He sat down on the park bench and took his time to settle in, drawing the warmth from his cup of coffee with a slow blink. He was in no rush to open the morning paper. He often didn’t read it at all but just liked to have it.
“Here they come,” he thought. The chatter of the park birds would soon get louder. And they did. With a sip of coffee came the flutter of a small flock landing comfortably close to him as park birds do.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Mister! What is gravity? Do you know what it is? We have a question for you. We want to ask you something. Have you ever heard of gravity? Do you have anything to eat?” Though they spoke over each other as if each one expected to be heard individually, they could really only be addressed as a single entity.
“Gravity!?” He sipped his coffee with an amused frown.
“I know what it is. No, you don’t. I do, too! It’s that thing. No it’s not. I heard it’s only for ground animals. No, it’s about the ground. It’s what rocks and dirt do. Rocks don’t do anything. Yeah, that’s because they have gravity. What does that mean? It keeps them all together. They love each other. That’s what gravity is. No, it isn’t. It keeps them on the ground. But they are the ground. You don’t know what you’re talking about. It keeps the other animals on the ground. Do they have gravity. Yes, it’s a disease they get; that’s why they can’t fly. No way! Yes way. Can we get gravity? Do rocks actually love each other? I heard it was about apples. Of cou–“
Suddenly with a gasp and a roar of so many flapping wings they tore into the air circling the park. In the sudden quiet he could hear his own deep sigh. He put his arm over the back of the bench and crossed his legs. He lingered on the aroma of coffee before he sipped.
They returned. “I did not; you did! I was just reacting to you. You said you saw something. I said nothing. You panicked. No. You did. You did, too. That was close. Hey, Mister, we want to ask you something? What’s gravity? Do you have any food? We already asked him. He was explaining it. Yeah, how come other animals get to have gravity and we don’t? That’s not fair. He said it’s a disease that only animals get. No, he didn’t. Can birds get it? I’m not gonna get it. Me neither. We’ll never get it!”
He audibly cleared his throat. They got quiet just long enough, he knew, to say the briefest of things. “Without gravity, you couldn’t fly the way you do.”
“I told you so. No, you didn’t! But we don’t want to catch it! You can’t. It’s not a disease, it’s about rocks and apples. Do you have something to eat, Mister? How do you catch it, anyway? I just want to see what it looks like. What? Where!?”
And suddenly with the briefest gasp and a roar of so many flapping wings, they tore into the air again. He blinked slowly enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face and took a sip.