infested gravel parking lot, heading toward the exit. 'I'm sure if you try, you can hear it.'

'Now that you mention it, I do hear a funny noise,' I said with a chuckle. 'Although I would have called it more of a ping than a knock.'

'You're right,' Michael said. 'It's pinging and knocking. Do you think it's safe to drive?'

'Well, let's try it on the road for a while,' I said.

'Maybe an hour,' Michael said. 'I think if it's going to break down, it won't do it before we get to Rockport at least. Why don't we--Oh my God!' he said suddenly, jamming on the brakes.


'Look at that!'

He pointed out toward the harbor, beyond the crowded, noisy dock. I followed his finger and saw… a puffin. Even a bird-watching amateur like me could recognize it. It flew so clumsily, I was sure it would fall at any second. In fact, I thought it had when the stocky black-and-white figure plummeted toward the choppy water just beyond the end of the dock. But instead of falling in, it skimmed along the top of the waves and then rose again with a wriggling fish in its beak.

'Shall we go tell the bird-watchers?' Michael asked. We both glanced at the docks. The cluster of reporters had broken up and spread out in search of new camera fodder. Birders happily offered themselves up to the cause. Mother and Aunt Phoebe, sitting on a pile of luggage with their injured legs elevated, had already collected a quorum. Aunt Phoebe gestured wildly with her makeshift walking stick while Mother smiled and looked elegantly enigmatic.

'They're bird-watchers,' I said. 'If they did their jobs, they'd spot it.'

The puffin headed toward the open ocean, wings flapping madly, looking as if at any moment it might lose the battle with gravity and plunge into the water. None of the birders noticed.

Except for Dad, who stood a little apart from the pandemonium. He glanced around, saw us, smiled, pointed at the puffin, and turned back to the harbor. The three of us watched until the puffin disappeared.

And as Michael eased out of the parking lot, I could see Dad in the rearview mirror, still standing at the edge of the crowd, waving cheerfully at us with a toy puffin in each hand.

-- The End --

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