61. The Birds and the Bag Lady
They’re walking down the sidewalk and decide to take the shortcut through the park. Halfway through, they come across a riot of birds, pathway-wide, roosting on the bushes beside and the branches above. She hesitates for a moment and he remembers her odd, yet endearing, fear of pigeons and crows.
He makes a run at them and some of them disperse but these are city-park birds – they’ll make a mess of your umbrella and your hat, but apart from that, they really don’t give a shit. He makes a spectacle of himself, kicking his feet and flailing his arms, but outside the circumference of his reach they just go on pecking at the unusually delicious crumbs left by the strange bag lady.
Story goes, she lost her home during the divorce but got the bulk of the settlement cash in return. She refused to use her millions to buy another house, claiming that no other house would ever be home. She chose, instead, to move into the penthouse suite of a downtown hotel. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings she buys pretzel-croissants made to her specification (extra flaky) from the city’s best cafe. She spends these mornings spreading crumbs in the park and doesn’t stop until every last piece is gone. And as she spreads them, some say that if you listen close enough, you can hear her muttering her ex-husband’s name under her breath, sometimes longing, sometimes mad.
He’s still working on the birds when he feels something fall on his shoulder. At first he thinks that he’s just been shat upon but when he turns his head to check, he sees her hand and beyond he sees her face betraying a thin, uncomfortable smile burdened by the weight of her phobia. Her eyes pinball between face and fowl.
He holds her close and tells her to close her eyes.
“I can still hear them – their wings” she says, calmer now but still nervous.
“No, listen,” he whispers. “Those aren’t birds, they’re old, manual typewriters – Remington, Royal, and Underwood machines – spewing out stories all by themselves.”
As he’s telling her this, the birds jump and scatter as Olympias and Smith-Coronas appear beneath them, pages filled top to bottom with text spilling out over their carriages. After the last bird has flown, he tells her to open her eyes and when she does she finds the pathway white with paper. He picks a few of them up and walks her through the park, reading letters from the bag lady to her husband – some of them longing, all of them sad.