Blue Bird in the Barn

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He was careful on the path down to the barn. The first snowfall-not yet finished-had made it slick and he had somehow forgotten his cane back on the porch.

Inside, the cows milled about desultorily eating the hay he had pulled down from the loft earlier. He loosened his collar a bit to suck in some of the damp warmth from their breath when he heard the unmistakable song of a blue bird. He scanned the rafters and immediately picked him out from the stray, gray sparrows and wrens that flitted about the place.

“What you do, little guy?” he asked aloud. “Miss the last train south?”

Up at the house he left his boots inside the door and peeled off his old coat. The glow of the television leaked out of the living room in back. There his wife sat in the chair that the medical company had sent over-the one that would help her get up and down.

“Saw a bluebird in the barn”, he told her speaking loudly.

“Oh?” she answered. “He shouldn’t be here now, should he?”

“Guess the weather had him confused. Now he’s stuck I guess.”

“Bluebird in the barn”, she said almost to herself in a sing-song childish way. Then, “I wisht I could see him.”

He glanced at the mute aluminum frame of her walker. “You’ll see him and plenty more in the spring. We’ll have them all over the place…”

She said nothing more, just looked out the window where the snow still fell and it was night-dark at suppertime.

The next day dawned bright and cold. He made his way unsteadily down the hill relying overmuch, he thought, on the cane he clutched firmly. He was kicking away snow from the sweep of the barn door when he saw the small splash of blue over by the trough. He walked over and scooped up the dead bird and a little puff of snow besides. It wasn’t cat-mauled or damaged at all. Just dead.

He didn’t realize he was crying until a heavy tear spattered on the tiny blue head.

“Fuck.” he whispered, chilled at using a word that hadn’t passed his lips since Korea.

 

 

The Engagement

It had once been a storage room but now was empty and strangely well kept. As if someone came up every week to sweep and dust. She noticed such things. The ceiling was twice as high as downstairs in the bar and windows made up almost the whole wall opposite the door. Would have been impressive had they not looked directly across the alley to the blank brick wall of a building that reached three stories above. The late afternoon sun bounced off the brick and tumbled to the alley below. The only furnishings were a chair and a desk-really a long table with a drawer-against one wall and an old leather sofa under the windows.

Her bag and clothes were arranged neatly across the end of the sofa in the order she had taken them off, red panties on top, her short, scuffed boots parked neatly in front. He had discretely turned his back and stared at the door while she undressed. But he listened. He heard it all-the clump of the boots coming off first. The zipper, then the rustle of her jeans. There was no real sound as she pulled the black t-shirt over her head, but he heard it. He would have heard butterfly wings at that point. He heard her move-her muscles twinge and stretch as she bent and arranged, then finally the padding of her bare feet as she took position in the middle of the room.

“You can turn around now”, she said.

When he did his eyes were pulled first to the blonde page-boy wig. It was atrocious but served to round a face that would have been severe in someone larger. She was not tall; would easily fit under his chin with a thick book to spare. Slim without being skinny, lines of muscle and cords of tendons traced along her shoulders and down her arms. Her breasts were firm demitasse cups riding high above the soft ridges of ribs that tapered to a flat belly. The tiny manicured dark patch could easily be overlooked. But he didn’t.

“We never set a time limit did we?” she asked.

“No…no…whenever’s comfortable I guess. Are you thinking you’re done already?”

“No, no…it’s fine.”

She didn’t look at him, rather let her eyes float over his shoulders to the room, the walls. They could use a coat of paint she thought. Something natural-like sand-to offset the brick outside.

“Thank you for this. For doing this,” he said.

“You’re welcome. But the hundred bucks was a fine incentive.”

“There are probably easier ways to make a hundred dollars.”

Her first smile of the afternoon split her face like a razor.

“Not really.”

He went silent again and she could feel his eyes, a damp breeze over her thighs and feathering her middle.

“Do you like my wig?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Not at all.”

She pulled a sad face and stroked the faux hair over her ear.

“It was very expensive”, she said.

“Then you got robbed. Plus I love your hair-the color.”

