A short story I wrote this year about loss and redemption using paralell stories of a man and a bird.
Naturally, the story begins with nothing special. The man stood calmly in his bland apartment. He heard the sounds of the patient afternoon as it passed and would soon give way to dusk of unproductive reflection. Birds chirped outside his window in pairs, calling and responding in a gentle duet. Their wings fluttered, carrying the tiny lovers from branch to branch as they circled each other in their own private rhythm. The wind seemed to conduct this piece as it blew through the small bushes causing the leaves to rustle and graze against the window pane.
It was the music he missed the most. He recalled the days he once spent circling like the birds, singing the same duet that today found him humming alone. Silence set in, wholesome and complete and profoundly empty. The engulfing void of noise was lost on him, for he focused on the sounds that had slipped away rather than the lack there of that swirled around him on this quickly passing afternoon.
In a somewhat half-hearted attempt to avoid the solitude of silence, he walked to his cluttered desk and turned on the radio. Met with the static, the sound of separation, he turned it back off. He looked around the room while loosening his tie with one hand. Even though the room was consumed with chaotic order, obvious gaps of where pictures once hung and where menial pieces such as a lamp they had bought at a friends' garage sale once resided remained the focal points. He had taken down all the pictures and unplugged all the lamps, leaving them in boxes which were tucked away in the closets. Yesterday, he didn't want to remember.
Naturally, the day continued. The man now sat at his dinner table, eating alone for the second night in a row. The birds outside continued circling, but were less audible now. Rather than the boisterous chirping of the afternoon, the sunset brought a more reserved, peaceful song. The duet was slower, more of a waltz than a passionate ballad. The wind still guided their fluttering wings and continued to keep time with the rustling leaves.
It was the conversations he missed the most. He ate his lukewarm microwave dinner with a notable disregard for the temperature or the lackluster taste. The meal was simply eating for eating’s sake nowadays anyways. Recalling dinners in a list of usuals where the waiters were on a first name basis and the chef always knew just what to make, he swallowed his flavorless mashed potatoes.
To avoid the awkward conversation of an empty house, he moved to the couch and turned the television on. He flipped through channels, discontented with everything he saw. Advertisements beckoned him to stay, but they had nothing worthwhile to offer him. The newscasters tried to tell him why what was going on beyond the paper walls of his apartment was more important than his uncertain desperation, but he was not convinced. Maybe the events of an entire world spinning were critical, but for the time he could not be pulled out of the loneliness that blended into external apathy. After cycling through nearly all of the channels, he settled for a cooking show. He had never been much of a cook, but baking was one of her passions, and the connection brought him some sense of comfort, however fragile it may have been.
Naturally, the song continued well into the night. The peaceful waltz became a fermata of unsaid words, filled with intentional gestures and simple answers. The call and response remained, but was no longer audible to the rest of the world. Flapping wings slowed, and the birds found their homes among the trees and small bushes. Even so, the wind conducted their rhythms with unseen hands, the true masters of time. This song was not, however, what kept him awake.
It was the contact he missed the most. After the predictably worthless moments of reflection and contemplation, the man found himself wandering to the bedroom, where he would sleep alone for the second night in a row. He couldn’t help but remember conversations that lasted until morning, and the simple rhythm of two beings breathing in unison. Those were the songs that became his background music for the days after such ideal nights. He became accustomed to their sounds, and now the silence hung even heavier. He inhaled with no reply except his bodies own forced exhaling.
Not bothering to undress, he took his place on the right side of the bed with an undertone of defeat. He lay on his side, looking toward the window, wondering how many hours the night would require him to endure, lying on his side, before the first cracks of light broke through the window blinds. He had an idea of what time it was, but there was no clock in the bedroom. He couldn't bear to see the digits staring back without thinking of easy mornings with both their hands stretching to find the snooze button, and meeting somewhere in between, finding each other and interlacing in the natural rhythm of the new day. So, he guessed it was around three, and proceeded to lie on his side, watching the window blinds.
