by Martin Murie
(Swans - December 31, 2007 - January 1, 2008) Dirk Kempthorne, appointed Director of the Department of the Interior fifteen months ago, was the recipient of the 2007 First Annual Rubber Dodo Award from the Center for Biological Diversity for his tight-fisted management of his sector of War on the Earth by refusing to list a single endangered species in all of those 15 months. He had shrugged it off, laughing to colleagues, actually proud of his record. He installed the rubber dodo and its pedestal and plaque in his office.
It had been a grinding week, meetings and decisions, but Kempthorne now, late afternoon, sat behind his desk staring at the dodo. Nothing much to do, no more appointments. He leaned forward, put his head in his hands, noticed a movement, the dodo getting off the pedestal, puffing himself up to a good 50 pounds of bird and clothing himself in real feathers, his cruel beak in a permanent hard sneer, his yellow eyes directed down each side of the long thrust of his beak, boring into poor old Kempthorne who reached for his interoffice phone, then thought better of it. "Exhaustion can bring hallucination," he told himself. "Don't open yourself to office jokes."
He found himself looking for his limo. He noticed strange expressions on people's faces. They were all looking behind Kempthorne, with various degrees of horror or suppressed laughter. Kempthorne turned. The dodo was following him. He hurried down the street, but the looks on the faces of passers-by testified to the dodo's continued presence. Kempthorne had never been in this section of D.C. before. People crowded the sidewalks in spite of the December cold, and they were still staring in disbelief at something behind Kempthorne. He didn't turn, he knew who, whom, what, was there.
He turned into a restaurant to warm up and get a cup of coffee, but the great bird followed him, only three strides of big yellow feet behind Kempthorne. Pandemonium. A waitress dropped a tray. Kempthorne rushed back to the street. He yelled at the dodo. "You went extinct in the seventeenth century; I wasn't even born then."
The dodo didn't move as the Director of the Department of Interior suddenly felt weak. He had to lean against a plate glass window, and now the dodo's steady yellow stare had him tightly in its unrelenting grip. D.C. became a blur. Kempthorne was now looking at the list of species waiting for an "endangered" listing, which would mean action, really troublesome acts, disrespecting private property, and each and every firm's expectation of a decent profit margin and those basic considerations were only the beginning of the host of conflicts that would follow. Kempthorne knew perfectly well why he and his predecessors had dragged their feet on listings. He also knew precisely that 275 "candidate species" were lined up on the waiting list. Flower-loving fly for one, and Thorne's hairstreak butterfly, both of them teetering on the brink of extinction. Kempthorne couldn't miss the name of that butterfly, its name beginning with Thorne. He tossed the thought aside, but the dodo had him in its grip and the butterfly failed to fly. That yellow-eyed look had him cornered, his own eyes unable to break away. "Good God, could that bird's brain enter his?"
Kempthorne had been in many a tight squeeze in his political career, but now something very unfamiliar hung hugely over him, a temptation to suddenly step out of his go-along to get-along life. Should he order his biologists to list all of those 275 candidate species? What a glorious media coverage that would bring. It was a hard struggle. Kempthorne could smell the bird's feathers as the brain behind the bird's eyes contested Kempthorne's exciting world of war, invasion and privatization of the greatest nation on earth under God, a stormy journey, but they had to stay the course.
Cold glass of the window might have tipped the scales, or the buzz of his cell, maybe both. He reached for the cell in his jacket pocket, found himself behind his desk, heaving a great sigh. Just a dream, a dream so vivid it challenged reality. "I'll take a day off," he told himself as he answered the cell while his glance roved, located the pedestal, in its accustomed place. Below the pedestal the citation from Center for Biological Diversity, and on top the pedestal, nothing. The dodo wasn't there.
Kempthorne rushed from his office, not noticing huge bird tracks pressed into the light green pile of his wall-to-wall carpet.
[Ed. Martin Murie has a new Web site, Packrat Nest, where readers can find his books and other works. Please, visit it!]
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