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.