Naturally, the night eventually receded like the high tide and the new day began to take control of the skies. The sun defiantly climbed higher, disregarding the night and the shallow sleepers who simply wished for five more minutes of self contained peace. Unlike these distant dreamers and subconscious visionaries, the birds were already awake and dancing. The prelude to the day’s song began. The wind set the morning rhythm was the calm brushing of leaves. The breeze then swelled into a symphonic orchestra, lending its voice to the accompaniment of passing traffic, ringing alarms, early phone conversations, and the ever-present melodies of the birds. The song grew louder and louder, filling the air which guided the tempo and leaving no room for the silence to separate. However, it was not this masterpiece that woke him this particular morning.
He was finally brought back into reality by the subtle noise of a crash. Still wearing the clothes from yesterday at the office, he gradually moved from the bed to the bathroom. Looking himself in the mirror, he wondered if this morning would also lead to more reflection, and knew this would be the case. His reflection knew this as well, and proceeded to stare back with an equally exhausted expression. After washing his face with cool water, the man then decided to look at his compulsively filled agenda. Today was Saturday, June 10th, and the calendar told him it was Garbage Day, as well as the day he planned to spend in the city, searching for the perfect birthday gift. Noting this was no longer necessary, the man was left with the uncertainty of a freedom he did not desire.
He chose to go into town anyways, if for no other reason than to get out of the bland apartment. He changed clothes, putting on a comfortable t-shirt and some jeans she had bought him. Grabbing his wallet, his phone with the cracked screen, and his keychain, which now held two keys to his apartment, he walked out the door, making sure to lock it behind him. He was on the first floor of the complex, so it was a short walk to the car. Opening the car door, he noticed that his dark blue sweater was still resting on the back seat. Technically, it was his, but he had not worn it since meeting her, and she had used it so often on cold nights that he no longer saw it as his own. While considering what to do with the sweater, he got in the car, and turned the key.
The engine started slowly, as if it also had just woken from a long night of watching the window blinds. He put the car in reverse carefully, backed up cautiously, but after shifting into drive, he whipped the wheel around and sped to town, hoping to get there as soon as he could, even if there was nothing there for him to hurry to. Rather, it was what he hurried away from, which was the same apartment he found bare just yesterday afternoon, which was the same apartment that seemed to have become a cage. He drove on, giving no thought to the apartment or the empty wall space or the queen size bed that was now too large or even the crash that had woken him this morning. Thinking of only finding something on the horizon where the skyscrapers loomed, he ignored all of these realities that he would be forced to face tonight with the same silence as the last.
Outside the apartment window, below the small bushes that swayed with the breeze, lying in the uncut grass was a small bird. The bird had woken this morning, and in the excitement of the new song, begun to dance and call and respond and chirp and make a variety of joyous noises. In the process, the bird had flown into the window, crashing to the ground floor underneath. The bird was silent.
There was no call; therefore, no response. There was no chirping; therefore, no duet. There was no dancing; therefore, no fluttering of the wings, moving from branch to branch. There was no singing; therefore, no harmony.
However, there was still a song. The bird that was once the response continued to sing. The bird now danced alone, but it still circled in time with the winds movements. The tiny lover's wings fluttered, carrying the bird from branch to branch. The bird now sang a quiet, elegant solo outside the window.
Naturally, the song continued well into the night. The peaceful waltz became a fermata of unspoken words, filled with intentional gestures and simple answers. This song was not, however, what kept him awake.
The man once again lay in bed. Rather than the previous night, which was for the most part spent waiting for light, tonight the man stared to the other side of the room, where the dark blue sweater rested on the back of a chair. He had carried it in from the car, noticing the scent it carried that guided him to days under magnolia trees simply lying in the sun. He had placed on the chair, the one that she sat in most often. Here she would read her novels about love and romance or while doing some last minute work as he patiently watched her until they both went to sleep in each other's arms.
The dark blue sweater reminded him of all of this, as well as of lifetimes and volumes of memories both precious and incandescently happy. The dark blue sweater reminded him of her passion for life, her spirit of spontaneous joy, and of her eyes, which he had always said matched the sweater perfectly. Today, he wanted to remember.
It was the simple answers he miss ed the most, but he began to find peace in the fragile, yet determined melody of a single yellow bird who bravely sang on outside his window, and began to feel content in the comfort of memories.