The Old Man and the Canary

by Kristen Rubner


Holton Lake is quaint little village unaccustomed to visitors, miles from the nearest freeway the town consists of nothing more than a bank, grocery, and post office.  Past the town with its lone stop light sits a winding dirt road at the end of which can be found a lonely house inhabited by a reclusive bachelor.  The old man worked each day at the bank, each day except Sunday.  On the weekdays he would tend to customers forcing on his cold face a disingenuous smile, a herculean task for the miserably misanthropic old man.  On Saturdays he spent hours at his old wood desk slogging through piles of monotonous paperwork and other thankless tasks.  The old bachelor hated his meaningless job, he hated his tiny home with its peeling yellow paint, and in fact he hated most things, everything except his small pet canary named Lucky.

Lucky was the sole bright spot of the old bachelor’s life, his single joy.  Upon waking every morning the old man would at once remove the cream colored linen cover from Lucky’s cage.  “Early bird catches the worm” the old geezer would joke to his dearest friend.  The bird would slowly stir and eventually reply with sweet twitterings that made the hoary old bachelor smile.  After a while the bird would quiet down and began grooming his brilliant blue plumage, “expecting company tonight?” the man would again joke, as he had no one else to joke with, there would be no company for Lucky or his master.  By seven am the old bachelor was off to work.  The old man counted the long drawn-out hours until he could return to his dear friend. Upon arriving home the old bachelor would immediately feed his companion, placing the most expensive birdseed available into his food dish.  Lucky would sing a short song and gobble up his dinner.  Both spent the remainder of the evening staring out watching the sun slowly set through the old bachelor’s window.  As the night arrived the man would cover Lucky up with the same worn linen cloth.

Every day was the same for our poor tired old bachelor and everyday was the same for his avian companion, everyday except Sunday.  Every Sunday morning, after sleeping in late the old bachelor would uncover his pet and just this one day, he would open up Lucky’s cage door and allow Lucky to fly around the small living room.  The old man always looked forward to his joyous chirping and often Lucky would fly so close to the old bachelor’s face that he could just feel the softness of Lucky’s feathers upon his cheek and the rush of air created his swift wings, a silly game between two friends.  Years ago Lucky made the mistake of flying into the window but he has since learned his lesson. Lucky would fly small swooping circle around the room and eventually come to rest on the same potted plant.  As the evening came eventually the old man would chase his favorite friend back into his cage.  “Good night sweet friend” he whispered as he turned off the lights and the old man so unused to emotion is filled with love for his sweet bird.



Miles away on a beautifully lush orchard, in a stately old oak tree lived lived a gorgeous blue canary named William Farthingsworth.  He was a happy bird, a master of the aerial arts, well respected by his flock and genuinely content with his simple life in the country.  While out foraging one sunny morning, a large net engulfed him and a slim young man threw him to a wicker cage.  What came next was a blur of car rides and noisy shops filled with screaming animals. In short order William found himself trapped in a cold steel cage, inside of a small home with peeling paint the color of old mustard, imprisoned by a pitiable man who persisted in calling him “Lucky” although he repeatedly informed the old gentleman that his name was in fact William.  “Lucky indeed” swore William indignantly.

The bachelor was the bane of William’s existence, a non-ending scourge.  His home was a sterile and yet foul smelling cage. As he was accustomed to sleeping in, it was rather distressing when the man woke him before dawn every morning.   The man made cruel jokes at William’s expense, which would send the latter into a rage of fury-filled obscenities.  The old man appeared to be so dim witted that he never notice the horrible things William screamed and simply smiled as if taking pleasure in his distress.  William would give up and ignoring the unpleasant disturbance would start his morning grooming while the old man continued with his humorless crude jokes.  His only relief came during the day when the man would leave and although he was glad to be rid of him, he would be starving by the afternoon and dreadfully he would await the man’s return, famished and bored.  Once the man arrived he would place the same old tasteless seeds in his bowl.  The same plain seeds from yesterday and the same seeds from the month before.  William would hurl more ugly insults at the man before resignedly eating his tasteless food.  Every evening was spent the same.  William would look out at the same three barren trees and the lifeless landscape and as night came the cream colored cloth enveloped his cage.

