Early on the boy had been forced to trade his father for pigeons. His father was a rolling stone. A stone now peddling fruits and vegetables (the rotten stuff hidden well in the bottom of each purchase) on the Main Street of a stinking rat hole in eastern Kentucky simply known as Irvine. A more unholy hell hole stuck in the sticks could not have been conceived.
That's where the boy had his pigeons.
His loft was a calm place. Refuge in a torrid world of deception.
At nights when the boy would begin to hear his father singing "Ooh, ooh, ooh, WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO” he would become scared. That was his father's favorite Billie Holiday song when the man was mean drunk. His father had known Billie Holiday. Had worked as a busboy in New York in the same place where she had sung. That was back before World War Two.
Billie Holiday couldn't know it but she invented jazz in America. When she sang the song, it was lively and beautiful. But when the boy's father sang that song the boy knew to hide. That song was certain to render the boy's mom a black eye or her hair pulled out. And the boy couldn't help but remember soon after hearing that song all the horrible times he had been jerked out of his pretended sleep to be cursed and hit in the face. Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little moonlight could do. His father had purple scars on the knuckles of his fist where he had once killed a man.
The boy could hear his father singing that Billy Holiday song at the bottom of the steps which led up to the apartment where he survived. Each step closer and the volume became louder. For the boy, it was an air raid siren. The enemy was at the gates.
The boy needed his pigeons. They took the place of a love denied him. They were his salvation. If his old man had been an instrument he would have been a trumpet. Brass. High. And deafening.
Those pigeons were gentle. Bales of cotton the boy's soul could rest on. Heaven had messed up giving the boy the father he owned. To make up for it heaven gave him his pigeons.
The young boy was poor and both of his parents were alcoholics. But he didn't know he was poor or that his parents had to drink. He had his homing pigeons and that was plenty. Those pigeons had a way of making him feel good. When he was with them there was a balance in his life.
The pigeon loft he had hammered together from scrap lumber was on the small bit of ground thirty-three steps down behind his apartment; it was squeezed in between two buildings: one of the buildings was a tall, old-brick building which was part of his grandfather's movie theater. And the other was a small concrete block house built on top of a concrete block basement; it owned a steep A-frame roof which belonged to Grace, a frail and quiet elderly lady who was kind in heart and loved the boy and his pigeons.
When the boy would release his pigeons, they would fly a long time going out over the near-by big bridge and the Kentucky River and all over the boy's small hillbilly town which was situated on the bluff overlooking the River. The birds would eventually land on one of the two buildings and then coo and strut about talking to each other. Some of them would just sit relaxed and enjoy being out while watching the sky. Some would sit all tufted up content as if they were some king. And others would sometimes stretch out their wings and relish the sun's rays coming down to kiss their feathers. When they finally took a notion, they would drop on down and go into the boy's loft. It wasn't much but one of the good things about pigeons---it didn't take much to make them happy.
The boy loved his pigeons and knew everything about each of them. He didn't have a bedroom in the dark apartment where he lived and he slept out on the back porch of the apartment always on the floor; a place which was close to his pigeons. Early in the mornings he would lie still as the sun would awake. It was almost heaven being on that floor getting to listen to the pigeons. He could tell what they were saying and which pigeon was cooing. The boy had stayed at country places where rooster chickens filled the morning air but it was nothing as interesting or as calming as listening to pigeon coos.
It was his first Saturday of summer since school had let out and outside was clear and warm just what pigeons loved. The boy opened the door of his loft and his pigeons got up in the sky and flew as always. It wasn't long after when three of his buddies came by on two bikes and watched the birds. They asked their class-mate friend if he wanted to go with them to play baseball. He shut the door to his loft so nothing would have a chance to harm his pigeons knowing he had a small landing board and a bob trap which the birds could use to get back inside. Getting on his bike he followed his buddies a few blocks away to their favorite place where they always played ball. It was near one man's garden who had already gotten all the tomatoes he wanted out of his garden for the year and told the boys they could have whatever they wanted. Nothing tasted so good after playing ball as did those giant tomatoes.
