Fiction · 12/09/2009

Birdman

His RV is half on the lawn. Who does he think he is? He’s my brother, of course.

Birdman.

He has a shit-load of birds strapped to the top of his vehicle. A big wooden box with air holes. He uses these birds in his magic act. He travels between Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, and some other sleazy venues. The birds go, “COO COO. CA-COO.” I have to admit they’re gentle sounding, the opposite of my brother, who is a big piece of red noisy face and artificially white teeth.

I hate him because I’m jealous. As kids, and still, I’m the practical and boring one. Mother let him take days off from school to talk to his pigeons, while I slaved away on the numbers on my way to becoming an accountant. We all have our talents, she told me.

First thing out of his vehicle he slaps my old man with another autographed photo of Wayne Newton. “Wayne! Wayne!” The old man’s about squirting in his pants. They do a little shuffle dance in the driveway, the birds stepping up their trill in the background.

I loudly clear my throat and my brother whistles. The birds shut up. He makes two fists. “How is she?” He opens them and two white doves are there.

“It won’t be long,” my father says, tracing Wayne’s glossy face.

+

I’m the one who made arrangements — hospital bed, nurses; but I’ll never get a morsel of thanks. It’s all Birdman. My mother, who hasn’t responded in a week, opens her eyes when he announces himself. He covers her with that purple cape of his, then whips it off, like she’ll magically wake up. All it does is leave tiny white feathers on her face, like she’s had a pillow fight. She closes her eyes, and I’m happy about that.

Our old man tells him sure the birds can come in. “What the fuck?” I say. “The shit.”

Birdman spreads newspaper in a corner. “They’ll go here.”

He returns to our mother’s side. I can’t be there with him. He’s stroking her arms while I’m sure she’s having dreams of him at the science fair, state fair, community fucking theater.

I’m in the kitchen eating toast when the flock shows up, probably a hundred of them, making a breeze as they settle on the kitchen counter. They really are pretty, mostly pure white, some mocha spots. They line up, scrunch together, and watch me. Their beady black eyes blink in unison, but they are very polite. With toast in my mouth, I quickly recite that to them: “Beadyblackeyesblink, beadyblackeyesblink.” It doesn’t faze them. “Fine,” I say. I rip up some toast and toss the pieces. They fill the air, a ravenous cloud, and not a crumb reaches the floor. They go back to the counter, jostling for their same positions, and I have to smile. It’s not them I hate. I open cupboards to see what else there is. Fruit Loops, Count Chocula. I dump everything, but before they descend, they line up across my arms and head and shoulders. Then they dive to the floor, strut around, peck and crunch for a while.

One by one they return to me, their new perch. When they’re all on board I say, “Let’s get some coffee,” and they coo. “Shhh,” I tell them.

In the hallway I can hear my brother upstairs, bragging to her about something. I pass the living room doorway, see the old man tacking his latest Wayne Newton over the TV.

“I want to go to Starbucks,” I say, and can feel the claws tightening my shirt fabric. They beat their wings, moving me down the front steps and across the sidewalk. Luckily I’m nothing like Birdman: I’m small and weak and light. My feet barely touch. People honk their horns. I press a finger to my lips to tell them to be quiet. I don’t want Birdman alerted to any of this.

The barista has eyes the color of beans, but dull, drained by the caffeine atmosphere. Maybe it’s all that Wi-Fi eating her brain. She has no reaction for a man carried by a flock of doves. “What can I get started for you?” she drones, like it’s some huge undertaking.

“Hmmm. I think a Venti Caffe Mocha. I want their colors in it. The purest white, and…” I brush one of the delicate breasts, “this lovely mocha.”

Her eyes deepen to espresso, pure disgust.

While the machine hisses and gurgles, my doves find things to pick from me: dandruff, earwax, loose hairs. I hand her the money and take the frothy concoction to an outside table. People are taking pictures on their phones.

The birds busy themselves with dropped muffin morsels. “Those are like gold nuggets,” I tell them. “Like four bucks a pop.” They look at me and listen. Blink, blink, wink. I sip my mocha, feel the sunlight, listen to their soft sounds.

The peace is broken by the whistle. It’s far off but loud. It’s Birdman. The birds are alert. Their heads swivel between the sound and me. They seem torn. Breasts sigh. Finally they rise as one body, momentarily blocking the sun, and form an arrow towards the house. It makes me sad. Damn him. I finish my drink and walk back. It’s a struggle, my legs heavy without them.

My father’s out on the lawn, jumping around. “Where have you been? She’s gone, do you understand? While you were out gallivanting!” I know he’s serious, because he’s wearing his Wayne wig, which he promised her he’d do at the end, so she could drift off in the arms of Wayne.

I tear up the stairs, find her bed empty. “Where is she?”

My father comes behind me on his hands and knees. “It’s beautiful!” he cries. “What he has done. Danke Schoen!”

Birdman steps from behind the window curtain, big smile on his face.

“Where is she?”

He rolls his big stupid fingers toward the open window. “Taa-daa.”

“Where are the birds?”

“Taa-daa!”

I push him aside, get to the window to see them just clearing the trees, wings in synchrony, my mother’s sheet like a hammock, her hair streaming.

“What the fuck! Stop them!” I punch his gut and freakish chin, but he’s too stupid to feel. His teeth split my knuckles. He flips me upside down out the window, like when we were kids. He lets go once and grabs my ankles. My Starbucks change hits the porch roof and rolls down the gutter.

My father pokes his head out and his Wayne hair drifts past me. He gasps.

“Tell me!” Birdman says, shaking me. “Say it!”

“Never.”

“Say it.” His fingers slip.

“Okay, it’s a miracle! A miracle!”

“Damn right.”

Blood pools in my brain like a drug. The old man’s right, it is beautiful. The white sheet and hair and birds against the blue, like a new kind of angel. My mocha comes up, or down, and reminds me of them. I gurgle. “Come back! Come back!”

It serves me right, choking on words not meant for her. I try to whistle, but now they’re far away, into the sun.

+++

Gary Moshimer has stories in Eclectica, Word Riot, Wigleaf, Pank, Storyglossia, and upcoming in The Northville Review. He works in a hospital in Pennsylvania.