Every day was the same for our poor William and everyday was the same for his hated turnkey, everyday except Sunday.  On Sunday William would be allowed to sleep in late.  Upon awakening the door to his cell would be left open.  He could only guess his jailer did this as a cruel joke, for he could only make the smallest circles in the dark cramped room and once when freedom looked to be finally insight, William made a break for the wide open landscape only to have his head impacted by that spiteful invisible wall. William had figured out early on how to escape his cage through the small sliding door over his food dish, a trick he fearfully guard from the old man and would experience a tinge of rebellious pleasure in those solitary afternoon flights.  On Sundays he took his exercise as all prisoners do but without the tiny thrill of his stolen flights and he would curse at the cruel man as loud as he could and often he would work up the nerve to attack the man with the aim of gouging out his eyes but always at the last minute he became fearful and just graze the man’s face with his wing instead.  He would come to rest on his favorite spot by the window and as the evening came both inmate and guard spent the last of daylight peering out at the world just beyond the window.  William would look out at the sky, the same sky where somewhere he once flew freely in the breezes of wide open spaces, now he was reduced to staring vacantly at a mere tiny patch of that great wide sky. That same small patch of sky he saw yesterday and the day before and last year and this same sad piece of sky that will await him every morning for countless more years until his death and he is filled his despair and hatred for the cruel man.



Summer fades into fall and winter melts into spring once, twice, perhaps a dozen times, William not longer counts.  The old man’s unchanging movement, weaving the same pattern through space year after year slowly lull William into uneasy resignation.   Then one unexpectedly ordinary day the fail-safe pattern comes to halt, there is a forced retirement, a cheap gold watch, and on that Saturday night a party given at the bank. Proper social protocol of course, yet there is still a pleasure in goodbyes between people who are happy to part, so the old man, who had always avoided any situation involving music or noise, which he consider to be very much the same, prepares to indulge in the festivities in his honor.  Perhaps mellowed by years the old man allows himself to daydreams of the coming change and “Sweet lucky who sits all alone six days a week, how happy he’ll be to have me home.  I’ll let him fly around three times a week, perhaps even four” and the Old Man relishes the thought with quiet content.

The party lasts well into the night although the old man takes his leave before the other guests. Giving in to the spirit of the occasion he overindulges in wine and cocktails.  As he stumbles home at an hour not last seen since his youth he is overwhelmed with an alcohol-induced cheerfulness foreign to his countenance. In the giddy swirling of his mind he for once imagines thinks of the future with a vague yet very real happiness and with such thoughts drifts off into unconsciousness.


William is awoken at first light by the man’s loud snores, as he stretches himself preparing for another day just like the last he notices something is different.  The crude noises emanating form the old man are louder than usual, but something else, the dark room in infused with unexpected light.  And then he sees it, the door, golden light streams in from the door left open just a few inches the night before.  Could this be another trick of the cruel old jailer? Surely if he were to try to escape he’d only run into that same invisible wall that thwarted so many other attempts?  Could he stomach one more disappointment? He must try.  Very carefully he eases the door of his prison open, he takes a tentative step then another before launching himself swiftly towards the open door.  To his amazement he is not thrown to the ground by that insidious invisible hand but is instantly immersed in sunlight and the bright shinny loud world soars by him, confused he lands on a nearby bush to gather himself. The dark house sits in the distant and for a second, like a institutionalized prisoner grown accustomed to their cell, William thinks of returning.  A shudder grips him and he knows he is finally free and will never again live without the caressing breeze, the sparking sunlight and the wide open air of freedom.

His first though is his family and home, but which way is home, after so many years it would be impossible to find his flock again.  Yet even such dark thoughts are instantly replaced with the unlimited prospects of freedom and he know just what he wants to do first, what he has missed all this time, what his body and soul cry out for: flight.  All these years he has craved the rush of unrestrained soaring and so he takes to the air. Soaring higher and higher and faster, with every bit of distance from the earth he feels his cares drop away, he’s nearly hysterical with delight, the town becomes a brown smudge in the wide green earth beneath him. He soars on, the years of cramped darkness now left long behind him, he experiences the sheer joy of freedom, a perfect harmony of body and soul.  Feelings of exhilaration ripple down his spine, the world opens up before him, it seems the very secret of all existence can be felt in the air rushing over his body, blinding beautiful freedom in its purest form.  He is so overwhelmed by sheer happiness he doesn’t even see the 4:15 from Denver to Atlanta which instantly sucks him into its massive engines.

Eastern Michigan University's English Department senior student literary journal