“Really?” she said, pleased. “Not too mousy?”

“You kidding?”

Hmmm, she thought. “Wait a minute”, she said. “Time out.”

She looked at him then. “Turn around. Don’t look.”

He turned his back and she slipped back to the couch. A quick flip and the wig flopped atop the pile of clothes. Shaking her head, she pulled a small hairbrush out of her bag. Squinting to see herself in the window she worked her matted hair as best she could to give it a little life.  There was a part, and it lay over her right ear and caressed the top of her neck. She padded back to her place in the middle of the room.

“You can look now.”

He turned and smiled. “Ah, that’s nice. Thank you.”

“Stop thanking me. It’s fine.”

He moved close and looked down where the hair was thickest. “There is a touch of auburn”, she said then let his gaze leak down over her shoulder to her nipple. Suddenly startled by her proximity he moved a step backward then slipped to his right, out of her sight line. She stayed still, letting air in through her mouth and out through her nose. That’s all she remembered from an old mediation lesson. His shoes must have been new because they squeaked as he shifted his weight behind her.

“Can I touch?”, he asked weakly-afraid of the answer.

“That wasn’t the deal.”

“Of course. I know. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay”, she said quietly but firmly. She cocked her head only a little to the side. “What do you want to touch?”

He was behind her and she well knew what he wanted to touch.

“Your bottom.”

Of course. She grew up hating her bottom-she imagined it to be a boy’s backside: flat with none of the curves that her friends had. As she got older it filled out a bit, but still didn’t curve enough. The gym had made it firm and muscles gave it some shape, but she thought it rode up her back. He liked it though.

“OK”, she said. “But only the cheeks. Nothing funny.”

“No, of course not.”

As soon as his palm touched her, she pushed slightly backward trying to create a curve, or some kind of contour anyway. And she softened as best she could. He was thorough, palming the right cheek, sliding down to the thigh then across to the other side. She felt his hand lift away then touch her again, palming her fully. Then again.

“I know what you’re doing”, she said.

“Mmm?”

“You’re spanking me, aren’t you? That’s what you’re imagining. Isn’t it?”

“Maybe you’ve been bad…”

She bent imperceptibly and arched her back giving him a truer target for his pantomime.

“Bend me over and spank my ass. That’s what you really want to do, isn’t it?”

“I…” His mind, having been somewhere else, struggled to answer.  His hand cupped her bottom and squeezed gently in lieu of words. She was still offering out.

“I mean, more than fuck me, right? You’d rather spank me than fuck me…”

He didn’t answer as his palm grazed across her backside.

“Well you can’t.”

He drew away, at the first negative she’d uttered.

“No…” he said.

“At least not now… What time is it?”

He coughed lightly and looked at his watch. Told her.

“My shift starts in twenty minutes. I gotta get down there.”

“Oh, sure. I know. That’s time then.”

“Yeah, time.”

“OK”, he said while haltingly heading for the door. “Again, thank you…”

“Wait. Don’t run off.”

He paused and turned, surprised and at a loss. She beckoned to the couch as he watched her move to her clothes.

“Sit….”

He did, not expecting to watch her dress. He crossed a leg.

She stepped delicately into her panties. “Why’d you stop asking me out?”

“You kept saying no.”

“You weren’t very persistent.”

“I asked a thousand times.”

She pulled her panties up and slipped her arms through a red silk undershirt-all the bra she needed.

“You give up too easy.”

Her jeans went on smoothly and he lost himself in the workings of her fingers zipping, snapping and buckling. The t-shirt followed and hung loose. She held the wig and glanced at him.

“No. If you’re asking.”

She left the wig on the couch and picked up her bag. “Are you coming down for a drink?”

“Absolutely.”

She smiled, opened the door and slipped through.

“See you down there”, she said over her shoulder.

He sat stiffly listening to the clippity-clop of her boots fading down the stairs.

© TDR-2019

A Ghost Story

His phone pinged with a text. It was his problem tenant. She was living in the garage apartment that he had shared with his parents when he was a baby. Until age eight or so. His dad and grandfather, both long ago memories, had built it.

