True Friend

by Winfried Strathmann

As time went by, he looked more and more like a bird. He was losing weight at a rapid clip. His beak protruded more sharply as the months dragged on. The beak had always been pronounced, and one had never really thought of it as a nose. It was the beak of a bird of prey, neither nose nor mouth, a small hatchet perhaps, or the sharp tool used in archaeological digs to hack at the debris of time. The watery blue eyes still looked right through you into another world, except now that world had moved even farther away. Sometimes he did look like a Scottish Beckett, but toward the end he looked more like an exhausted falcon who had seen a lot and who had been through a lot. He still let out the occasional screech, but he was too weak, and too tired, to spread his wings and to take to the sky.

Then one day, an old friend did him a deed of love that should have made the world pause in awe. With infinite patience, and tenderness, this friend cut back the claws that were protruding over the edge of Bob’s toes, perhaps five years worth, two inches at least. They were rust brown and rolled almost like reeds, or brittle tubes, and they were hard and resistant.

As Bob’s life was slipping away, who knew for certain that he didn’t need his claws any longer? The falcon and the monkey need theirs to the end, if only for a last good scratch. Was cutting them back an act of defiance of death? Or an attempt to delay it?  Was it an act of respect? Maybe the condemned shaves before the hanging out of respect. For life? For death?

His friend’s pruning of those toenails was an act so magnificent and so humble as to make one tremble with sadness, and joy. It became one with the intermittent din and the bare-bones dignity of the nursing home in the Bronx from where Bob, one late afternoon in the summer of 2008, did take flight one last time.

Also by Winfried Strathmann:
A Promise Not Kept
Bob’s Bag

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