Metal Birds

Far behind the house’s rear, among moss and dead leaves was a spring. Connected to the spring by a small staircase of large rocks lie a stream that flowed as a river when it rained and ran dry through summer and winter. Insects–gnats, mosquitos, flies–danced above puddled water in the day, the light giving shape to their speck bodies, their whirling masses flying as units. 

One heard the stream from the back porch. The sound, like the shuffling ambience of cities, did not yell but spoke softly and enduringly. The folding din was of the land, and the house was on the land, and the people were above the land. 

“It’s late. What do ya want?” The black-haired boy asked. “I know. I can’t sleep; sky’s been quiet for weeks.” 

“Ya know where the melatonin is, Aello. I’ve got class at 8,” said the hurried, sleepy boy. 

“Cal, ya know how yer mind gets goin’ ‘n it won’t stop?” asked Aello. 

“Yea, I’m familiar.” 

“Well mine’s goin’, and I thought I’d talk all the thoughts out now.” 

“O.K. but be quick.” 

Throughout the house the broken back screen door screeched, shuttering as it slid, dragging through years of crumpled leaves; thick, greenish-black grime; dead flies and spiders. 

“Christ it’s cold, Aello” Cal chattered. 

“It ain’t that bad. Yet, at least. Here, sit.” 

Two metal-plastic-and-fabric recliners, moist from the day’s showers, sat side-by-side on the tall grass. They creaked with each adjustment, almost boomed through the night’s cool air, out towards the small valley of forest that surrounded the house. In utter fuzzy blackness, the far-off trees stood as spectres of themselves. Their silhouettes ran with the sky so that above was not space but an endless dark. 

“Ya settled yet?” 

“Don’t know if I can be with this chair the way it is, creaking a whole damn symphony” Aello belted. “Okie, settled.” 

“Alright, go ahead ‘n shoot.” 

“Well it’s like this, Cal,” Aello began, adjusting the recliner back so that he sat nearly supine, “‘bout every night round 8 or 10, planes fly over with their lights blinkin’, turbines raisin’ hell ‘n all. They circle back after a bit then land just over there.” He gestured vaguely towards the house, southward. “I watch ‘em most nights, listen to ‘em, and then get on into bed, but they ain’t been blinkin’ or raisin’ hell or nothin’.” 

Cal scratched his flushed cheek, letting the fingers venture to behind his ear, eventually losing interest at the lobes. He started, “Way I see it yer better off sleepin’ now than before, without all the noise.” 

“But it ain’t the noise keepin’ me awake. I think it’s the noise not bein’ there that’s got me so stirred up. Maybe you’ll feel it. Yea. Yea just listen a moment. Close yer eyes ‘n let every sound in ‘n tell me there ain’t somethin’ off, somethin’ missing.” They sat still and blind a moment. 

Under thick brush a mouse scurried, weaving, stopping now and then to inquire the air, and moving again with its whole body a frantic twitch. 

“Woods sound whole to me, no different than before all this” Cal said. “Ain’t ya ‘fraid of coyotes or catchin’ cold?” 

“No, no the land don’t scare me, Cal. It’s the sky and them blinkin’ birds. Or them not bein’ there, I guess.” 

Cal said, “Aello,” he interrupted himself for effect, “God damn it Aello, I’m set ta freeze out here.” He crossed his arms and tucked his fists just beneath his armpits. “Listen, plainly I think you’ve a case a’ cabin fever–yer sick of us and the inside.” Aello, though he couldn’t see it, felt Cal’s swinging, gesturing limbs. “Ya should go out ‘n hike or run tomorrow, get movin’ and get yer mind on the motion.” 

“I done that, Cal, ‘n I like the blood rushin’ inta my face ‘n gettin’ ta feel like a sorta movin’ machine. But them planes are different. Ya see, it’s just me movin’ when I run, and I’m just me insida’ me. There ain’t no one else movin’ with me or bein’ moved by me. The planes got lots a’ folks, ‘n they’re all goin’ towards somewhere together, like a team, sorta. Just seems good for folks to move like that, ya know, to have somethin’ they gotta get to. It’s odd sayin’ it, but I miss seein’ ‘em. You get so used to a thing it ain’t right without it.” 