“Have an odd question”, the text said. “Do you know if your dad had a sibling that died around the age of 6-9?”

What? After reading it again, he texted, “My dad was an only child.”

“Hmmm…Odd…” came the reply. “What about your mom or grandma, did they lose a sibling young? I know it’s an odd question but I’ll explain here in a second.”

Christ, he thought, don’t answer. He put on his glasses and clicked the lamp brighter. She wasn’t his tenant, really. His mother had rented to her husband with the express instruction to keep his wife under control. It worked for a little while, then all hell broke loose. In the last six months, she had sworn out a PFA against the husband-so he was gone-and she was squatting there with her ten-year-old. Then his mother had finally died, so he had inherited it all. The good with the bad. And he wished there was more of the former.

After a few minutes he texted, “Nope.”

The bubbles appeared on the screen and hung there pulsing. He waited. Then, “Right around when your mom passed, I was awakened by a child in Olga’s room. She was still sleeping right beside me. Heard a dresser drawer slam and this kid had blonde hair with a blanket wrapped around the shoulders so I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl and I watched it dissipate slowly from its head then down to the feet and it always bugged me that whoever was trying to tell me to go to your mom…to help her.”

He read it again. He hated it when she talked about his mother. She did it often-no doubt thinking it would put her in his good graces, but his mother couldn’t stand her and had spent the last two months of her life complaining that she never should have rented to them.

His phone pinged again, “No, I’m not a witch…little hexes here and there LOL but I do get visions and this one is killing me.”

He remembered a story his mother had told him from when they had lived in that apartment. She was in bed, probably in the same room as this one slept in, and she heard a cat screeching outside in the alley. The windows back there are high, so she had to stand on the bed to look out. The cat was easy enough to find; it was on a cracked fence post just outside the yellow glow of the street lamp. The cat called and howled until she saw others coming in from the darkness to join it. They all sat or lay on the alley in front of the main cat who began to meow and chirp as if speaking to them. They were attentive for a moment, no stretching, no grooming, no ass sniffing. Then, when the lecture was over, or the instructions given, the cats all scattered back into the darkness whence they’d come.

His mother told this story often. Especially when someone suggested she get a cat.

He put the phone on airplane mode and switched off the lamp.

Shadows

(Continued from Night Lights)

Outside, half-naked, the midnight chill braced her. The clear moonless sky was dark enough that she cast a shadow in the glow from the top of the mountain. The grass was damp on her bare feet as she followed her shadow around the birdbath to the mountain laurel just short of the tree line.

The coyotes were quiet or running over the next ridge. When she was little her Pap kept chickens in a pen behind the house. Back then coyotes were worthy adversaries to be battled and beaten at every turn. Now, with no livestock to guard – not even a scruffy mutt or cat – the coyotes were no more than texture. Wonder how they would feel about that? Being relegated to deep background; being off the main stage where capable men plotted against them with guns, traps and poisons? Whatever. Times gone by. Either way, the whippoorwills’ incessant call and response were the only accompaniment to the quiet swish of her feet in the tall grass.

Choosing a spot, she turned toward the house and lifted her T-shirt. Squatting widely, she relaxed and allowed the stream to flow into the grass between her feet gently, not to splash. Her yoga practice wasn’t what it was, but she was still able to hold a squat level and clean without a shake or quiver letting the burn in her thighs build. She dipped a little deeper to feel the pleasant pull in her hip flexors. She should get back to yoga-she could sit in on classes up at the Hideaway anytime. Finished, Lori stood easily, leaving a steaming wet spot on the grass.

Pissing in the yard had started as a joke when she and Uncle Red were watching TV one night. She complained that he was lucky because all he had to do was go out on the porch when he needed to pee but she had to go to the bathroom, take down her pants, miss half the program, yadda-yadda…

“Knock yourself out girlie”, he’d said, a little drunk. “You got a whole hillside right out your door. We’re mountain people. We piss where we want.”

