I don’t remember Old Man McFall that good anymore, but I remember how he used to smoke his cigar—the one he’d never be caught dead without—on the porch, in the summertime where the townspeople used to walk by with their children and their dogs. He’d put the flaming stub in front of his face and pinch it with his lips, right at their pucker, and give a concentrated look as if he were blowing up a balloon. And sometimes, from the way the wrinkles formed around his face, it looked as if he were puffing his cheeks out, making a mockery of anyone unlucky to meet his eyes and see his face.
I’m not as old now as he was in my youth, but my mind’s telling me that he had a stuffed creature he kept perched on his lap. It was an odd creature, something no man in his right mind would ever get stuffed, let alone keep perched on his lap. Something like a chicken. Or a rooster. It had wings, I know that for sure. And it had those dead eyes, those eyes that leaked into a person’s bones and kissed them with their frozen lips. He had a house, an old house that shed paint like a dog shed hair in the sun.
He had a daughter. Somewhere down the line he was friends with one of the grandfathers of a townsperson who had now come and gone like so many before me. I think it was him who said that Old Man McFall had a lover or a live-in girlfriend or that maybe he was a widower whose wife died of too little happiness. He had a daughter who grew up all too quickly and moved away—after her mother either died, or ran away, or fell out of love—to a school she thought her father would never want to visit. I think that must have been when he got a bird, which makes me quite sure now that it was, in fact, a bird. He kept it until it died, and then he stuffed it as a reminder of the steps he’d never take to see his daughter again.
One time someone told me, and I think this was either Frank Walsch or his brother Davie, that Old Man McFall bought a plane ticket and was showing it off to everyone who passed by his porch. It was in the summer, which meant he had his cigar and aviary creature of some sort, and although he didn’t talk too much, he was unnaturally spritely that day. He waved the shallow stub in the air like a man with a winning lottery ticket and told the townspeople that he was going to see his daughter again. They smiled at him and they held their children close, walking faster down the road and wishing there was another route they could take to get back home. Old Man McFall then’d sit himself down in his chair and puff at his cigar again, stroking the stiff-as-plastic feathers of the stuffed bird. He’d hold the ticket in front of his face, squinting from the brightness of the sun, and tell himself that this was it; this was the day he’d see his daughter.
Call it coincidence, but an old chum buddy of mine got on the plane that day, the same one that Old Man McFall was supposed to board. They said it was an overbooked flight, but upon further consideration they found enough seats to pack the restless travelers into the plane’s aluminum cargo. They filed them in through the rolling red staircase, which was an uncanny facsimile of the crest atop Old Man McFall’s stuffed critter’s head, and sat them down with seats to spare. My buddy got himself a window seat and watched the crown-like ladder skirting off the wing of the plane. He thought it would be a coincidence if that was the seat that Old Man McFall was supposed to have been in, and he wondered if he would have tried to bring his stuffed creature on the plane with him, or if what was on the other side of his flight was good enough to forget that the thing ever existed. Then again, the poor old man probably never got to pack his bags. He was probably too busy holding onto his stuffed bird. But anyway, it could be that it was just a story.