BUZZARD BECKY

by

Gail A. Webber

Fifteen of them! They had to be there today, the first day she had to ride the big cheese home from middle school. Now everybody would know it was her house.

Becky pretended to re-zip her backpack while the others filed out past her. If she got off last, maybe they’d be too busy talking to notice her, or those awful things on the roof.

“Anybody else? Now or never, guys,” the driver called, looking in the rear view mirror. “Dillon, buddy, your stop!” she said.

Footsteps pounded down the aisle, and just as she was about to get up, she heard, “Look at them, they’re huge! Are they eagles?” That was Dillon, standing on the bottom step of the bus, pointing up. Becky recognized him from biology class, kind of cute but short.

Everyone stared in the direction he pointed, and even the kids still on the bus leaned out the windows to see. She couldn’t get off now – she’d walk back from wherever the bus stopped next. Sure, they’d all find out eventually, but maybe by then she’d have a friend.

If only the bus driver would close that door! She could hear the kids outside. “I don’t think they’re eagles, Dill, ‘cause eagles don’t flock.” Chelsea. Smart, Invisalign braces, blond hair. Pretty enough to be snobby, but she wasn’t. “I think they’re vultures.”

Yup, Becky thought, though her dad called them buzzards. Why did this have to happen? Making friends at a new school was always hard, but this would make it impossible. She imagined her new nickname, Buzzard Becky.

“How come they’re all on that one roof? And why all spread out like they’re trying to take off or something? They look stuck.” Dillon again, still on the last step, answering himself, “I don’t know, but it’s cool.”

Cool? Even her Dad had no idea why the birds gathered there, morning and afternoon, every day, except when it rained.

“Dillon, please, on or off. I got to get moving.” The bus driver seemed okay. She never yelled at people to keep quiet, and she even smiled sometimes. Dillon didn’t answer, but he jumped down. The last thing Becky heard him say as the bus pulled away was, “Wow, those are big houses.” It was true. The other houses around were smaller, and looked old. But there were gigantic trees in those yards instead of the scrawny things in her development. And none of those smaller houses had buzzards.

Becky got off at the next stop with a younger girl she didn’t know. It must be close to a mile to her house, she thought, but instead of starting back, she put her backpack down and walked in a circle. “This is stupid,” she said out loud and tried to keep from crying. Why was she so scared about what kids she didn’t even know thought about her? One tear rolled down and she brushed it away. She’d figure out something, maybe fake being sick in the morning to give herself time to make a plan.

The next morning when Becky’s alarm clock went off, it felt to her like the middle of the night. Then a flash of light and a booming crash bounced her out of bed. When her heart slowed, she went to the window. Raining cats and dogs was what her grandmother used to say, whatever that meant. Anyhow it was pouring.

“Wait! It’s raining, so no buzzards! Yippee!” Then she remembered that was a little kid thing to say and just smiled. Okay, dress, eat breakfast, find an umbrella, and get to the bus stop first.

Under her big clear umbrella with the pink trim, she stayed dry except for her shoes, but that couldn’t be helped. Her mother wanted her to stay inside until the bus came, so when Becky told her she wanted to talk to some friends at the bus stop, she dragged out Becky’s pink polka dot rain boots. No way was she going to wear those like she was six years old! Her shoes would dry.

She spotted Dillon seconds after she got to the stop, alternately stomping through puddles and looking at her roof. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” she nodded back.

“Saw you on the bus yesterday, and I think you’re in my science class. You new?”

“Got here a couple weeks ago. I’m Becky.”

He surprised her with a smile, “I’m Dillon. Hey, did you see those birds? So cool!”

It was the second time she heard him say that. Kids here really did say “cool,” so she filed it for future reference. All colors of umbrellas were approaching, and Becky realized that Dillon didn’t have one. Hers was big enough for two, but what would it mean if she asked him to share it? She didn’t have a chance to finish the thought before Chelsea came up behind them.

“Dill, you dork, you’re soaked! Come under here.”

He big-grinned her and stood dripping under Chelsea’s black umbrella while Becky felt guilty.

“What’re you guys talking about?” Chelsea’s innocent look told Becky that the girl didn’t see anything wrong with that sort of question. In Becky’s house, private conversation held a whole category of rules.

