Nikolai’s pops, formerly 6’5” and now shrunk down to a wee 6’3”, had been on and off with the shakes all day, having come down in the past forty-eight hours with dehydration, some kind of blood infection, and focal onset aware seizures.
The last thing meant little electrical surges were going off in his brain causing sudden terror and holding his face in his hands for about thirty seconds. Then, like a puddle licked up by the sun, he’d be all dry and good to go again, until the next showering.
For the moment he was feeling better and had climbed onto his exercise bike; he was calling out the minute markers as he went.
“Good, that’s good, keep going now.”
Outside the wind whipped and shook the trees like a furious big sister getting all over her little brothers, gusting and grabbing at their piney hair and ropy twiggy arms, while the dryer exhaust poured out from the low vent at the side of the house like smoke from Cyclops’ cigarette.
The dogs came roaring from the garage flap door and commenced a chase.
“Very good. Won’t be long the finish-line now.”
Black and White Cruiser was the alpha, and Decaf Mocha generally accepted his subordinate role. The romping scene reflected this little canine hierarchy, but all in fun and terribly good health.
Cruiser had a downy white tail curving up like the front edge of a halberd blade and the doggo might have looked good at the signing of the Paris Peace Pact back on August 27, 1928 at the regal Quai d’Orsay, except that he would not have been able to stand still enough and might have infected the whole gathering with a mood of belligerency through insistent shattering barks and desperate urgent woofs. Briand, Stresemann, and Kellogg would lose their minds and so much then for the ‘General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy.’ POOF, up in smoke, time for rearmament and redrawing some frontlines! Just like that.
“Verrrrry good, keep with it,” Nikolai encouraged. The day was overcast and he was glad.
Rhodesian Ridgeback in part, Decaf Mocha had a velvety tail that curved up rather more like a swan neck than an old-fashioned pole weapon. His mellow way however might have been better for the Peace Pact ceremony, holding aside his pissing on the legs of the elegant hardwood signing table and fireplace behind and high tripods holding the black-painted projectors and all the wires and cables surrounding.
The red birdbath was filled with crystalline ice, and he could see beautiful branching cracks therein. Nikolai thought of diatoms—gorgeous microalgae with ornate skeletons he’d learned about from Forensic Files. He thought of the infinite variety of snowflakes and fingerprints and dog nose prints; he thought of sacred geometry, matching fractals throughout nature, the endless wonder of Romanesco broccoli.
“What kind of playground is this—a little of this, little of that, and everything all the time?”
He thought of the intricate haunting drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal depicting the human brain, and how the founder of neuroscience could also be one of the species’ greatest artists. He thought of drum patterns that traced unicursal hexagrams, and how beautiful a dog pissing on an oversized popsicle-stick looking fence board could be.
Speaking of oversized, a pileated woodpecker appeared now high in the yard’s only hardwood tree, an old oak covered with ivy most of the way up and maybe dead. It was always striking to see a woodpecker but this bird took the cake—it easily was three feet tall.
The dogs hadn’t seen it yet, and he didn’t want to frighten it by opening the sliding glass door so he craned his neck as best he could to see.
The creature’s long sharp bill mirrored its shock of red crest off the back of its head, like a bloody spear tip, and its face was irresistible to drink in with the eyes featuring black and gold stripes and another brush of crimson, No—scarlet, candy apple almost.
The brobdingnagian bird was pecking hard in controlled staccato bursts like Che Guevara recommended yet no sound was coming and the strangest thing he realized was everything was in slow-mo, like the whole scene was pushing through water.
Yes nineteen, but what the hell was happening? What kind of playground was this?
Nikolai watched enrapt as the splinter chips flew about the woodpecker’s face. He squinted hard, wanting to see its nictitating membrane, an extra eyelid acting to keep its fierce circle eyes moist and covered from the debris exploding out of the bark from what were like countless rapid sword thrusts.
Nikolai wished he had a nictitating membrane too, and a sword beak or halberd-blade tail, a swan neck.
The dogs came now running, appearing absurdly voluptuous with all their fur-drenched skin undulating and flapping as they moved in quarter-time. They were charging toward the oak and intruder and barking madly, but no noise was spilling out. Nikolai was reminded of Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson slow-jogging the beach toward the camera in the opening credits of Baywatch.
Panicked, he glanced up to see one last time the magnificent insect hunter which had graced his vision by latching into their oak and displaying its perfect athletic design and stunning coloration.
As expected it was taking flight at the approach of these monsters, its black and white wings fanning out majestically and resembling certain types of seashells, olive ones or even calico scallops.
Suddenly the bird was ascending in normal time, its tail feathers disappearing up high over the house in a blink—too fast.
The barks were audible now and the rough-hewn decibels blitzed in his skin and bored through his skull.
Clamor, fuss, real-time. What was this playground again?
“And one to grow on!”
“Excccellent, Dad, you have done it and in perfect time!”
Warren J. Cox writes and paints in southern Virginia, where he also works as an academic editor and copywriter. Beyond creating he is passionate about human rights, animal welfare, and tennis. His work has appeared previously in Eunoia Review, Ducts, Defenestration, Corvus Review, Fluland, Empty Mirror, Intrinsick, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @WarrenJCox