He didn’t look at her but had that cock-eyed smile he got when he was drinking beer. She had taken the dare and scampered off the porch and behind the fat sycamore. It wasn’t that she was afraid of him seeing anything-they were beyond that. It was just what she did. She was wearing tight jeans then and had to wriggle them down and lean in such a way that she wouldn’t wet herself. She remembered giggling as she spattered.

She put the time at between three and four. Closer to four. She tried to add the hours of uninterrupted solid sleep she had gotten all week. No more than three tonight. She couldn’t go on like this, grinding her teeth and digging her fingernails into her palms, forever. Just one cigarette, she thought. Just one, to give her that kick of nicotine that she remembered. If she’d had any, she might have broken, but she didn’t. Back at the porch Lori leaned against the rail digging the feel of the rough wood pressing into her bare thighs.

The resort which butted up against her property on the high side, glistened. Thank you Uncle Red, she said under her breath for about the billionth time. It was the house that her Mom and Red had grown up in.  After her Mom died, she stayed in the house with Red, thinking it would be temporary. It was. It only lasted ten years until he died. Well after she was old enough to move out, had she wanted to. She had stayed with him as her mother had wished and now she owned the house and seven acres.

When what would become the Hideaway Resort began buying properties years ago, her Pap – Mom and Red’s mother – wouldn’t sell. Even when the money was ridiculous for the time. Now it was hers with a standing offer of a million on the table whenever she wanted to sell. She didn’t.

Cautious

“Are the doors locked?” she asked suddenly from her corner of the passenger seat.

Jolted by the question, he caught himself feeling along the top of the door for the plunger to press to lock it. That was years ago-when he was a kid. Cars don’t have those kinds of locks anymore. Just sleek buttons and mechanisms that lock automatically at a certain speed. He knew that. Why couldn’t he tell her?

Instead he said, “What are you afraid of?”

“You don’t have to be afraid to be cautious,” she said.

Cautious. The word struck him as strange just then. He’d have said, ‘careful’ as would most people. Why ‘cautious’?

The drizzle had turned into full-on rain pinging off the roof and sheeting down the windshield. The pressing sky atop the black night made it impossible to see the woods and fields that were out there. “There’s nobody out here to be…cautious of”, he said.

“All the more reason”, she answered looking out her window as if there were something to see.

She’s too young for me, he thought. The scent of roses he thought she wore was really bubble gum-or smelled like it anyway. Maybe it wasn’t her youth. Maybe she was too smart for him. Or too dumb. Or too tall-maybe too short. Too whiny, too cold, too butch, too soft, too dark, too light. Too something, he knew that. But why worry about it now? He didn’t have to win her. Didn’t have to impress her. She was here.

His wife was right. He thought too much about everything-drove himself crazy. Last week he’d had a nosebleed right at the kitchen table. She’d said it was high blood pressure from him worrying so much over every little thing. Like she was a freaking nurse.

Back home she sat at the same table listening to hockey on the radio. She liked it better that way; watching it made her too nervous. She poured a thick toss of Sambuca into her cup – the only way she could abide decaf. Her ma had called, worried the rain was going to turn to snow. “It’s forty degrees, Ma!” she had to yell into the phone. “It won’t snow.”

He sighed and reclined the seat slightly. Fumbling, he loosened his belt and unsnapped his pants. Rising on her knees, she bent over the console and gently pulled him out of his pants; a soft crippled bird. “Ok”, she said low. “Let’s see what we can do with you.”

He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it.

Night Lights

Liking the feel of muted life in the middle of the night, Lori kept the house dimly lit with strategically placed nightlights and tiny touch lamps. She wandered into-then through-the kitchen after pausing to gaze at but not see the immaculate countertops in the shadows. Then through the small dining room dragging a finger along the dark wood table, feeling the bumps and ridges of the hand-hewn oak. She was headed to the living room in the back of the house where a camelback clock that had been her grandfather’s pulsed, whirred and dinged the hours so long as she wound it ever other day. And she didn’t miss. It was her home’s pulse.

