“I hate you, Birdman,” the big man said. He was standing at the end of the path, looking up at Birdman, who was hovering over the lake. The boys stood further up the path, behind the big man. Birdman thought the boys were doomed, but he said nothing. He stayed a little longer, to try to hear more. But the boys were steaming away, their naked torsos dusky with sand.
The only time Birdman came low to the earth was over the water. Here there was other music. In the waves. Birdman could hear it. Birdman could hover. The wind dies from his ears. One day, he flew too close to the beach and heard what all the little boys were saying. “Let’s get out of here,” one of the boys shouted back to the others. There’s no way out, Birdman thought.
“I like to sew,” the girl says.
The boy has a spoon in his hand.
“Do you want ribs tonight,” the girl asks, “or burgers?”
The girl has a piece of fabric in her lap. She sticks a needle into it. The needle goes into the fabric and comes out the other side.
No one was listening, so the boy closed his eyes and said what he’d always needed to say. What he had to say splayed out before him like a meal he couldn’t keep down. It accompanied him wherever he had to go in the world, day and night, whether the boy was asleep or awake. It rode closest to the backs of his teeth at night when he slept, so that his teeth flapped out like swinging doors in a western saloon, his thoughts swimming forth like a pack of sad cowboys migrating into the street, fixing to initiate a gunfight.
We looked up to try to see the sky, but the oaks blocked out everything except for isolated streaks of shifting blue that managed to penetrate the foliage. The oaks were an ever-encasing species, arriving again and again at a place they had never arrived at before. Arrival is like that particular moment with the oaks. They begin their day in the dark, and again and again discover themselves in sunlight, now muted, now fierce. They find themselves where they have never been before, and where they have never been before is where they once were before they arrived again where they were never going to be. And they were always going nowhere, in the way of trees, swaying where the wind blows, reaching in this direction or that, straying from the upright, but always arriving back at a place they have never been, slightly swaybacked today, older than they once were, and on their way again to where they have never been before. At some point, as we stopped to look up, a violent wind – one that we could barely feel where we were there on the forest floor – tore at the tops of the trees, revealing a swath of blue that raised our spirits momentarily. But the branches snapped back, as though angry at being tugged aside so indecorously, and the small pool of hope we’d felt closed over again like the eye of an animal closing for the last time beneath the gaze of its stalker.
I knew that far above us clouds drifted in the blue sky, speckled occasionally by birds that from down here were nothing but black dots. Those dots shot vectors to the farms on the other side of the wood, and then more vectors to places beyond. Like umbrellas stripped of their skin, all wire pointing around and down in every direction. Upward were the planets and stars. Behind me, Mama was baking and the kitchen was warm. I lay on my back on the tattered throw rug, watching my hands fly away above my face.
There was a golden light deep within the house, speckled from the rain that had frozen onto the windowpane. It was so cold. My breath lifted away from me, rising and twisting before evaporating into the air above my head. Snow crunched under my boots. I’d been away a long time. I had no idea what awaited me inside. I stayed for a long time out by the window before going around the house to the back door.
The old man got up on a chair and looked out through the top corner of the window pane where the glass wasn’t painted over. He could hear the girl lying on the floor below him, crying and pounding her fists and kicking her feet. Something made of glass fell and shattered. There was no sound for a time. Then the girl started in banging around again. The old man thought the world was looking grainier today. It was probably just his glasses failing him. He would not get a new pair of glasses now before he died.