Monday, February 18, 2008

Deaconess and the Pigeons

A short story for your amusement.

Deaconess and the Pigeons

A bus wheezed by hardly six inches from the curb, a police car gave up on its whiny child siren and switched to its even more obnoxious song of the frustrated housewife, but neither the pigeons nor Deaconess, bending over them, took any notice. They were not so flighty as to start at the sounds of the city. Cities have their own lullabies that only the denizens of the city can appreciate. Four blocks toward the docks and the lullaby would have revolved around the drunken ramblings of the afternoon crowd as it argued its way from The Breakers to The Mecca to The Beachcomber and back. Beyond these bars began the piers at which dozens of boats prepared for the salmon opener that would begin at sundown. There the sounds were mostly of seines being coiled on decks from which they would soon be pulled out onto the ocean by the skiffs that accompanied each seiner, of holds being filled with ice chips, and of engines being checked over one last time. All these work sounds seemed to keep the rhythm of the waves that played between the docked boats and licked the wharf.

Once the seiners were out for their seven day opener, Deaconess might find her way down for a stroll on these docks, but she never had felt at home with all of the heavy work and silent men in rain gear. Even fourteen years with Alex, her silent man in rain gear, had never taught her to think of herself as a fisherman’s wife. Now, there was no longer anything to pull her from the comfort of the city sounds down to the docks. He had left her on those docks, waving his hat at her, but had not returned to them, nor to her.

Deaconess knew, if she had bothered to think of it, that a salmon opener was in the offing, but she took little interest in it. Rarely did she even get down to the bars that surrounded the docks anymore. She did not want to hear of those going out, nor of the boredom and whoredom with which fishermen’s wives waited for the boats to return. She didn’t want to watch the slow motion deaths of those who filled the barstools. Not anymore. She didn’t have to anymore.

The pigeons waddled around the sidewalk in an impromptu dance. Deaconess watched them absently, her thoughts replaying a scene from this very street many years ago.

Her name had been Darcy then. She had been walking beside her dad, clinging to his fingers. She remembered how her hand had swung beside her head in rhythm with his steps. The two had paused before crossing to the side of the street on which Deaconess now stood in reverie. Darcy looked up at her father; he squeezed her hand gently between his thumb and two fingers. A bus had rumbled by, puffing black clouds of oily smoke behind it.

“Come Darce, we can cross now.”

“Where we going?”

“Come and see.”

Darcy could hear the grin in his voice and giggled up at him. Together they crossed the street, he looking ahead, she smiling up at him. When Dad told her to “come and see,” it usually meant that he had a surprise waiting for her.

As they walked down the sidewalk past the pharmacy, her father suddenly stopped and sat down on a bench that faced the sidewalk and the street. Darcy climbed up and leaned one arm on his leg, her feet sticking out in front of her. Together they sat and her eyelids began to droop, little by little, lulled by the steady drone of traffic.

Suddenly the awning seemed to be falling, but it had whirring wings and dozens of little eyes seemed to be peering into hers. “Relax, Honey, pigeons won’t hurt you. Here, take a piece of bread and break off little bits to toss to them.”

Slowly she let go of his leg and took a slice of bread from her father’s hand. Watching him, she began to tear pigeon sized bites from it and toss them out. At first her tosses did not go far enough, and the pigeons left them alone, although Darcy felt certain that they took note of where the crumbs lay. “Throw them farther, so that they will be able to get them without having to come too close to us. Then, after they have a few bites, let the crumbs fall a little closer and a little closer. Once they start eating they will slowly walk right up to us without realizing that they are doing it. Then, if you are very patient and move very gently, they might even eat right out of your hand.”

Together they watched the mystical birds whose colors changed as they moved around, one moment gray and the next pinks blended with purples as they turned sideways to watch for more crumbs. Crumb by crumb they lured the little birds closer to their bench until Darcy could see two of them through the slats of the bench. She dropped the last of her bread straight down and watched as the two birds pulled it apart.

Again the drone of traffic took hold on her eyelids and as she slowly laid her head on her father’s leg, she felt his warm arm pull her up onto his chest. He was warm, strong, gentle, and Darcy fell asleep.

Her eyes filled with tears as his arms comforted her across three decades. Deaconess was suddenly jerked back to the present by an angry voice, “Come on lady. Your stinking birds are pooping all over my sidewalk.”

Without looking up she dropped the last of her bread into the midst of the pigeons and watched them tear it apart, colors flashing off their iridescent heads. Stinking birds he’d called them. No, she thought, mystical birds, and slowly she turned toward her empty home.

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