From Chicago Boomer

"The Birds"

My father hated horror movies, especially anything that had to do with mummies. If you wanted to see a full grown adult become absolutely unglued, all you had to do was throw your arms out and walk stiffly and slowly toward him.

One year, my mom had us wrap her in toilet paper and then call him into our room where she simply stood quietly in the corner. When he noticed her, he let out a shriek and ran out of the house in his underwear, totally not giving a crap about his two small children that were left behind to face the terror of… the mummy.

Given my father’s issues with dead things that could barely walk, I guess it would be safe to say that my younger brother Benny and I inherited our love of scary movies from my mother.

My Dad was always forbidding my brother and me from watching anything that might make us afraid of the dark, not in order to protect us, but to protect his sleep: He hated nighttime visitors in his bed. My mother, on the other hand, was a hardcore graduate of the school of desensitization.

Back in the late sixties we could only see movies at the “show” (movie theaters) or on our black and white television. Remember, there was no such thing as cable television and nothing was “on demand.” People had to wait until the powers that be decided that it had been about twelve months since certain films had been broadcast and a rebroadcast could be lucrative. This meant that in our house the weekly TV Guide was received with the same fervor as a Christmas toy catalog. Benny and I circled the movies we wanted to see in red marker so that my mother would remember to remind us when they were on.

In regards to television watching, Benny and I were the envy of the other neighborhood kids. Since our mother was an artist, she was pretty liberal when it came to exposing us to films she considered works of art. And as far as my mom was concerned, anything that Alfred Hitchcock directed was art.

Psycho was pretty popular but we had seen it so often that it no longer scared us. But The Birds, well that was a movie we had never seen. This TV Guide listing was triple circled.

Seeing The Birds required a bit of manipulation on all of our parts as my dad wouldn’t permit us to watch it, primarily because he knew that Benny and I would then have to spend the night in his bed and he wouldn’t get any sleep… or anything else.

On the summer night that The Birds was to be shown, my brother and I, as had been pre-arranged, went to bed early because we were “tired.” For her part, my mom encouraged my dad to have a few shots of Rock and Rye with his evening beers. After he passed out, mom got him in bed and then crept into our room and putting her finger to her lips to indicate silence, she helped us quietly gather our pillows and blankets and the three of us set up movie camp on the living room floor. From the kitchen she produced popcorn, Cokes and a few candy bars. On nights like this it was not possible to love my mother more. She was our hero and we adored her.

At some point during the movie my father got up to pee and realized he had been had. Standing in the living room doorway in his twisted up boxer shorts and bloodshot eyes he shakily pointed at my brother and me and told us that we had better not call out to him, cry or sneak into his bed when the movie was over or he would beat our asses bloody.

My mother made a disgusted face and yelled that he was drunk and told him to take a piss and go back to sleep. He stared at my mom the way a confused child would and then did as he was told. We finished the movie without further interruptions.

But then it was time to go to bed. Benny and I shared a room with bunk beds, me on top and Benny on the bottom. While the lights were on we were all brave and shit, recounting the hilarious scene of the birds chasing the school kids down the street but as soon as the lights went out, sure as hell, we were terrified.

So no birds would get me, I tried to sleep wrapped up in my blanket even though it was a hundred degrees outside and we did not have a fan or an air conditioner. I kept praying that I would pass out from dehydration and not wake up until the sun rose but any kind of sleep proved to be impossible because Benny kept crying on the bunk below me.

And then we heard the noise. It sounded like a bird was under his bed.

Benny sat up. “Josie, do you hear that?”

Trying to be brave I scoffed “Hear what?”

The noise came again, along with a fluttering of wings that bounced against the underside of Benny’s mattress. Benny shot off his bed and scrambled up the ladder to find safety in my arms. We sat under my blanket, hanging on to each other for dear life, sweating, shaking, and crying.

Every time we heard squeaking or felt thudding against the bed we cried harder and eventually in our terrorized state we started bouncing up and down on the mattress, wildly sobbing and clinging to one another as if we were facing a firing squad. We had disobeyed our father and now God was sending evil birds to tear our flesh and fly us off to hell.

