Ordinary Birds

by Jessica

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“The house was called Seven Gables, but it had no gables to speak of. It looked like a large, dingy cardboard box that someone had abandoned in the middle of a parking lot.”

Dear Readers,

Hope you’re having a wonderful Monday so far. For today’s blog post, I’m continuing the series of short, stand-alone sketches. This one comes to you from my graduate school days. Hope you enjoy it,

Jessica

Ordinary Birds

The house was called Seven Gables, but it had no gables to speak of. It looked like a large, dingy cardboard box that someone had abandoned in the middle of a parking lot. It was flat and squat with two chipped, cement steps and two dull, unwashed windows like vapid eyes blinking over the top of the scrubby hedge. It did not have seven of anything in particular. Yet there was something brave about a house that called itself by such a lofty name. It might not have terraces or marble staircases, it was saying, but it could dream.

In front of the house were two small patches of lawn, each roughly the size of a pocket-handkerchief, very square and very green. Lawns in downtown Los Angeles require a great deal of watering to coax them away from their yellowish predilections, but to water these patches at all was to deluge them, for a single stream of water saturated most of the lawn. In the center of each patch was a single, squat, rather dirty palm tree, and in each palm tree lived an entire flock of small, brown birds. These birds would rustle over the street like autumn leaves, their silver sweet music threading the air like fine needles, weaving in and out of a blanket of smog. In another place, such common little birds might have gone unnoticed. But in downtown Los Angeles there are so few things of beauty that each one increases in value, and something that would be worthless in the country becomes infinitely precious.

There was a loud crowd of neighbors around Seven Gables, noisier and more noticeable than most neighbors, for there was no house to conceal them. Every morning they gathered on the sidewalk, sitting on the curb with their feet in the oily gutter, and sipped a cup of coffee passed between them, purchased with a couple of quarters that some good soul invariably tossed into their outstretched hands the day before. The first thing the residents of Seven Gables saw each morning, when they woke and looked out the window, was the steam from this coffee, curling up into the air. And if the resident was a particularly lonely one, the sight conveyed an odd feeling of peace and security, like waking in the morning and hearing one’s family downstairs in the kitchen, clattering and making coffee, the scent of which rises up slowly through the house.

The neighbors were a transient bunch, disappearing or reappearing every few months, but five regulars were there on the sidewalk each morning, rain or shine, and they were called Old Beard, Young Beard, the Man without a Jaw, the Tall Woman, and Rosy. Of all of these, the most memorable was the Tall Woman. She was lofty as an Amazon, towering six feet above the sidewalk, her skin the same rich, creamy color as the coffee. If one squinted at her through half closed eyes, she was distinctly beautiful, like the models peeling on the billboards above the city. But it was necessary to squint, to hide the wrinkles and the blemishes, the pouches of fat under her eyes, and the fuzzy cloud of stray, gray hairs that stood out from the upswept knot of her dark hair. Also, the dirt and the grease spots on her otherwise bright colored clothes, which were vaguely stylish and so numerous, changing each day, that it made one wonder if she did in fact have a home somewhere, with a large closet in it, or if that range of butterfly colored clothing could really came out of the shopping cart that she pushed, day in and day out, up the streets and down, covered with an old, grey blanket.

The Tall Woman was noticeable not only for her appearance, but for the intensity of her gaze. The neighbors on that block were a talkative bunch, raucous and noisy, joking and catcalling to the people who passed by: offensive or polite, friendly or critical, nearly always harmless. But when the Tall Woman addressed passersby she was passionate, leaning forward as if to study them better, not asking but demanding to know how they were doing today, gorgeous, and could they spare her a handful of change?

She was friendly except when she was in one of her rages, and then she would rant up and down the street screaming, yelling so hard that the people looking out the windows pictured flecks of spit shooting out of her mouth, cursing and banging on parked cars. Her friends yelled back, trying to calm her, but she ignored them. The first time one hears her raging, in the night perhaps, her loud curses penetrating one’s dreams, she seems to be addressing someone individually, threatening and swearing at him, trembling while she chases him. One climbs out of bed and goes to the window, to peer at her through the dirty fronds of the palm tree. She is visible under the cracked streetlight, striding back and forth shaking her fist, her friends straggling gently after her. But one cannot see the person she is yelling at. It is only after several of these broken nights of sleep that one realizes, only she can see him. 

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