When did the birds come? Did they all arrive unseen, in the dark of night? You can hear them in the cottonwoods early in the morning, well before first light. Robins. Bohemian waxwings, gray-white birds with orange caps, trilling in the trees. Brown thrashers calling their kiss-kiss and chattery song from one branch to the other in the willow. There’s light in the morning now when Finn heads out to the shed for his bike. Yesterday he saw green buds on the willow tree. It is always first. There was warm hopeful glow in the east over town as he pedaled the gravelly ruts on the road in to work.
The spring has stayed dry, the season askew. April is usually the month when the thaw in the soil and the dark fall from the clouds turns from snow and ice to cold rain. Windblown but wet. It unsticks the black earth beneath the hard grasses, bent in the breeze. The air heavy with the smell of the rich black soil.
It’s dry this year. A cold breeze out of Sasketchawan blows dust before it, heavy soil lifted from somewhere. It drifts across the state highway in brown swirls. Along the county road a sudden gust twirls up a slow brown funnel of dust, waving over the road like a dusty ghost, billowing and then dispersing.
In the cafe the farmers talk of planting. It’s early for it. “I know if I plant now, a late snow will blow in and burn off the shoots. Or freeze the roots. It happened so many times when I was a kid, whenever I got too anxious. Or greedy.” Others nod. The first one gets up, pours another cup of coffee from the pot on the burner that sits up by the cash register. He goes back to the booth where he had been sitting, flips back to the page with the comics and the crossword puzzle and thinks about doing it again. He never does crossword puzzles.
He looks out the window. A gust of wind heaves up the street, carrying a stray shard of cardboard from a large box. It’s late morning and there are no cars out now. The box heaves up on gusts and falls again, up and down, up and down, like the slow step down the street of an unseen giant, heading south and out of town.
Back in the store room Finn takes down a shiny round tin of flour from the metal shelf. The back window is slid open. A bush obscures the glass but he hears the wind gust through it. And from a tree opposite in the alley, a kiss-kiss call again of a brown thrasher. And an answer from the crown of the building opposite: kiss-kiss-kiss.