By Daniel W. Thompson
I told them birds to shut it up. I said, you can’t be hawking and squawking all day like that. People like me, we live out here too, and part of living out here is being able to get a little peace and quiet. All day long those birds up there on top of that judges building hawking away. Sounds like they fighting each other or something. They used to stop when the sun went down but lately they been hollering at night too. I don’t really know why. Seems like they would need to sleep too. I sleep across the street behind the wall of the history museum. It’s no bridge but it’s dry most nights and can’t nobody see me and I get that air blowing out from the building’s heaters. Blows hot in the winter and cool in the summer. I used to share my place behind the wall with Jerry. He turned me onto the spot. Jerry’s nickname was Rooster because he’d get to cackling all the time. I guess if you was crazy, you know, laughing out loud for no reason, it wasn’t the worst way to be. But that was Jerry. The Rooster. He and I lived together behind the wall for about six months. Then Rooster’s laugh turned to a cough and after a while he just stopped laughing all together. The Big P got’em. Pneumonia. You stay out here long enough, the Big P will get your ass. You can bet it.
Now them birds start up with the sun. Every blasted day, I tell you. And they don’t quit, not till real late. No matter if it’s raining, snowing, or hot as the Devil’s house. They always yelling up there. But what scratches me even more is I can’t ever see the damn things. One of my favorite deals is to lay there behind my wall with my back sack under my head and watch the world go by. Most people think the world is down here, on the street, but it ain’t. No, the world is up there above us. Just look at it. Look how big it is. There’s no end to things, that big sky going on forever. And the clouds floating by as free anything I’ve ever known. So if I’ve got to listen to those birds while I’m watching my world go by, then I might as well get to see some swooping and flapping up there too. They at least owe me that much. I’m telling you it’s about the weirdest thing I’ve ever known, making all that noise but never flying around. They must be some non-flying birds like an ostrich and they mad they can’t fly. And that’s why they carrying on with that fussing all the time.
Another of my favorites is when the sun finishes crawling across the sky. That’s when I get my sparkly sky. And it used to be real nice because, like I said, that’s when the birds would stop. I could concentrate on my dreaming, pretending I’m on one of those other sparkly worlds, maybe getting another crack at things. Getting my education like everyone said. Staying out the bars like everyone said. Staying out those betting houses like everyone said. I’m here to tell you, booze and drugs weren’t my main problem. It was betting.
I’d bet on anything, even my kids. I even bet one time they wouldn’t leave me. I was in this poker game and I was busted so I put up the only money I had left—some college money my old lady and I’d been saving up. I said we had eight hundred and twenty-five dollars saved up. I said it was for my two girls. But what I was really betting was that if I lost that money, they’d still love me. That they’d never leave me. That my old lady and my girls would stick by me forever. Well, you know how these stories go, don’t you. I lost the poker bet. I lost my family. I lost everything.
Now all of that was a long time ago, so long ago I don’t have any heart left to hurt over it. No, I just have my big sky and those birds that won’t shut up, day or night. I’ve thought maybe I’m in hell. That there really ain’t no birds up there. Just somebody trying take away the only thing I got left, my peace and quiet. I’ve even looked at people walking by and pointed up to the top of the judges building. I’ve said, hey, you hear them birds? Can you hear all that hawking and squawking? But they don’t answer me. They just look at me like I’m crazy. Like I’m some man yelling at birds he can’t even see.
Daniel W. Thompson’s work has appeared recently or is forthcoming at publications like Bartleby Snopes, decomP, WhiskeyPaper, Wyvern Lit, Noble/Gas Qtrly and Cheap Pop. He lives in downtown Richmond, VA, with his wife and daughters, cleaning up diapers and dog fur.
Artwork: Michelle Johnsen, Starlings on a Wire