Late that afternoon when the boy returned home he saw none of his pigeons were in his loft. He looked up on the buildings and there were only a few hanging around. And those few were looking at him in a nervous way. The boy walked over into graveled lot near the river and looked over at the bridge. Over there way on top of the bridge sat most of his pigeons mixed in with the few common pigeons which always lived there. The boy knew something was wrong. His pigeons were normally back in the loft this time of day. Some had eggs and babies and it did not make sense they were not there to care for them.
The boy had grown up playing all over that bridge. It was his front yard. It was 60 feet high where the road ran over it and 90 feet high in the arches which helped to support it. That's where the boy had caught his first homing pigeon blinding it one night with his frog-light as the bird was roosting. Looking at the homing pigeon was like looking at a live diamond. A year later the boy had a loft of diamonds. But now on this third of September the boy had nothing. His heart was empty. His heart was racing.
And then out of the corner of his eye he saw all the trouble. A black cat sneaking around. A small panther which had the word "pigeon" written all over him. The boy knew the black cat had caused the trouble. And he knew his pigeons would be hard to coax back into his loft.
As afternoon turned into evening a few birds chanced their lives and came into the loft. Those were the hens which had the eggs and babies. They knew if they did not go into the loft they would lose their babies. They were nervous but they came in.
But most of the pigeons did not.
The boy's pigeons had left the bridge in flying in a scattered flock making wide sweeps over the boy's loft. Sometimes the boy would see a glimpse of them and then they would be gone in the dark sky. The boy's heart continued to race. He was afraid his homing pigeons would fly away forever.
The boy's parents were gone that night. They were gone many nights. Sometimes his parents came home late in the night after much drinking. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they would be gone several days. The boy hoped tonight would be that way. He went up the back steps to his apartment and got his frog light and came back down to his loft. His best bird was a blue bar cock which his grandfather had taken 20 miles away and released. It had a band on each leg and was the leader of all his pigeons.
And still nowhere in sight.
Again, the boy saw his pigeons flying in the night. The full moon was helping to show their images.
And then a bunch of them landed on top of the boy's grandfather's picture show building. And once they landed a bunch more landed soon after. The boy was excited. He shined his flashlight high along the edge of the building where they all had landed and counted them. Every single one of them were there. Including his beautiful blue bar which had landed some distance away from the others at the very end of their row.
The boy looked around on the ground and gathered some rocks and mounted his frog light on the ground aiming its beam directly into the eyes of the blue bar. As soon as he did this he knew he had to be quick. Birds would not hold blind a long time.
The boy ran around to the back of another building adjoining his grandfather's theater and climbed up some pipes and grabbed a gutter to pull himself up. And then he ran on up the roof of the building to an exact place where he knew some bricks were missing out of the wall of his grandfather's theater. He knew he could stand on a vent pipe and lean out and use those gaps in the wall which would give him just the right hand holds and toe holds he needed to climb on up to be on the top of the picture show.
When the boy got near the top he was very careful not to make any noise. He could see the upper part of the beam of his frog light and he knew almost exactly where his blue bar was sitting. Creeping more careful than any cat across the roof of his grandfather's theater he finally grew close to the blue bar. The boy knew he would only get one chance. If his grab missed the bird was sure to fly away. Possibly forever. And in the process maybe taking all of the other birds with him.
And in a moment, the blue bar was in his hands.
And not another bird had flown.
The boy eased back to the other side of the roof. He took off one of his socks and stuffed his blue bar in it and with his other sock tied the bird off of his belt loop.
And then the boy climbed down and in short order was back on the ground.
He placed his blue bar back into the loft and got his frog light.
All the birds were still there. They looked calm. They looked like they would be there tomorrow.
The boy turned off his light and looked back up into the sky. The clouds were moving. And far away from the clouds was the big moon. Bigger than the tomato he had eaten after playing baseball. That tomato had been so sweet.
But not so sweet as that moon.
The boy felt proud of himself for all he had accomplished. He walked back up the steps into his dark apartment lying down on the floor. Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little moonlight can do, he thought, smiling for a moment and then fading to sleep.