Marc Tweed ~ Avunculus

The birds here sound like alarm clocks from the 1970s. I’m watch­ing two in particular—five if you count babies who sound more like key fobs. A Steller’s Jay har­ries a small­er bird guard­ing a nest. The Steller’s Jay crash­es through fir fronds, its crest dark and greasy, dive­bomb­ing again and again until I final­ly leave the bench to wave it away with my cane. It alights on an unpop­u­lat­ed wax myr­tle across the lit­tle still pond and we con­sid­er each oth­er, our heads cocked to oppo­site sides. One by one, the chicks fall out of the nest and hit the ground sound­less­ly. It appears I have mis­un­der­stood. I hold the device to my neck and my apol­o­gy sounds like a bar­code. In three hours, Gene and Andrea will take me home. Where I will…do what exactly?


Andrea is twen­ty min­utes or three days late pick­ing me up. I’m out front, feel­ing the eyes of oth­er prob­lem­at­ic peo­ple bore into me from brick-framed win­dows five, six, sev­en sto­ries up. Thrills of antic­i­pa­tion zoom up and down my arms. An inde­ci­sive wind search­es me like tiny fingers.


Gene and Andrea and the kids, Bronson and Layla, invite every­one over, even Tom from work. They all regard me with mouths hang­ing open as I drink one glass of white wine, then another.


With every­one asleep, I watch tele­vi­sion in the base­ment. The room is thick-car­pet­ed, the screen humon­gous. There is a slid­ing-glass door look­ing out over a patio and Gene and Andrea’s long, three-tiered back­yard, dim­ly illu­mi­nat­ed by lit­tle solar lights.

I don’t know how to turn the sound sys­tem on so I advance the chan­nels in silence until I land on a pro­gram called Find Your Greatest You. I give up on the sound sys­tem and watch the big-toothed man in a yel­low shirt open and close his mouth in a com­plete­ly emp­ty room.

I put the remote back on the cof­fee table, knock­ing some­thing to the floor.


Gene and Andrea’s yard is long and fan­ci­ful­ly land­scaped. Paving stones lead the way through a lazy path of Buddhist sculp­ture and man­i­cured rose bush­es of all col­ors. There is no pond but there is a foun­tain. In the mid­dle of the foun­tain is Garuda, King of Birds. His wings are out­stretched and water shoots out of his eyes and his beak. Lights at the bot­tom of the foun­tain rip­ple and pulse and change shades.

I could get used to this.

I remove my slip­pers and socks and let the foun­tain lights paint my feet. I make slits with my eye­lids so my legs and the lights and every­thing else blur togeth­er. I’m able to con­vince myself this is a kind of sleep.


Gene stands before me in his bathrobe, squint­ing. Garuda’s face bathed in the morn­ing sun takes on a new coun­te­nance, invites the air to car­ry him some­where else. This seems rea­son­able to me.

Appreciate it if you don’t do that, Jerry,” Gene says, scratch­ing one of his ankles.

He con­tin­ues on, men­tion­ing bac­te­ria, elec­tro­cu­tion, and oth­er con­cerns I pre­tend to acknowl­edge. I hear Andrea singing to the kids inside, mak­ing break­fast. The win­dows are flung open to what­ev­er day it’s sup­posed to be.

Did you ever sleep? Kids said they watched you sit out here for quite a while last night.”

I lift the device to my throat and explain that I slept and actu­al­ly I slept bet­ter than I ever have. “It’s fun­ny,” I say, “how dif­fer­ent every­thing is when it lets go of you.”


At Bronson’s soc­cer match, I wan­der off. I run my cane along the chain link fence sur­round­ing the field. It makes a ching-ching-ching sound as I go. It’s a very com­pet­i­tive match and no one seems to notice me squeeze under the bleach­ers on all fours and peer out from between the first and sec­ond rows. I light­ly tap my fore­head against the bleach­ers in a sparse rhythm. The score­board reads 0–0. The action is pick­ing up. I remem­ber how this is.

There’s Bronson, a bolt of light­ning mid­field. His team’s uni­forms are out­ra­geous, far from the knee socks and ster­ile poly­ester cocoons that reluc­tant­ly absorbed my sweaty fail­ures when I was his age. Bronson is sil­ver and black and his hair is in a mohawk, streak­ing toward the goal. He strikes. My gaze gets stuck on Gene on the oth­er side of the field, his face paint­ed sil­ver and black, his mouth con­tort­ing in a scream, his eyes bulging, ready to explode.

I push the vol­ume but­ton all the way up and bring the device to my throat and cry, “Go Bronson! Come on! Come on, Bronson!”

I scan the sky for Garuda. A crane fly lands on my nose. The crowd goes wild.


Marc Tweed’s work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in NOON Annual, Bending Genres, BOMBFIRE, and more. He was a top-ten final­ist in Pithead Chapel’s 2020 Larry Brown Short Story Competition.