Patterns of silence in private, suppressed whelps, dead air. A woman curled into a ball at the top of the stairs, weeping, apoplectic. A few months earlier, there were two parakeets that freely flew through every room in the house. This isn’t a metaphor – they were pets. In a windowed sunroom, the entryway at the top of the stairs, the place where the woman was now on the floor, fetal, weeping, I had screwed two knotty, crooked, branch-like perches into the wall, and the birds took to them instantly. They developed a simple flight pattern through the apartment. They would fly from the perches in the sunroom to the curtain rods in the living room and back again. Now the birds were gone. They had each individually escaped, flew off into the wilds of Venice Beach. There were flocks of Mexican parakeets in the palms. I like to think they found their way to those flocks and were accepted as part of the gang. Now the birds were gone, but the perches were still there. The bird shit was still on the windowsill. My books were still on the shelves. The sound of the boardwalk could still be heard. The air still smelled of salt and exhaust. People stood in line outside the tiny coffee shop. The girl on roller skates pushed her way down the alley, singing loudly and off key to the music in her headphones. Traffic and car horns on Abbot Kinney. Drums. Guitars. The public piano in front of Sidewalk Café. The room still. The dust hovering in sunlight, unable or unwilling to move.
A woman in her mid-forties, recently divorced, was working alone in her garden. It was late morning, and the sun was particularly oppressive. Beads of sweat rolled down the back of her neck as she pruned the basil and harvested a few peppers and tomatoes. She wished, aloud, for a light breeze, but it wasn’t one of those days. It was just hot. She took a tomato from her basket and bit into it. Juice ran down her chin and her wrist. She looked back toward the house, thought about its silence, its emptiness. She took another bite, and she bit into something hard, like the pit of a peach. It was an old six-sided die, made of ivory. She dug it out of the pink flesh with her fingers and examined it. There was nothing extraordinary about it. She put it into her mouth and sucked it, cleaning it of seeds and bits of the tomato’s flesh. She leaned back, stretched her body out beside a row of cabbage while she moved the die about with her tongue. The cloudless sky. The ground beneath her felt cool and pleasant. She thought that maybe she could stay there forever, supine in the dirt, next to the cabbages. She tried to identify the particular sides of the die with her tongue. She found the side with only one dot. She began to dig with her fingers into the soil beside her, digging ever deeper, luxuriating in the moist soil between her fingers. She felt something, a thick root, a tuber. It moved slightly. Without changing her body’s position, she dug around it more aggressively. It was a hand, a small human hand, and it grabbed hers and held it tightly. She squeezed it lovingly, caressed it with her thumb. She looked at the cloudless sky through a film of tears and swallowed deeply.
An old man, a blues guitarist and singer, after finishing a gig in a bar in an Albuquerque strip mall for which he was paid $35 and two free beers, decided to get on a bus and go to Mississippi. He was 72 years old and had been a musician his entire life, and for his entire life he had been poor. He was on food stamps, evicted from apartments, often slept in his car when he had a car. It was, in his words, a miserable life made of pentatonic scales, minor chords, and failure. He got on a bus to Mississippi to do what he should have done a long time ago but was too afraid to: to make a deal. At 72 years old, he was finally ready to negotiate that Faustian bargain, to strike a deal with the devil. Every bluesman knows there’s only one place where you can make that deal. The crossroads. The same crossroads that Robert Johnson sang about nearly a century ago. The old man, though, didn’t know where the crossroads were, nor did anyone he spoke to once he arrived in Mississippi. So he began to hitchhike, moving aimlessly along the rural back roads with nothing but his acoustic guitar. Whenever he came to a crossroads that looked promising, he’d ask the driver to stop and let him out. He’d take his guitar out of the case, sit cross-legged at the point where the two roads meet, play and wait. He would play for hours. Occasionally, a pickup would rumble by, kicking up dust. He kept playing. If he could only make that deal, make a record, people might hear his music, know his name. He might be able to have a little money in his pocket. He kept playing, but the devil never came.
A neglected sidewalk, grass growing through cracks, runs parallel to an untraveled street. There is a wrought-iron fence between the sidewalk and an empty lot. The lot is cluttered with discarded household objects: empty turpentine cans, clothes hangers, a coat rack, an old refrigerator, a cracked, red hot water bottle. In the back corner, there is a weather-beaten, broken piano, it’s keyboard entirely intact, but its hammers strike only air. A boy lies on his back in the middle of the lot, his arms outstretched, extended, handfuls of weeds in his fists. He is singing a made-up song, made-up words, made-up tune. A siren in the distance. The gate on the fence creeks, and the boy looks up. No one is there. A car rolls by. A single jet with a long, undisturbed contrail. The boy singing. Somewhere else, people play football and grill hot dogs. There is a network server. A sculptor in her studio. A boxer hitting a speedbag. A man scribbling into a notebook. A cat watching birds through a window. A newborn baby. A reporter drinking coffee at an unremarkable café in an Istanbul neighborhood that is popular with young people is about to be abducted by a militant group. A farmer sits in his truck outside of a Wells Fargo in Des Moines. A teenager gets her period in the middle of class. A wedding is called off. A group of actors rehearse the mechanicals’ scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A woman spoons puréed vegetables into her mother’s mouth. A social media app is updated. A flock of pigeons pecks at paving stones around a courtyard fountain. The boy stretches his arms and legs, sings, makes snow angels in the dead grass.
Aaron Angello is a poet and theatre artist living in Frederick, MD, where he teaches at a small, liberal arts college. His first book, Close Reading, is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in 2022.