Feeding the Birds
“So, where are you getting off?”
The question came from the woman beside me. We were riding the Route 359 bus across the Aurora Bridge from downtown Seattle, and she’d been trying to make conversation with me the whole trip. She seemed a happy, bouncy type, with her hair a riot of black curls tied up in a shocking pink ribbon. There was a time I would have responded to the interest in her eyes, a time before I died.
I’d just come from a meeting at my lawyers. We had a sit down with the other side to discuss my lawsuit. The builder of my dream home had brought his brothers along for moral support, or immoral support to be more exact. All three brothers sounded like wise-guys from New Jersey, and probably were. Both brothers had that squared off set to their shoulders that said; “Don’t mess with me unless you want some.” It was a popular look in prison and with newly-released ex-cons.
I thought they should pay for putting my parents in a coma and killing my dog. They didn’t.
I said you built my condo on top of a toxic waste dump; it oozed out and killed the people I loved. I included Frazier in that, of course. As all pet owners know, pets are people too.
They said it was an Act of God that a minor earthquake had broke the acre-sized baggie that sealed in the waste, and that they’d fixed the problem as soon as they knew, so what more could they do? They had complied with all state & federal regulations, the state gave them permission to build on that site. If we wanted, we could sue the state for allowing it, but if we pursued this with them, they would tie us up in litigation for years. They weren’t paying, it wasn’t their fault.
If not theirs, then whose fault was it? I wanted to shout. My dog’s for running through the sludge and jumping up on my dad? My mom’s, for cleaning up the mess? She thought it was funny. Since I was fixing dinner, she cleaned it up. It was their first dinner in my new home. We were having steak with caramelized onions, green beans and baked potatoes with all the fixings and I had it nearly on the table, so Mom washed off her husband and Frazier, my little Jack Russell terrier for me.
He started vomiting that night, and in the morning I took him to the vet. While I was there, Mom and Dad collapsed on their walk, unconscious. Their neighbor called me. It took them three weeks to die, Frazier just one day. But then, he didn’t have any insurance. They never did regain consciousness. I never got to say goodbye. My fiancée Tina was so great. She stayed with me at the hospital the entire time, and kept me fed. She liked to feed things, to see them grow. She was always feeding the birds, and kept a handful of seed with her always to feed the LBB’s, the little brown birds at the coffeehouse. I had some of her seed with me now.
She’d just stopped to pick up some dinner for us at a take-out along Fourth Avenue before coming back to the hospital when a semi went by and spun up a piece of debris. It wasn’t a very big piece of metal, but it was sharp and spinning at 50 miles an hour. They said we could use a turtleneck to hide the damage if we wanted an open casket, but her family went with closed. They never did find her right sneaker. I guess it ran away. Ha, ha, or it went where she went. I had the other one with me.
I felt for the seed in my pocket. I wanted to make sure it was there before I got off. My face felt plastic but I tried to smile.
“The next stop,” I said. “I’m getting off at the next stop.”
She smiled back, a little uncertainly. There wasn’t much there to get off for at the end of the bridge. “You must be transferring,” she said.
I smiled and nodded, wondering if I looked like what I felt like, a bobble-headed doll. I pulled the cord, but nothing saved me from stopping. I got off with her cheery ‘good-bye’ following me and started walking back across the bridge. When I got to the middle I spread Tina’s seed, so critters that flew could live because of her and I clutched her left sneaker. With such a talisman, I could fly. It was my ticket between worlds, my guarantee of finding her.
Where am I getting off? I clutched her shoe and looked down at the water 167 feet below and climbed the rail. I was getting off…right…here.
Copyright © 2009 by Carla Blaschka
Source / Challenge: 5/28/09 Edition of The Stranger
Cover Art: by Atticus Jackson
Story Theme: Feeding Birds
Prompts: Feeding The Birds:
- Location: Toxic waste site turned condo.
- Plot Point: Parents in coma and die, lost pet and other family member the same week
- Quote: “So, where are you getting off?” From “My Year of Hitler” by Erica C. Barnett.
- Rhetorical Element: “Sneaker.”
- Character Trait: Squares their shoulders when threatened.