(Credit: Ian Curriden)

The flat dark trees didn’t sway in the cool night’s wind. Without the birds singing in them, the trees took on a sombre, quiet timbre. Cal adjusted and readjusted. On his fourth fixing of himself, he said between creaks, “I think yer just gettin’, ah what’s the word… acclimated to it all. It’ll pass, Aello.” 

“Maybe, Cal. But maybe it ain’t me as much as them, them flying folks. Maybe I’m ‘fraid, ‘fraid people won’t be goin’ and flyin’ like they have. Maybe I need somethin’ ta go out there so I know I can go, too. Maybe them going somewhere to do something sets me to sleep ‘cause folks are meant to be goin’ most of the time. We are after all, ain’t we?” Aello rolled his eyes high in their sockets to glance back at Cal in his chair. 

An owl poised on a branch, pierced the dark Earth with its gaze, and dove swiftly down. 

Cal shifted in the chair before finally standing up in defeat, a thousand little white mountains already formed on his forearms and legs. “Maybe I’m a wizard ‘n yer a saint, maybe we’re both a limb a’ Christ, maybe a grand computer somewhere toots out clouds and makes the sun rise, ‘n maybe hell’s empty ‘n all the devils got names and two-three addresses. Maybe maybe maybe, Aello,” he shot. “What the hell’s in ya, Cal? I’m just askin’, for Pete’s sake.” “Ya know what hell’s in me, Aello. My lips are bluer than the day’s sky and I’ve gotta get up in six hours and the foxes are weaselin’ under the chicken wire again and that all is what hell’s in me. ” 

“‘N here I thought tellin’ it out’d help. Shit, yer a wall, Cal, a bit of a sonufa-bitch.” Aello sat up and tucked his knees tight under his chin, the chair cracking like an old shack in the wind. 

“‘N yer stuck in yer thoughts; yer little ‘n think stickin’ yer hands together ‘n mumblin’ by the bed every night still means anythin’. Ya gotta start thinkin’ in the ‘is’s’ ‘n get away from the ‘might’s’.” 

Deep in the dark the mouse squeaked raspingly between small, penultimate breaths, and the claws dug deeper. 

Aello bolted, “I hate the ‘is’s’. Seems ya rise in the mornin’, head full and bright with ‘might’s’, ‘n ya stick yer feet in the mud a’ life, ‘n the ‘is’s’ just dry it all up ‘till ya can’t lift a toe. Way you see it, ain’t nothin’ to do but say to hell with the ‘might’s’ and to hell with tryin’ and to hell with the sky. Ya gotta have somethin’, Cal, lest yer grand plan is to lay down ‘n quit.” 

Arms akimbo, Cal, in part yawn and part word, said, “Ain’t that the end goal? Ain’t we aimin’ ta get to lie down forever ‘n laugh ‘n roll in the grass? Shit, I go to class for that alone.” He chuckled at the sudden clarity of his days. “Ehhuhhh,” he yawned once more, “I’ve gotta sleep, Aello, ‘fore I freeze. Why don’t ya have some wine or read yerself to sleep. I don’t much care whatcha’ do so long as ya don’t wake me again. O.K.?” 

“I done all that already. None helped. But okie, Cal. Get yer sleep.” Aello whispered, “Bastard.” 

“Goodnight.” 

Without the light of the sun, trees sway soundlessly it seems. The birds quiet in their nests, deer in their coves, ticks on the deer’s tails, all while crickets and frogs sing by the stream, rushing black with early spring’s rains. And there in the flowing darkness, with pants soaked up to the knee, was Aello. To his right, the spring, puddles, moss. In front of him, the rushing, steep current. Maybe he’d give the insects a place to land, a thing to do for a few weeks. Maybe he’d trudge up and along until the sun rose again. Maybe. 

End.

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