Salinger belched as he rose from the table. "The nectar of gassy release!" he said, patting his sternum. "It's good for you. Do it as often as you can."
"Even in public?"
Salinger's eyes widened. "Especially in public! How pleasant it would be if people burped instead of spoke. Nature's language carries more meaning than our inferior syntax. Ah well. Another creation faux pas. Time to feed my babies!"
Salinger turned quickly and dashed outside before I could finish my raw beets and turnip cubes. I threw down the burlap napkin and chased after him. For an old man, Salinger was spry.
Salinger raised his hands, wiggling his fingers. He looked to the sky and began chanting. "Lobsang Gyalwa Tsedzin Bodhisattva Gyaltsen!" he repeated seven times. "Let the air fill with your conquerors! Eternal adamantine nature! Bring forward your feathered prophets!"
As if on cue, at least a dozen birds appeared, flapping around Salinger's head. Robins, starlings, and finches. They seemed to know him, and he clearly was on a first-name basis in return.
"Take my seed!" Salinger instructed.
"My seed! In that barrel to your left. Scoop up a healthy serving. My babies are starving."
An old Maxwell House can lay atop the barrel. I lifted the lid, sank the can into the seed, and pulled out an ample portion.
"Now, pour the seed into my mouth, then dump the rest on my head. Hurry man!"
I followed Salinger's orders, fighting off the hungry birds. His large mouth held most of the can's contents, the remaining third sprinkled over his silver mane. I stepped back and watched in silent wonder. The birds chirped and squawked, pecking furiously at Salinger's mouth and through his hair. But this was no Hitchcockian nightmare. Salinger stood completely still, becoming a human birdfeeder. Not even the splatter of bird shit rattled him. It remains one of the most serene sights I've ever witnessed.
As the birds finished and flew off, Salinger spat out some stray red and yellow pellets, fell to his knees and began sobbing.
Salinger stared up at me, tears streaking the bird shit on his cheek. "This is what it's all about. This is what they'll never understand, with their deadlines and blue pencils and personalized coffee mugs. Assassins!"
Salinger stopped crying, wiped his face with his sweater sleeve, stood and clapped his hands.
"Who's in the mood for a cocktail?"
Urine and vermouth on ice. Salinger's favorite. He told me of this in one of his letters. Heightens your awareness, he claimed. I wasn't crazy about the offer, but I could always go heavy on the vermouth. Whatever made Salinger happy. I slipped on the little pink dress and pig-tailed wig laid out for me, then joined Salinger in the den for drinks and dancing.