by Than Pence
Charlie appreciates Penelope while she appreciates hummingbirds
“A hummingbird feeder. How much did that cost?”
Penelope held up two fingers, then four.
“Twenty-four bucks? Is it glass?”
“It’s basically an inverted plastic bottle. I could’ve made one for you, honey.”
Penelope knocked her head to the side, her eyes wide, her chapped lips pursing.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” She brushed by him, pecking him gently on the cheek. “Well, it looks nice, but it’s cutting into our budget. We don’t exactly have a lot of wiggle room.” She didn’t hear him: he hadn’t made eye contact for her to read his lips. He was almost thankful because he felt ashamed for focusing on money when it came to something like a hummingbird feeder.
She put her sack on the counter to be used another time: it was made up of reprocessed garbage and felt cheap, like a popsicle wrapper, but it did the job.
With practiced ease, Penelope pulled out a tall glass, a measuring cup, and sugar from the refrigerator. Her steps were silent and Charlie moved in behind her, grabbed her around her waist, and smelled her hair. She stopped and rubbed his hands tenderly, leaning into the crook of his neck. He could feel her smile.
She then made a grunt, slapped his wrists, and moved. She measured out a cup of sugar and fours parts water, using a fork as a stirrer. Penelope then quietly poured it into the new feeder. With a toweled hand, she deftly moved to the front porch to hang the newest outdoor keepsake. Charlie watched the floor to see if she had dropped any of the sugar water, but he didn’t see any.
He was concerned with stepping on a wet spot with his socks later.
Outside, she hung the feeder directly in front of the door. It was one of many around the yard. Charlie stared at them. They were full, none having been sipped by the fast-flying birds.
He knew that Penelope longed for the hummingbirds to come back soon, and the day was fast approaching. They would sit together on the front porch, watching dozens of birds fight and chirp and dart off and appear from nowhere.
Charlie touched her shoulder, drawing Penelope’s gaze. While signing, he asked, “What is a group of them? Again?’
She smiled, signing a brief word.
He was confused. “Gladiator?” he asked, mouthing the word clearly.
Penelope chuckled slightly. That’s the only way she ever laughed. Slowly, she spelled the word.
“Oh,” he said. “Glimmer. I forgot.” He practiced saying it while signing. “Glimmer, glimmer.” Penelope turned. She stood staring at the feeders. In the four years they had been together, he’d never seen her go a summer without putting out the hummingbird feeders.
In his pocket, Charlie’s phone pinged. He pulled it out and read the text message: the phone bill was late. He didn’t like the pressure of not having enough money when he needed it, but he knew he could let it slide for a couple days.
They didn’t always charge a late fee.
He heard a distinctive chirp that drew his attention. Charlie looked at a hummingbird, a red throated beauty, as it darted around a feeder toward the edge of the yard. He glanced at Penelope and noticed that she was looking away, to the other end of the yard, oblivious to the jeweled messenger in her midst.
As he shifted his body to put his phone away, the bird flew away. The other natural sounds of the countryside seemed dim by comparison and Charlie felt regret. He’d inadvertently frightened the skittish visitor from a distance. Not only that, but he hadn’t been able to make Penelope aware of the first bird of the season.
Tapping her shoulder, he motioned for her to sit on the bench. He put his arm around her and she rested her head against his, her long, flowing hair pulled to the front so his arm didn’t catch it. “You missed it,” she signed, her hands moving quicker than his ever had.
“Missed what?” he said while signing. It was a habit he didn’t think would ever stop.
“A bird. A humming bird. At the edge of the yard. It was so beautiful and…” she signed a word he couldn’t remember. “But I didn’t move to tell you. Moving would’ve scared it.”
He smiled at the coincidence. She leaned up, having felt it, and looked into his eyes. She looked concerned. “What?”
“Nothing,” he mouthed. “It’s okay.”
“It’s not,” she signed, frowning. “I’m selfish.” She looked down at her hands. He followed her gaze. “I didn’t share the bird with you, and I spent your money on a feeder I didn’t need.”
Charlie saw where this was headed and he held up his hands. “No, no. You are the least selfish of anyone. I know. We can afford to feed birds. We don’t waste money on that expensive red hummingbird juice they sell in the stores. Because… you’re smart.” He smiled at remembering the sign language for “smart”. “And you’re not selfish. We can afford to spend our Saturdays looking. At birds. We don’t need anything… else.”
He motioned for her to lean back and, after a few minutes of quiet, a pair of humming birds flew to the new feeder, the one nearest them. Charlie caught his breath and felt Penelope do the same. She gripped his wrist in her lap and he could feel her smile big.
The birds didn’t fight for the right to drink, or chirp at each other, or fly from one spot to another. They sat still, and drank, and looked content. The setting sun helped Charlie remember the word he’d forgotten before. He spelled it slowly. “Glimmer.”
Penelope gently knocked his ribs and kissed him, the motion scaring the birds, He didn’t mind this time.
Word Count: 1,000