Father and son and condor stood at wingtips, the father explaining why, at that hour, he had chosen to rouse his son and bring him to the fields, to the highest point on the gypsum outcrop that served as a compass point across his father’s fallow land.
To hold a condor, son, is an extreme. It is a kind of edge along which one travels to cover farther distances; inertia around the middle tends to flatten surfaces, smoothing them over; bumps in the road can compound and add days to a journey; this is called the compilation of micro-distances. Learning to hold a condor will not cure you of this, but it will embolden you to take notice when your time is being wasted by the extraneous, and some say you live, if only perceptually, a longer life. Imagine that, son. You would never think on your own that simply changing your own perception of time is the surest path to a longer life! I don’t share this with just anyone.
His son made an unsophisticated cupping motion and took a step toward the condor. The father held him back.
It is true, you’ve heard the stories, that I am not going to instruct you. I may even take a phone call while you get your wits about you. What I need to tell you first is that her wingspan is greater than yours, by several feet, and she looks deceptively small right now, but this part of the lesson, the traps of making volume-based assumptions about winged creatures.
The son put his hand back up, adjusting it ever so slightly but not abandoning his overall technique. The father stopped him again.
Son, it’s just that, you’re unrecognizable right now, son, totally in disguise to me; part of this ritual is a masking of scents, which we haven’t even done, left to the books, but already I question by your smell alone whether you are my son; this is the same thing they speak of when they caution young children against caring for baby animals, though human oils exchange for natural odors is preposterous, but it is the same type of thinking that would turn a father in the wild against his son, but here I feel it has bonded us more strongly, because we are now bonded only in experience, the lived experience of father and son and condor.
The boy went on, one hand cupped under, the other making for the pollex, elbow bent, and a terrible flutter sent him sprawling backwards in error.
You want to grab at the radius, son, further down. And stop this nonsense with your other hand. Make a commitment; find the center of mass and act on it.
He went for the gizzard this time, to lesser avail. If only the boy could have seen his father gesticulating flamboyantly behind him. His cheek was slashed, and felt the first pang of shame, his other turning red to match.
The father was on the phone, ordering a pair of shoes from the sound of it. The son took his time sizing up the bird, which expected him now and puffed itself up, made its throat especially knotty, hoping to deter another attempt.
The boy reversed course and grabbed the condor toward the middle of the wing radius on both sides, thrusting it into the air, the bird’s chest and his own distended. But the bird landed of its own accord, annoyed. The boy hadn’t even realized when his grip gave way, such was the potency of the mild oil on the bird’s feathers.
He grabbed it around the neck and heaved the bird over his shoulder, or rather, made the motion to, but in fact separated a vertebrae, killing the bird on the spot.
The father walked up beside him. The boy had let the bird go limp.
Son, it’s important to remember that manhood is not a linear process, that this may represent a deviation in your steady climb, but that it is nothing to feel any sort of guilt about. Condors are endangered, son, protected by the government, and so this dead bird here at your feet, who was so violated by you before his untimely death, this is a turkey buzzard, a practice bird. A condor, son, is many times the size of this bird, probably, so know that, even if you succeeded today in holding a condor, which was a turkey buzzard all along, son, that there would be a lesson in humility in it for you. In fact, I would have tossed a half-dead guinea pig at your head just to have the real condor give you a bit of a scare, because you have to be scared. You have to realize your own limitations, the contingency of your whole being, in order to hold a condor, son, you have to show doubt, because doubt is respect to others, above all, to the condor; it makes him more accepting to your positions, and he may bend to let you hold him. See? It’s an exercise in humility. Mostly. You still spent too much time around the pollex, but that’s easily corrected. And keep a flat hand, son, like you’re feeding a horse an apple.