“Those birds,” Dillon said. I’m gonna ask Mr. Eaton about them. He knows lots of stuff about animals.”

Becky groaned under her breath. Mr. Eaton was their first period science teacher. Dillon was going to ask him, and everyone would hear. The more people who knew, the faster somebody would figure out it was her house. She needed more time.

“We should ask him before class,” Becky offered. Fewer people would hear.

“Great!” squeaked Dillon and Chelsea nodded. Then the two of them ran to tell the other four kids at the stop.

Later that morning, Becky took a deep breath as all seven of them crowded around Mr. Eaton’s classroom door, everyone talking at once. Dillon was loudest, holding his arms out and crouching to imitate the birds.

“They’re amazing,” Mr. Eaton said. How did he keep a straight face while four students in front of him assumed that same position? “They just have a bad reputation because of what they eat. How about we save this discussion for class? Other people might be interested, too.”

Becky groaned as they filed to their assigned seats. Hers was at the end of the first row near the windows. She could see everyone from there. This could still be okay, she thought, because nobody knew whose house it was.

Slowly she unpacked her things, arranging everything on her square desktop. She liked the desk she got, the kind with the flat top. Stuff slid off the slanty ones, and that was embarrassing.

When the lateness buzzer sounded, Mr. Eaton closed the door. He always seemed to be smiling, even when he lectured, and for attendance he didn’t call names like other teachers did. He just looked around to see who was there and who wasn’t. Becky liked that better.

“Okay, so before we start today’s work, I want to talk about what some of you asked before class. Turkey vultures.” Everybody got quiet.

She looked around the room, mostly at the backs of people’s heads, but she saw faces, too. Smiling and apparently interested. Really? “Who knows what vultures eat?” Mr. Eaton asked. Five hands shot up.

“Gary?”

Taller than most of the other kids, a little chunky, Timberlands, jeans, Gary answered, “Dead stuff, like road kill. I seen ‘em eating a deer that got clobbered on our road.”

“Eeewww,” came from scattered places in the room.

“Exactly right, and dead things are called carrion. Vultures are scavengers, and carrion is what scavengers eat. If it weren’t for scavengers, we’d all be hip-deep in dead animals.”

Becky's thoughts drifted as the discussion turned to details about feeding their young with regurgitated meat, defecating on their own legs to cool themselves, and progressively louder choruses of, “Eeewww!” But with the mention of the spread-winged stance, she focused again.

“Some people say it’s to dry their wings, especially after a rainy night. That helps them get warm, but being dry is especially important. It’s hard enough for big birds to get off the ground without having wet feathers. The drying probably gets rid of bacteria, too.”

“Can we go see them, like a field trip?” Alex, maybe Hispanic, interested in everything, great wavy black hair.

Becky’s mouth dropped open. What? She could feel her face turning red, and she wriggled in her chair.

“I don’t know. Let me think about it, Alex. Dillon, can you stay after class to tell me exactly where you guys saw them?”

Becky felt her face get hotter. She lowered her chin and muttered into her shirt collar. “Wonderful. Maybe the whole school can go.”

Mr. Eaton went on to explain that vultures (or turkey buzzards) were extremely social creatures that preferred to roost in large colonies. They chose high locations so they could see in all directions and from which it was easier to fly off. Large trees, dead or alive, were a natural setting. When those trees were cut down and replaced with homes and other structures, large rooftops and cell phone towers worked just as well for the vultures. Roadkill and the warmer temperatures created by the increase in concrete and asphalt surfaces in developments, easily caused turkey buzzard populations to increase as well.

Mr. Eaton moved on to talking about crustaceans and something about a test in two days, so Becky picked up her pen and wrote.

A few days went by; the test wasn’t bad, and the last day of the week came and went without further mention of the field trip. Each morning, Becky got to the bus stop first and each afternoon she waited till everyone was gone before she went inside. The last thing she expected to see Friday evening was Mr. Eaton with his big smile at her front door.

When he saw her, his eyebrows shot up. “Becky! This is your house?”

Trapped. Like a raccoon in a Havahart.

“Who is it, dear?” Her mother called from the dining room, and then a heartbeat later her father appeared in the foyer, wiping his mouth on a lavender cloth napkin.

