The gull hovered overhead waiting while the man tore a crust off the bread and tossed it in the air. The bird swooped, caught it, dipped its wing in thanks or so the man supposed, and disappeared over the wall.
It came back as he knew it would, waiting just long enough for him to tear another chunk off and toss it up—the swoop—the catch—the dip and then over the wall. His heart soared with the bird.
Every day the same thing until the slice of bread was gone. The bird knew when it was the last scrap and didn’t return until the next day. The others called him gull man, but he didn’t care, wondered if the other gulls called his gull, man bird or convict bird.
The main flock of gulls hovered high over the yard. Only his came down for the bread—once it was cake—the warden’s birthday, or maybe it was presidents’ day and they had cake for lunch. The man saved both the cake and the bread for the bird. Gave it the bread first, piece by piece, held up the cake to show there was more so the bird would come back—and it did—until the cake was a trail of crumbs. It fell apart across the yard and over the wall.
Gull man stood in the same spot at the same time every day and the gull came.
He started including things from his cell—a torn page from a magazine, a snip from a t-shirt, pieces of himself to be flown over the wall. The bird took it all—the bread, the paper, the squares of cloth gull man tore until a whole shirt was gone, over the wall.
He emptied his cell, bit by bit, most of his clothes flown to the other side, the blank pages of a journal, the plastic tube of a pen, all of it somewhere on the other side.
The bird swooped closer, looked stronger, as the man added weight to the cargo—a dime wrapped in a square of paper—money for the outside.
The bird was there every afternoon, ready for the day’s load, not caring that the squares of bread were smaller and the bits of paper or fabric larger, day after day, week after week, month after month.
Then the bird appeared at night, every night, in his dream, landing on his shoulder, curling its feet into his sweat shirt, plunging its beak into the ruff of cloth at his neck and lifting him up, up, up over the wall and away. Soon, he said, soon, that day was coming. When the cell was empty, he’d be next.
©2011 Kathleen Coskran