I had an idea. I would lead Benny in a saying of the bedtime prayer we had been taught. Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take…

At first it worked to calm us but then Benny started panicking when he realized it wouldn’t work because he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep waiting for the birds to get him. He started to wail. “It won’t work Josie, God can’t take us if we’re not asleep…” I tried to cover his mouth and we struggled for a moment but stopped when horror of horrors, our bedroom door creaked open. I don’t know what we were more afraid of, it being our Dad or a very large Pterodactyl sent by the devil to bring us to hell. We held our breath waiting for our fate to be determined.

Eventually, a small white paw snaked around the bottom of the door and our cat Peeps sauntered into the room. Our relief did not last long as she promptly started growling and hissing at whatever was under the bed. Bloody asses be damned, we couldn’t be silent while our beloved pet had her eyes pecked out so… we started screaming for our daddy.

Instantly my father appeared in our doorway with a baseball bat (we lived in a rough neighborhood). “What the hell is going on in here?!”

“T-T-There’s a b-b-bird under the bed…” We both started a fresh round of hysterical sobbing.

“Jesus Fucking Christ. There is no Goddamn bird under the bed. Go to sleep.” He slammed the door shut and left us alone in the dark with the unknown monster that for all we knew was now crawling up the bunk ladder. A monster, we soon learned, that Peeps was only too happy to do battle with.

So now, not only did we have something alive under the bed that did not belong there but we had Peeps under the bed as well, scratching, meowing and hissing… and we were on our own.

“MAMA” we screamed in unison.

It just wasn’t our night. The scream brought not our mom but our very pissed off father now armed with a flashlight so he could get to the bottom of this imaginary bird nonsense and commence with beating our asses.

Peering over the top of the bunk bed rail, we saw him kneel down and with his big ass up in the air, he stuck his head under the bed. Flicking the flashlight on he let out an ungodly scream and the whole bed rose about a foot off the ground before it settled right on top of the man that had given us life.

Looking down we were horrified to see our dad flat on his stomach thrashing his legs about and screaming hysterically. From the top bunk it looked like something under the bed had him by the head. His flashlight had rolled against the wall and made the room glow like we were being abducted by aliens. He was pounding the floor and yelling for us to get our mother.

Benny and I flew off the bed and raced to my mom’s room and choked out what every woman wants to hear at two in the morning: “The monster under the bed has Daddy…”

She froze for a moment and then ran into the hallway when she heard my Dad screaming for her to bring scissors. She turned to us and asked, “Why does he need scissors?”

“To k-k-kill the monster under the bed…” I stammered.

Benny was wailing so loudly I guess she didn’t hear me correctly. “There’s a man under the bed?”

I didn’t hear the question mark in her voice. My eyes widened. “There’s a man under the bed?”

My Mom didn’t hear the question mark in my voice and ran to the kitchen and grabbed the largest butcher knife we had. She kicked open our bedroom door and trying to sound fierce yelled, “Okay motherfucker, now there’s two of us and we’re gonna kill you!”

Still sprawled out with his head under the bed my Dad yelled, “What the hell are you talking about? Gimme the scissors.” My mom handed him the butcher knife. “What the hell am I going to do with this? Cut my head off? I need scissors…”

My mother didn’t seem to hear him and started searching our closet while peppering my dad with questions.  “Where did the man go? Did you know him?” Her voice rose. “Did he touch the kids?”

Wearily, my Dad explained the ruckus. “There is no man Sophie. Peeps must have half-killed a bird in the yard yesterday and hid it under the kid’s bed to finish off later. After you guy’s watched the movie, the last thing I expected to find under the bed was a real bird. When the fucker flew at me, I jumped and my hair got stuck in the mattress support.” He wriggled out from under the bed with a huge chunk of his hair missing but holding the now wide-awake and seemingly recovered bird in his right hand. “See?” He held the bird out to my mother who was now doubled over and laughing so hard she was standing in a puddle of urine.

He pointed at the floor. “I am not cleaning that up.”

And then he gently carried the injured bird outside and made sure it was able to safely fly away. On nights like this it was not possible to love my father more. He was our hero and we adored him.

Read more essays from Chicago Boomer:

"Lemon Squares & Jimmy Hoffa"

"Pickle Juice"

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