Mark started his day with exactly what he hadn’t been hoping to start with. For the past ten months most of his mornings had started his way, with medication, a newspaper, breakfast, and two avian voices that he was equally fond and sick of hearing, because they had always given him the same excuses and reasons for coming back without the letters. He had started the mail service with these birds years ago, but age hadn’t served them well and they came home day after day with complaints or letters they forgot to actually leave at the door. Before the older man finished making his breakfast, the monday paper tucked under his arms and slippers still on his feet, two of the birds he employed fluttered after him in the kitchen. “Mark, we can do better. Promise.” Boris the seagull pleaded with him, his webbed feet skittering on the surface of an old man's countertops and his black spotted friend a step to the left. Jack was distracted by a dish in the sink. He almost fell in from a slick spot of water but caught himself with a quick flap of wings. Boris turned and pecked at the other bird to get his attention. Jack squawked.
“Yeah! Yeah, Mark. Marky, boss. We got this.”
Marcus had his back to the pair of gulls in his kitchen and wished he had closed the windows before they had come in. His grey beard and mustache twitched when he talked. “That’s what you said the last time.” The older man continued cutting up fruit for his oatmeal, but still remembered to leave bits of banana and blueberries out for the birds as he did.
Mark had moved to Maine almost ten years ago in order to get away from the city and enjoy the clean air on the water, live in a rustic town with a few thousand residents and no one too nosy. All of the fauna in the cities were too chatty for him. The pigeons in New York would rob him blind and then laugh when he walked away without half of his hot dog bun. He didn't like the energy city critters brought to the table, but all of the birds and house cats and creatures he'd seen upstate with friends were more pleasant and dependable. With his old age starting to get the better of him- well, he knew it would be a wonderful place to retire. Mark wouldn’t be living forever.
He found companionship in the sea birds this far north: albatross, ducks, swans, egrets, herons, the gulls, the pelicans and the storks, everything in between. They were good friends to keep and good for the work he needed done. Mark was never the type of person to sit and do nothing with his life, so it was only a matter of time after watching his seagull companions that he realized they were good at something: bringing him things. After a year of prep work and paperwork, he established the North Wings Delivery Service. He built a firm relationship with another animal carrier service near Lansing, who in turn came in contact with another in the Rockies, and so forth. The animal-speaking community was small, but made for good business.
Still, Boris and Jack were making more mistakes than normal on their delivery routes. They were a pair of older seagulls that had found him as soon as he moved, and they took their entire flock to meet him. But, even the roundabout paths they were known to take were getting out of hand, after the duo had lost 10 letters, a small package, and someone’s keys they were meant to return.
The chattering voices of all of the other birds hovered outside of his kitchen window including the instructive cawing of Gretta, one of the albatross. Salt water air rolled in off the Atlantic. Mark took the slices of banana and put it on a small plate, keeping his back to the pair of gulls and sighing.
“Boys, you know I don't want to do this.” Mark said to them. He didn’t, and the pair of birds knew it. He was always this grumpy.
The birds continued their slow shuffle on the counters, readjusting their wings and scooting closer to the man.
Jack with his black spots and black feet hopped closer. He pecked at Mark’s flannel shirt. “Oh, c’mon, boss- isn’t there something else we can do?”
Mark looked at them both, glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. “Aside from speeding things up a bit? Not forgetting things?” He asked while he was still in good humor. “Nothing, boys. I’m sorry- you two have been working with me for almost 10 years now.”
“But we can do better, boss.” The old man and his breakfast walked over to the kitchen table in the sunroom. From here he could look out at the entire flock of birds, all chatting with one another and enjoying an otherwise peaceful morning. “We’ve still got a good few years, boss.”
“Days, maybe, with your recent behavior.” Once Mark sat down at his seat, the two gulls followed. They stayed a respectful distance from his food as always and didn’t make any moves to surprise him. Eventually one of the older man’s hands came up as an offer. Jack and Boris chirped and took turns having their feathers pet by their lifelong friend. Mark huffed. “You know you two tell me this every time, right?”
“Every time for a year.” The man repeated and ate a spoonful of oatmeal.
“Yes.” Boris answered abruptly. Both of the birds had gone still on the table now, while the rest of the flock outside of the sunroom windows was filling the air with delighted squeaks.
“You know that I’m not going to be doing this forever?”
“But you have been doin’ this forever, boss.” Jack chirped. Boris agreed with a few foot taps.
“No one can keep doing anything forever, boys. Not even us.”
“Sure they can, boss.”
“No, we can’t. I hate to break it to you, Jack.”
“Break what, boss?”
Mark sighed. His hand moved away from the pair of gulls. Jack chirped again and tried to deflate on the kitchen table. He had normally given up by now and left Boris to do the talking, but he insisted. “I swear, boss. We’ll get it done this time Mark, you’ll have never seen some faster birds.”
Mark softened. One hand lowered the spoon and the other swatted at the birds so lightly that they didn’t even flinch.
“Get out of here and go take care it. There are more letters outside in the boxes. I’ll come help you two in a minute.”
Melissa A. Klein is a senior, soon to be graduate from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She'll be graduating with a degree in Creative Writing and experience working with the Oakland Arts Review undergraduate journal in the fall of 2016. She's also hoping for a position in the publishing industry, somewhere down the line.