Jul 18, 2023, 05:57AM

Young Birds Fly

They're all dead.

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There was nowhere to go, so I went.

It was Monday, mid-afternoon, sunny, August. An army rucksack on my back held my belongings, what you'd expect including a toothbrush, plus a couple of unread paperbacks. I pedaled away from the company housing, didn't look back.

After a few hours, on a road I'd never been on, I came to a house, a Cape, tan, the color of coffee ice cream. That's my favorite. Ice cream, that is. As a result, I love that color, always have, for as long as I can remember. Tan!

The house was on the outskirts of a sleepy crossroads composed of several houses, Bonnie's Country Market, a weathered and weary train depot that practically sighed in forever sadness, and a dying diner, the Buffalo. The hamlet was so small it didn't even have its own post office, let alone a library. Burrville.

Pistachio ice cream is good, too. And a nice color, but I'll take coffee every time, given the choice.

The Cape looked so nice I paused to admire it. Was it because I was, officially, without a home that I stopped? Nay. I'd passed plenty of houses in the last few hours without stopping, some of them really nice, and a few that were tan. I just liked the way this one looked, the setting and all. It spoke to me, struck a chord. It was extraordinary, in a quiet way.

They closed the Tower, lock, stock and barrel last month. Almost everything hinged on the Tower. At least for many of us.

The Cape was about 20 feet from the road, and was nestled in trees, including a black maple. Maple and coffee, a good combination. I squinted and saw a lady at a picnic table in the backyard. She waved. I waved back.

The Tower has a square footprint, and it rises eight stories high, glass, dark-green glass, Ray-Ban green glass. It's really beautiful in its own way, gleaming amidst the fields and meadows and farms. It's futuristic, but now its future is sealed. Just last month it was bustling: serious men in suits and ties making big decisions, the steno pool of gals in nice dresses typing away like fiends while chewing gum, and a few goofballs in the mailroom. The latter included me. The Tower provided so much, a good living for many, even housing for a few of us scrubbies. But the company was bought, then sold, then abandoned. So here I am waving to a lady at a picnic table.

"Would you care for some potato salad?"

"I don't mind if I do!"

I walked my bike down her drive. It'd been paved recently; it was still pitch black, no cracks, sealed smooth as silk. I made no sound in my moccasins. A songbird sang, breaking the stillness. I leaned my bike against a tree and sat across from the lady who said, "My name's Emily. What's yours?"

It was the best potato salad I ever tasted! She told me her secret was to add chopped dill pickles to the mix, as well as chopped celery. And to cook the potatoes just so. If cooked too long they lose a certain texture. They get mushy. These potatoes were crisp.

Emily's older than me. I'm still, basically, a kid. She's not old enough to be my mother, more like a much older sister, if I had a sister.

I don't have a sister. I don't have a family. They're all dead.

The stars came out, one by one, twinkling through the leaves, blessing us. I felt like that song about being on the roof. It was as if I'd wished to make this so. It was as if I was on top of the Tower, only higher still. Soaring, gliding, a birdman riding a radio wave.

Emily's hair is more pepper than salt, but there's a good amount of salt. Her eyes are gray, steely, yet oddly warm, limpid. Pretty soon, it seemed, it was late, midnight.

"You need a place to stay. You can stay in the attic until you get your footing. You can earn your keep while looking for a job by running errands for me, and mowing the lawn. And whatnot. If you're still here in the winter, there will be snow to shovel. Although, with this sleek driveway, one can push-broom it off! Easy to do!"

Emily showed me to the attic. She opened the window allowing cool night air to brisk away suffocating heat. There was a cot and pillow, a nightstand with a lamp, and a small bathroom, complete with a shower stall. Basic, but fine.

I'd been thinking, before arriving here, that maybe I'd find a hunter shack. It'd be musty and mildewed, but would offer protection from the elements, from rain, skeeters, bears. Compared to a hunter shack, Emily's attic was the Waldorf-Astoria.

I read for a little while before turning out the light. Next to the cot, tacked on the bare wood wall, was a glossy headshot of William Bendix. That night I dreamt about Bendix. We were sitting at a sidewalk café in Copenhagen. Bendix was a haughty Frenchman sporting a beret set at a jaunty angle. In his left hand he held a cigarette in the odd manner of a Hollywood SS officer, and gesticulated with it as he enthused about, "Zee jazz bee-bup myoo-ZEEK, Char-lee Par-KAIR, Bud Pow-ELL, Klook, damn eet, KLOOK!" The sky was slate and rapidly darkening. It threatened us with lightning, thunder. Then a torrential downpour tore the day, ripped it in half. Still Bendix opined with a belligerence, as if his views, so cultivated and burnished, could defy Mother Nature, force her to submit. He bellowed until he was red in the face, until his voice grew hoarse and raspy. Spittle flew. His eyes bulged as he pounded a fist on our rickety little table. "War-dell GRAY!" Sheets of brutal rain knocked an old man off his feet, into a gushing gutter. A puny Fiat was impotent against the storm, was swept aside, tossed like dice. Women screamed, babies cried, cats moaned, men cursed. Copenhagen howled like a pack of sick wolf bitches in heat.

On a freshly-minted dime, the clouds parted, the heavens cleared. Azure! And Bendix radiated like the illuminated eye atop the pyramid. He was the Mona Lisa, he was the Bebop Potentate of Denmark. His beret became a gold crown, bejeweled, sparkling. He took a dainty sip of espresso and sat back, a satisfied man, a crocodile with a belly full of fresh flesh. He was tan, so very serenely tan.


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