Victor, My Feather-Duster

`WHAT on earth are you doing?'' ``Never mind, Gocky. Just go in there and relax. I'm the new maid,'' Victor announced. Once again I was looking after my friend's son - an installment on last Christmas's gift-pledge. Having no grandmother of his own in the area, Victor happily adopted me, complete with the nickname given me years ago by my first grandson.

Birds had taken over the living room. That is, most of my precious collection of china, glass, wood, and feathered birds were distributed about in unaccustomed places. A bluebird perched on an end table under a large vase of day lilies. A thrush dangled precariously from the switch of a bridge lamp, its wire feet twisted to hold. The radio table held a Dali dove and a soapstone hawk. The coffee table was graced with a cardinal, a small Canada goose, a meadowlark on a fence post, and a sea gull forever about to take off from a Maine lobster pot.

Additional birds were lined up on top of one bookcase, and cutouts of others were braced against more permanent objects. A magpie, mockingbird, and blue jay of glass, ceramic, and wood, respectively, were foremost. ``I'm making this whole room a bird-place,'' Victor informed me. As if I couldn't see that for myself. ``It's an a-very, see?''

I scrunched into a corner of the couch, picked up my feet and relaxed, as bidden. He bustled about, squaring off waterfowl coasters on the table before me. No trying to stop him. It was his way of working off excess energy on a rainy day. (Victor's an old hand at arranging. Not really concerned about the proper sex for maids and their duties, he establishes his own criteria.)

He wrapped a terry-cloth apron about his probable middle. It sagged, dangling a tie, but made a handy dust cloth. I never realized there was so much dust around. But when he emptied the shelves of the bookcases on either side of the fireplace there were clean outlines left to accuse me. ``Relax, the maid's on the job,'' he reassured me. A family of ducks were lining up on top of my couch, right under the watchful gaze of an alabaster owl on the ridge of an overhead picture frame.

Suddenly he discovered one he'd missed. He teetered on the rocking chair and stretched to bring down my precious Irish-glass rooster. Again: ``Relax, Gocky. I'm a special-careful maid, see?'' He bustled about with reassuring certainty. A miniature robin was given a particular perch of honor on the windowsill. A life-sized sparrow watched from the mantel. A large, cement swan-planter was placed on the stone hearth. Under its wing was a small Mexican bird of unknown pedigree. Each was lovingly handled, dusted, and examined by Victor - while I ``relaxed.'' The room was being transformed, as he said, into ``a place of birds.'' It was a nice place to be in, we agreed.

He stood in the doorway, looking in, surveying his labor of love. The apron slipped to the floor. Critically he moved forward to shift the position of a finch candle too close to the hot-air vent. Then a blue budgie was turned more lightward. ``What do you think, Gocky?'' he demanded. ``I didn't break anything, and how does it look now?''

I congratulated him on the result of so much thoughtful planning. ``And I won't have to dust for a month,'' I assured.

``Looks like you don't, much,'' he acknowledged. ``Never mind, you got me, Gocky - Victor, the maid.''

I had more than a roomful of birds, than a tousle-headed maid in dusty, terry-cloth apron, of course. I had another dear, small (adopted) grandson to share my a-very with, and my love. And such a planner, such a wise mover he was. After all, here were the dove and hawk at peace together, the thieving jay and scolding wren at concord. The December chickadee and March meadowlark shared the same ledge. How much more democratic, or universally united could we get? The ebony crow sat placidly beside the great horned owl that he would, in real life, torment. The stiletto-beaked hummingbird tolerated the lazy cowbird that would, if it were physically possible, readily enough deposit her egg in the former's jewel-nest, and forget about further responsibility.

Regarding such prodigious change, Victor, the maid, simply said: ``I know. I mix things up at home, too. My mother says never a dull moment.''

``It's - exciting, I imagine. Your mother must appreciate it.''

``She does, sometimes. But not like you, Gocky. You won't move everything back soon as I'm out the door.''

``What on earth are you doing now?'' I called a minute later.

``Relax, Gocky. Your maid's gonna clean up around the kitchen. Where do you keep your Windex? Don't get up. What's a maid for, goodness sake. Just sit back and relax.''

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