A little bird tried to fly through the screen door and I thought, 'if only there were more air up here'.
The view from the second story deck encompassed miles of low scrub hills, piñon, and was daily growing less hazy as the fires subsided. The little bird was dead. Was not even twitching or rolling or whatever idiot birds do to fight or hold onto life. Or maybe it was unconscious. If it was a head impact, it could just be out cold. I could take it in for a bit, see if it revives. But the brains of birds are very small... maybe not large enough to switch out of consciousness without damaging the whole system. It could wake up brain damaged: amnesic, whistling gibberish, unable to collaborate or co-worm-locate or sit on eggs or whatever other higher functions birds perform. Angry, all the time. Likely a burden and a danger to the community. Condemned to either death or a life of lonely suffering. I'd rather not be culpable for that.
Prospective buyers are arriving at four, the realtor as well, for a tour, so I grabbed a broom and swept the quiet body into the shaggy juniper that surrounded the house. Swept up with maple leaves that had settled on the porch since this time yesterday, together a mass of decomposing matter, under the railing and into the dark.
I'd spent a lot of time alone in the house on Grand. Watched nature slowly creep through the iron fence and into the faux-pond, up under the patio bricks, purple flowered and needley plants growing taller and more hostile daily. Increasing numbers of little brown birds mistaking the reflected sunset in the plate glass doors for real sky.
"If only there were more air up here." A little joke I repeat out loud while sweeping broken bodies into shrubs. The thickest places, where they wouldn’t be seen when (if) someone ever dropped by to view the house.
I don't live here, the house is soon to be foreclosed. But a friend of mine knew I needed a place to stay and offered this, his third home, empty of everything except a coffee maker, some landscaping tools, a few boxes that had yet to be moved. I have a twin sized mattress in what must have been a child's room: a strip of Denver Broncos wallpaper runs the circumference, every other surface painted complimentary blue.
The couple arrived at five. She wears a salmon coloured shawl over a white blouse. They’re performing the theatric act of young couples in love (with the idea of a larger house): she ecstatic over the seven jets in the master Jacuzzi tub, he hesitant about the people-paths in the wall-to-wall-carpet, the everpresent pastels we know were once in vogue but will take weeks and at least two layers of base to fully eradicate. It’s the realtor’s job to showcase the place but I often stand outside the plate glass windows of the living room, keeping an eye. Playing the role of groundskeeper because hitchhiker is so much less glorious.
So far it’s been the same. Always she with a genuine smile that will be gone forty minutes after she’s left the driveway. He, always in t-shirt and “trying to be casual” jacket calculating the square footage of each room, the viability of the fireplace. Opening cabinets, but not concerned with storage space. He wants to see if the brass hinges really have brass pins. Is it wood, linoleum? Look closely at his eyes and watch them dance across a virtual blackboard, adding up the gallons of primer and paint needed to cover up the colour mistakes of a before-his-decade.
You can almost watch his eyes dart across the blackboard. A house is a house but the home must be shredded, burned, before making it yours.
But they all do this. A dozen or so now, this summer. And I spend a lot of time alone. Injecting my thoughts into people who think they know what they need next, before getting in a small car and checking out a properly closer to town. Making little jokes to myself as I sweep the porch. The isolation even maybe altering small parts of my self. The social parts, perhaps. I feel good, most days, but find myself repeating the same phrases: “****. Shower. Shave”, “If only there were more air up here.”, “I could learn to love a leopard”, even recently a little Old Testament, which like a ******* I’ve been taking to bed with increasing frequency and a growing selfish guilt, repeating,
“As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”
They won’t be back, but for the first time now there’s a deer in the yard. Meaning there must be a hole in the fence. A doe, and fawn too, and I can sit and stare with my broom in hand because my job is to sweep the deck. Dead birds and maybe rats, leaves of course, but with all the water the bank is wasting on this waste of a lawn, come deer: come all ye deer, come and eat. Maybe you will even eat the frighteningly thistly things. Regardless, in exchange for this room I was given a broom and deer are far too large to sweep.
When my student visa expired in Canada I left the country with no identification, five Canadian dollars, a five litre backpack mostly occupied by a camera, and in my mind some distillation of the romanticism from On The Road that I’d managed to power-read in a Heathrow bookstore four years before (lacking the pounds to actually purchase the book). I crossed the border via ferry, and entered the country without identification. I thought this was impossible but it turns out that when you have no time but your whole future ahead of you, and nowhere to get to anyway, insisting “I am a U.S. citizen and you need to let me into this country” does in fact work, if you repeat it enough, and are willing to wait. In my case border patrol even gave me a twenty note and a pat on the back before sending me on my way.
How I ended up sitting on the floor watching birds die, backlit by a desert sunset, in the mountains of New Mexico, is a long story, and to be honest the details have largely escaped me. I do remember I was reading Hemingway. “The Innocents Abroad”, and trying to find myself in any character I could lay my hand on. The word “Innocent” in the title, I suppose, far moreso any actual character, struck the most.
It’s the middle of The Great Recession. Or The Great Depression. The Great Compression. I can’t remember any longer which economic period this particular episode occupied (why can’t they name them more sensibly, like hurricanes?) Call it, then, The Great Introspection, as I narrated myself through the dozen rooms of a million-dollar house: the material self still alive and thriving inside in a self-congratulatory spiral over the personal ROI that left Canada on five dollars and put me, rent free, in a home worth that multiplied 200,000 times. The home where I first had my own key. The home where I learned to drink a glass of water before my morning coffee.
(Five years and $98,000 in college expenses later that was, easily, the best advice I’ve ever received.)
Eventually the phone was disconnected, the water, the power. The jacuzzi, though dry, was still a good place to lie and read. And the piñon and snakes, cacti and juniper, then inklings of pine trees came in steadily. When you would look at them they would freeze. But every morning something new was growing, some new pink flower popped up promisingly to crack the mortar in front of the door. Sweetly at first, then growing thorns, and I walking the perimeters saying “if only there were more air out here”, saying, “can not feel her anymore”, as if the decadent madness of the lawn could be silenced by speaking out loud. Trying to walk the edge of the fence, increasingly losing it in the encroaching bush, then resigning myself to the living room, the **** carpet flattening into a forest path while I impressed miles into that offensive floor.
words. seeds. thistles. marvin morales.
Sleeping on that filthy mattress, the Denver Broncos looking down, still optimistic about their upcoming trophy, or cup. Whatever it was that a bunch of cartoon horses could win. But the sweeping gave me solace, even though the growing thistles made the bricks uneven and caught in the bristles of the broom, leaving little shards of transplanted pink flowers emedded in the yellow polyethylene. I loathed them, but looking back I can see I played straight into their plan. Transplanting little seeds to new weak places in the cement, where they could grow tall again and **** up what little good was left of the land. Bring deer to eat them. Bring little idiot birds to pick the seeds out of the faeces, recycling with pure intent, and flying off into the bright light of sunset. Then crashing broken to the floor.
And like the lawn, like the porch, like what happens when you read Twain, something in me changed. “If only there were more air”, yes, but there is never enough air. Piling up among the deer, among the doe, among my now all-consuming pacing and talking to ghosts who don’t live here anymore, among the many birds who ate their worms and went on to hatch a dozen more, flew into a plate glass sunset, and were ignored.