at just the right angle. They read “KLD” in cursive capital letters. I was so proud. What was more, I could see!
The leaves on the trees during that first ride home from the eye doctor looked as if someone had hit “Unsharp Mask” in Photoshop. Television took on a whole new meaning. I finally understood what the squiggly mark on all Laverne’s shirts actually meant. And then there was the dead bird picture.
I had stood on my head through a TBS rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies when I decided to take a break. Through several twists and turns, I flip-flopped over into a backbend, coming to a comfortable rest on my back facing the fireplace. I crossed my right ankle over my left knee as a sideward gravity pulled my gaze to what I had always seen as a puddle of blob in an old, ugly frame.
Today, however, the goopy mire looked different. It had points and some mild color – not much. It was still brown and dark and hard to decipher … but it looked different today, rigid. It had depth. I studied it. My mind wouldn’t let go of that murky image I’d grown up seeing inside the frame.
It was like looking deep into one of those Magic Eye conglomeration things. I love those things, but in 1984, they had not been invented, and not even George Orwell could have dreamed up something as horrifying as what I saw when that demented smudge of gloop came into focus that day.
The vision that would haunt me came one wretched feather at a time. I spotted a dull red flare, a beak, perhaps? An eye glistened, catching my attention. I was amazed at the detail. I scanned up and down, finding bird after bird. I went across from top to bottom – all birds. Limp heads. Why are their heads crooked? A basket, a cutting block … a brightly-colored linen? These birds are inside … a kitchen.
Man sakes alive! These … are … DEAD … BIRDS! EWWWWWWWWW!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. My new glasses had decoded the great befuddlement. What an awful sight it was!
I’m sure many of my friends saw it during birthday and slumber parties, but from that day forward, when anyone new entered the door, that picture was stashed promptly behind the green recliner. I’d leave it back there as long as I could, but mom would eventually notice the bare spot on the wall and put it back into its place.
I hated it growing up, but I love it now when I go home. It’s still in the same spot. I want to believe it will hang there forever, but I know it won’t. With age, time and a little humility, it has become my favorite … and I’d like to call dibs. ;-)
I really don’t think anyone else wants it. At least I’ve never heard anyone mention it. So, if you think I should be so privileged to inherit it, please click the like button, and I’ll let you know how it turns out.