I was out one day observing birds when I saw what I considered to be a particularly sparky little plover. I said as much to my walking companion, Dulcie The Bird Woman.
“Look, Dulcie!” I said, pointing, “Is that not a sparky plover?” I pronounced plover to rhyme with the plant, clover.
“I think you will find,” hissed Dulcie The Bird Woman, whose every utterance was a hiss, “That it is pronounced plover to rhyme with the trade of glover, a man who maketh gloves. But be that as it may, what could possibly lead you to dub it sparky? It is not shooting forth sparks, and if it were, I think the both of us would be mightily disconcerted.”
“I was using the word sparky as Father Hopkins deployed it in his juvenile verse drama Floris In Italy,” I said, “Where he writes Such spiders web he ties across his sight, insert ellipsis, Gilds with some sparky fancies blinding night, where sparky is a synonym for lively or vivacious. It is in the same sense it was used as the name of a weekly children’s comic I used occasionally to read when I was a tot.”
“A different sense, then, to the spark translated from the Russian Iskra, which was no children’s comic but an organ of Bolshevik propaganda in pre-revolutionary Russia,” hissed Dulcie, who was surprisingly erudite in many matters not relating directly to birds.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” I said, “I am woefully ignorant of Bolshevism.”
We were standing, having paused to take in the plover, on a path winding alongside an estuary. Scattered here and there beside the path were the stumps of unknown trees. Dulcie The Bird Woman sat down on one, and took from her bag a greaseproof paper package containing a sandwich.
“Of course,” she hissed, between munches, “A robot plover might emit sparks, had something gone awry with its wiring. But only a fool would build such a robot.”
I nodded. I had not brought any sandwiches with me, for I was feckless.
“I have to say,” continued Dulcie, “That your plover seems neither more nor less lively and vivacious than any other plover, nor indeed than any other wading bird. It is merely going about its business in the shallows at the edge of the estuary.”
“It is not my plover,” I protested.
She fixed me with an odd, somehow menacing, look, as she swallowed the last of her sandwich.
“Are you quite sure of that?” she hissed.
“It is merely a plover I spotted and described as sparky,” I said, “Why would I lay any further claim to it?”
Dulcie The Bird Woman chuckled to herself, then hissed:
“It was said, of both Rudolf Steiner and Chou En-lai, that they seemed to emit flashes of mysterious light. Perhaps your sparky plover, too, is such a marvel. Look!”
I was already looking at the plover, and sure enough, it suddenly cast forth a flash of glittering effulgence, a brilliant radiance that would have blinded me had I not turned my head away and shut my eyes. When I opened them again, I saw that Dulcie had put on a pair of sunglasses and was eating a plum.
“That is a very interesting bird,” she hissed, “You were right to point it out, it alone, among all the other plovers and dotterels and wading birds. Here, take this net, and bag your sparky plover, and take it home with you. It will not resist. It is your bird-familiar.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but, as if in a dream, I took the net she had drawn out of her pippy bag, and I scampered off toward the shoreline, toward the plover. Was it really mine? Was it really my familiar?
As I closed upon it, fanning out the net, it again shot forth a flash of incandescent light, and in that moment it seemed I and the bird and the light were all one. Was it a moment, or was it a year, a century, a millennium? I could not tell. But when the light faded, I dug my short stubby bill into the sand and pulled out a juicy worm, and as I guzzled it down I looked up and saw, sitting on the stump of an unknown tree, a woman. She stood up, hoisted a bag over her shoulder, and, before walking away, she chucked a plumstone at me. It missed me by a whisker.