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“Are you kidding?”
“Babe, you wanted grilled cheese.”
“Yeah, GRILLED cheese.” Jackson dropped his lunch back in the picnic basket, disgusted. “Not cheese glued between two pieces of bread. Did you zap this in the microwave? I'm just saying, you had all morning –”
I groaned, flopped backwards on the blanket, let him drone on. Our picnic blanket was a poorly knitted wedding present from his mother; Dr. Box suggested it would spark a, quote, “romantic nostalgia”. Everyone did say the first year would be the hardest.
Thinking of our marriage counselor saying that arguing was just another display of affection or something dumb, I shot back, “Am I whining about you burning mine to a crisp?”
Jackson tossed his sandwich on my stomach. “Right, I forgot you didn't like The Grilled Cheese cooked the way the Ancient Romans – ”
“Apples.” I started a round of our game before he could lecture me on the origin of the sandwich. The Alphabet Game was kind of our thing; maybe it would get things on a better track.
He sighed. “Balloons.”
“Where do you see – Oh.” I spotted the colorful orbs hovering the family to their right; Someone was turning five, apparently.
“You've told me the rule a thousand times.” He spoke i n s u l t i n g l y s l o w l y. “We can only name the things we can see. As you see, in this lovely public park, Little Jimmy is – ”
“I get it.” I spat venomously. Jackson could be an absolutely condescending jerk that I wanted to slap with a picnic basket and 'Grace just count to ten and relax before you ruin the date'. “Carousel.”
The first round went uninterrupted, which I'd come to see as a bad thing. All we did was face each other, not make eye contact, robotic-ly recite words. We even gave up on saying things that we could see in the park when I said “Igloo” for “i” and he didn't care. It wasn't fun, like it used to be. It wasn't romantic, like it used to be. And I probably would've suggested we bail and go home if this hadn't happened:
For the first time all day, Jackson laughed. “Grace, baby, you can come up with something better than that for 'u'. Universe would even work for the rules we forgot about halfway through, seeing as we're basically within the –”
“Turn around, Jack.”
Jackson craned his neck behind him, only to have the scream caught in his throat. Ten feet away, a vibrant pink bird stood and stared. It didn't move much, just twitched it's head every now and then, but kept it's ping-pong ball-sized eyes locked on us, wide and curious. It's fat body stood on two scrawny stick-legs, and it's neck was curved gracefully into a small head. Up until this point, the weirdest thing we'd seen in the city was someone walking down the street in a green-screen suit.
“Don't move...I think.” After some shaky breaths, I'd gotten over the initial panic.
Jackson stared at the thing, dumbstruck, for a beat. “Animal control”?
“Sounds good.” If there was one thing Jackson and I agreed on right now, it was that we weren't animal people. As I dialed information for the number, followed the props and brought the phone to my ear, I asked Jackson if he had any random facts on him that might be helpful.
“Well, uh... Flamingos eat with their heads upside down, and their eyes are bigger than their brains...”
I snorted. “Well, by the way the thing is – Oh, yes, hello!” An operator picked up, asked what my emergency was. “Okay, how do I put this... There is a, um, flamingo in the park. Downtown.”
Some papers shuffled on the other end. “Maim, did you just say flamingo?”
“Yes, yes, right across from the carousel.”
Her voice became surprisingly urgent. “Don't make any sudden movements. A flamingo slipped out of the zoo this morning. We're sending animal control over now, just don't do anything. If it feels threatened, it will run away.”
I thanked her and hung up, only to find Jackson slowly standing up with his sandwich in hand. “Jack, don't!”
He held his other hand behind him to silence me. “It's fine, I'm just seeing what it'll do.”
“Sit down, Steve Irwin.” The bird was already cowering at Jackson's sudden change in height. “You'll scare it off.”
Jackson slowly crouched towards it, offered it his grilled cheese. When it didn't do anything as he waved it in front of it's face, he dropped the sandwich. The flamingo then proceeded to squawk in fear and take off running.
“Told you not to microwave your grilled cheese's.”
“It snuck out of the zoo this morning; animal control is coming!”
“Well, jeez, why didn't you –”
“GET THE EFFING BIRD!”
I'd never seen Jackson sprint before, but this came pretty close. He took off, huffing and puffing and gasping after it. The flamingo was fairly fast, and once it saw it was being chased, turned right. Little Jimmy's birthday party screamed at what was coming at them; mothers and kids ran away as the flamingo jumped on the colorful table, stepped in some cake and just barely escaped Jackson's grasp. At this point, the bird was making all sorts of un-Godly noises – I swear it growled at him a couple times.
They darted to the carousel across the park, and Jackson gave up on the “Come here, nice little flamingo...” and started swearing. Here's the thing about my husband; he can't swear. His mother was a daycare owner; he grew up singing babies to sleep, changing countless diapers, and basically living in a daycare. He can't swear. He's somewhere between Mel Gibson in 'Signs' – running around the house “losing his mind” and “insane with anger” – and Shia LaBeouf in 'iRobot' – actually right now throwing random “damn”'s and “ass”'s at the flamingo in pure frustration. He CANNOT swear.
It was the funniest thing I'd seen in six months.
That's how animal control found them – running in circles around the carousel, kids riding their ponies and staring, parents yelling at Jackson to shut up. One of them looked like the flamingo-whisperer, as if stroking down it's neck and easing it into the cage was second nature. When he finished talking to the men with cages and nets, Jackson walked back to me. In the awkward moment of him standing above me, I burst out laughing again, rolling around the blanket with my ribs burning and eyes watering. And it didn't help when he asked, “What the damn is so funny?”
Once I could breathe again, with his arms around me bouncing as he chuckled, I said, “Nothing. I just remembered I love you.”