“Hello. I’m Jamison Eaton, Becky’s science teacher. It seems I’ve interrupted your dinner.”

“I’m Rebecca’s father. Has Rebecca done something?”

“No, not at all. This is awkward. I didn’t know this was her house, your house. I can come back another time if that would be more convenient.”

Becky’s father crooked one eyebrow. “Exactly how can we help you, Mr. Easton was it?” It was almost the tone he used with the lawn care people, not quite, but close.

Mr. Eaton was still outside on the coir doormat, and despite her dismay Becky felt sorry for him. “It’s ‘Eaton’ not Easton, Dad. I think he’s here about the buzzards.”

Her father’s eyebrow went down and then up again as he looked from the teacher to Becky, but then he stepped aside and motioned Mr. Eaton into the parlor. “Have a seat,” he said. “Now, what about our buzzards?”

Becky listened as her teacher explained how some of the students in Becky’s biology class saw them on a house near their bus stop, and how excited they were to learn about them.

“So I was coming to ask permission to bring the class to see them. Just from the yard, of course, but I still wanted permission. I’d have called if I’d known it was Becky’s house.” He looked at her sitting straight up and motionless in a leather chair, and for the first time he addressed her directly. “Didn’t you know they meant your house, Becky?”

Becky kept her eyes on the Persian rug and counted to five. Sometimes that worked, but this time it didn’t. Her father used his deep what-do-you-have-to-say-for-yourself voice, “Answer the man, Rebecca.” Apparently he decided the teacher deserved at least a little respect.

Becky hardly breathed during the long pause before she finally answered in a voice that sounded higher than she would have liked, “I don’t know why I didn’t say anything.” They were staring at her, but what could she say? If she told the truth, they would laugh. She focused on the pattern in the carpet, twisting the fabric of her slacks. So she didn’t say it was her house, what was so bad about that?

Her father broke the silence. “Saying ‘I don’t know’ is unacceptable, Rebecca. Explain.”

Realizing there was no getting out of this, Becky heaved a breath and felt the tears start. She hated how she always cried in situations like this, and her father eying her like she’d done something awful made her mad. Anger only made the tears come faster.

“It w-was so embarrassing,” she choked. “Those things are awful, and they stink. I didn’t w-want everyone to kn-know. I don’t have any friends, and I didn’t want to be B-Buzzard B-Becky.” Succinct painful truth.

Neither one of the men responded. At least they didn’t laugh, but when her father got up to leave the room she heard him say something like, “Oh, good grief.” There would be a discussion later. Meanwhile, Mr. Eaton sat leaning forward with his hands on his knees, nodding. It seemed like he nodded for a long time.

“Okay,” he said finally, “we won’t bring the class here. I’ll just say I couldn’t arrange it.” Then he paused and waited until she looked up at him. “I understand you’re afraid people might make fun of you, Becky, but I don’t think they would. Honestly, I think you’re missing a chance to be the cool one. But it’s your decision.”

Becky didn’t know what to say. She’d never been popular and didn’t think she could ever be the cool one. Oh, Mr. Eaton was nice enough and his eyes were kind, but there was no way he could understand what always being the new kid was like. If you had an interesting weakness like a buzzard house, it was like putting a “kick me” sign on your back. Sometimes they just whispered and giggled, but sometimes it was worse. Eventually everyone would know and she would be Buzzard Becky to the whole school. But if he kept his word about not telling the class, maybe the teasing wouldn’t start tomorrow, and maybe not for a while.

He had a sort of sad smile on his face when he said, “I know people can be cruel, Becky.” Then he brightened. “But there are some neat kids in your class, like Chelsea and Dillon. Why not give them a chance? If you tell them, not just about your house, but what you’re afraid of, I bet they’d be on your side. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice not to have to keep secrets?"

Becky opened her mouth to ask him if he was kidding, but she stopped. The idea of not needing to be afraid was a new one. It was true, hiding what you were afraid of people finding out, never worked for long, but would it be better or worse to get it over with by telling people first? And would people really be on her side when they hardly knew her? Really?

Should I tell them? Becky wondered. Could I?

Story Copyright
by Gail A. Webber

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