Birds

When I was little the way the shine on the hood of a cool car blinded me made me feel like something was on its way. All I had to do was be ready. And I tried. For a long time I held fast, tightened my fists in my pockets and walked on when someone called my name.

But then I thought I was the shine and the moving toward who knows what and my blood felt like water.

I was a power chord.

I knew the names of birds.

I had the book.

So while Ronnie-Ann watched porn I’d sit with her and figure out what was flying around out there.

“I’m the one told you about them birds, Buster,” she said, folded so deep in the cushions of the couch I couldn’t tell what was her arm and what was her leg.

“You told me about birds?”

And we’d start in.

What it got down to is she blamed me for not being able to see meaning in things like birds and books about birds any more. She blamed me she was watching porn.

 

*

 

At first she’d comment on the story and how sex might affect things.

Then she stopped bringing home movies with any story, just sex scenes piled up one after another.

Before long she said, “This shit’s wearing off, too,” and I hoped it would take something different instead of something more.

 

*

 

It was true she told me about birds.

“You can learn a lot from them,” she said the first time I found the book she’d won in a school raffle. “I wanted to win a bike,” she said.

“Can you learn to fly?” I asked and she didn’t get pissed in any part of her I could tell.

“There’s lots of ways to watch things,” she said.

I told her a robin’s a robin, a wren, wren, hawk, hawk, and all. I didn’t need to know the sub-species and whatnot, didn’t need to know where they winter.

“It’s nice,” she said.

So I figured birds, and what they say about birds in a book might as well mean something to me. I couldn’t think of anything else she’d use the word “nice” about like she meant it.

So I told her how it didn’t seem like the kind of thing she’d be into, how she used “nice” when she was talking about the birds and the book about the birds.

And that didn’t go over.

“You can fuck up anything. Know that, Buster?”

Of course I knew that. She did too. “That helps a lot,” I told her.

Outside an Oriole was dropping down the little leftover cactus from when the landlord redid the front to what he said was sustainable.

Ronnie-Ann said, “I can be talking about how you’re fucking up this bird thing, just this bird thing, and mean right now, not be talking about anything in the world to do with fucking up our lives or whatever you think you’re fucking up this time.”

When we first got together (one time I called it dating and Ronnie-Ann said, “We didn’t date,” and an- other time I called it going out and Ronnie-Ann said, “We didn’t go out,”) she’d say things like, “taking it too fast,” or, “too serious,” or,”personal,” even.

Sometimes she’d say you never know what tomorrow brings and I couldn’t help thinking she meant tomorrow might bring somebody she liked more than me.

Never did though and one day she didn’t talk like that.

And it felt like we were together.

The Oriole flew away when the mail lady with her big calves and chewing gum came smiling up with a handful of nothing we wanted to open.

That felt a little normal, junk mail, and I wondered who was normal and what made them that way.

I put the bird book back on the shelf between her sixth-grade scrapbook and eighth-grade yearbook and went outside.

The Oriole flew off. I worked that word around my mouth. Oriole.

Made me think of the cookie and eating the middles and putting them back together a different thing. When I was a kid Mom’d eat burgers that way, the patty first then try and put everything back together. Once, at Tommy’s Café, Dad said why don’t she just get the hamburger steak special.

She didn’t answer. They’d been through this before and that wasn’t what it was about.

Even I knew that.

“Your mama does a lot of fucked up shit, boy,” he said, his fork loud on his plate.

There was something my dad had in his voice when he made those jokes one day I figured out Ronnie-

Ann had, a sad sound when they think they’re happy but can’t help certain things they do or say and the way they do and say them.

After I started the book it wasn’t long I was telling her stuff about feather markings and nests and flying patterns and not long after that she got tired of it. Not the birds but me having something to say about them.

“That all you think about?” She asked.

I told her she sounded like my dad and she stared at me until her phone started ringing then looked at me and said, “Well there,” and that was that.

So I talked less about birds but kept watching for something until one day I tried telling Ronnie-Ann, “It gets harder to believe,” I said, nodding out the window at the Oriole.

“Birds flying ain’t hard to believe, Buster. Been doing it all my life. It’s what birds do. Makes them birds matter of fact.”

“Yeah, but ever try it?”

“No, Buster, I ain’t no motherfucking bird.”

“I think it takes more than we think.”

“I don’t think about it. For all I know they barely make it, but they do. Never seen a bird couldn’t make

it.”

 

“And that don’t seem like a miracle?”

“Sure, Buster. That’s what it seems like, a miracle birds fly. And know what else, that dogs bark and fucking fish swim. Ever think about that? How a fish holds its breath. Goddamn secret of life right there swimming around a fucking pond.”

I was a million miles away and she looked at me that way then walked out flapping her arms.

I told her from the other room about how I hit a Robin with a rock when I was nine. I couldn’t tell if she was listening but I told her how I didn’t think it possible I could do anything that meant so much in the world, but did, and I could tell the bird sensed the rock and made a move to fly right before it hit her and the whole world stopped. She wouldn’t move. I ran inside for Mom who got so mad I couldn’t look and said bury it in the back yard but I couldn’t stand the thought so I took the shovel and threw her little body in the woods.

Everything I did back then already seemed like a memory I told Ronnie-Ann and she came back in with me, standing there, looking at me for who I could’ve been.

“You ever wish you could go back in time?” I asked.

She stood there a minute, then said, “I did.”

I waited for her to tell me about that but she walked off again like she thought of something else. I got the bird book but left it closed.

 

*

 

That night we started partying and the television was on whatever and she was playing dj with her CDs and dancing like crazy people in old movies and laughing like that until she saw the bird book on the table.

At first she flipped through looking at me and smiling like I ought to know about what but she suddenly stopped at some page.

She turned the book in her hands.

She said, “Know how people say their whole life flashed by? I did that. Watched my whole life go by. I was there again.”

“When?” Was all I knew to say.

“I mean I wasn’t watching what I’d done I was doing those things again.”

“Were you drowning or something?”

“Do I look drowned to you?”

I started to answer and she said, “Don’t be a smart ass, Buster.”

“What’s the picture?” I asked her.

She let the book down slowly until it hung there from one hand but I still couldn’t make it out. “When I was eleven my dad tried to kill us.”

“What do you mean baby?”

“I never told you.”

“What happened?”

“He got me out of bed one night and carried me to the garage. I didn’t know if we were going somewhere or I was dreaming.”

“Where was your mom?”

“Sleeping. She was always sleeping. He ran the hose from the exhaust into the window and we sat there.

He put on music that must’ve meant something to him and at some point I started living everything again.” “Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah. But he fucked that up too. The hose come off and we woke up the next morning, me on the couch, him sitting at the kitchen table, smoking and watching the smoke like one more thing getting away from him.”

“Your mom never knew?”

“She’s the one told me what happened.”

“I’m sorry,” I told her.

“It felt more like I had to live through things too many times though. Before we got in the car, while we were in there, then everything after, so I don’t much want to go back in time again. You don’t get to change anything anyhow.”

“If you could go back and none of it happened?”

“How would we know?”

“I guess we wouldn’t,” I said, and, “Maybe that’s all we ever do. Keep going back.”

“Feels that way huh.”

And somehow we had moved to talking about us and how it takes us getting fucked up because we are

so fucked up.

I looked at the picture there about to fall from her hand. A robin.

“I can’t go back now,” she said.

“Maybe later,” I told her and I knew we do it all the time, come back to a now that ain’t nothing but a now and another now and another.