Naked but for a T-shirt that was just long enough to reach her thighs, she peered closely at the clock seeing naught but her eyes shining back in the glare of one of her hidden luminaries. She gently opened the glass face to better see the minute hand twitch with every tiny sweep of the internal workings. She paced it and tried to steady her breathing-still not recovered from the almost forgotten nightmare.

The dream was familiar-not in the details but the feel of it and what it had left behind. It had been dark in her dream-darker than it could ever be in her house. She was on her belly and sliding down something. A hill, a tilted floor; something impossibly slippery. She heard a voice and felt a hand on her. The voice was Uncle Red’s she knew. Not him later, sick and ravaged, but him fifteen or twenty years ago-soft and clear. She didn’t know who’s hand it was, or why it was on her calf. But it had to have been his. It was trying to pull her back-keeping her from sliding into a still darker place. Maybe. Maybe it was pushing her. She had jolted awake. She breathed in time with the minute hand’s twitch; each breath deeper, less a gulp.

Her belly bothered her. Not inside, she didn’t feel sick at all. It was more the look of it. She thought it too round and puffy-she could hold it in her hands. Could rub it all over. Her reflection in the sliding door showed her no longer slender, but not fat. Tall and pale with smudges of darkness reflecting the jumble of black hair sticking out of her head and the thatch below her belly which she still rubbed and rubbed; an angst-ridden Buddha. She hadn’t always had it-the belly. When she was younger it was as flat as the girls on TV.  She wanted that belly back.

She sat on the end of the couch like she and her uncle had, facing the dark TV. Her reflection was there too. She studied it and the empty spot at the other end of the couch which was Red’s end. She glanced that way quickly as if to catch him sitting there, casting no reflection but watching her none the less. He wasn’t there. But he was everywhere.

She thought for a moment that she would lie on the couch. Just lie there on her belly for a moment and pull her shirt up. She’d done it before-lain there exposed until the jitters passed or the weight pressing down, lifted. She’d awoken that way some mornings, cold and bare-assed for anyone who could look through the door. She had decided to do it and, leaning over, felt a chill in her belly. Then she didn’t.

She watched the goosebumps rise on her thighs and pulled her T-shirt back to reveal her lap. Was it spreading? She poked at herself making tiny pink dimples which colored then filled. “Closure” was what everyone who wanted the house talked about to her. As if there was such a thing for the haunted-for those who carried the memories of past lives with them. Like moving was going to change anything. Like she wanted to change anything. The woman in the dark TV stared-giving her nothing. Not a fucking thing.

The Premonition

To say it was a premonition might not be accurate. I don’t know that anything was being foretold, but it was something. As if a conversation had been interrupted suddenly. It was still dark, so the sky didn’t reveal itself but my sinuses, and the lack of stars, told me it was either raining or about to. Probably more of a drizzle-a bone chilling late November drizzle. I pulled the spare pillow over my head and flopped onto my side squeezing my eyelids shut as if sleep, once fled, could be coaxed back. It usually didn’t work.

What was it? I wondered. My eyes scanned the room for an intruder-real or imagined. The darkness must not have been truly dark-or pitch, as they call it-because I could make out the chair by the window. It was empty as it should have been but for a moment-just a moment-I was sure someone was sitting there. Someone had to have been sitting there. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But no. And there was no movement in the house. My perturbed heart fluttered lightly and I held my breath to better hear. Nope. Nada. Had there been a forgotten dream that left me feeling this way?

Sleep had been deep and syrupy-aided no doubt by a glass of bourbon around ten. But just one. More than that and I’d have stirred all night. But no, no dreams that I could remember. There was something though-like a rush of water…maybe wind through the leaves. I’d been back in the woods yesterday and had heard the winds whispering. Maybe it had stuck with me. Maybe I’d dragged something back again like a burr in the cuff of my jeans.

After thrashing about for a while-probably no more than minutes-I tossed the covers and sat up, bare feet on the chill wood floor. I’d have to lay a fire in tonight, no doubt. It was time. Always tried to go as long as possible without one.  The woodpile seemed large enough but nothing worse than reaching the end of it in a chilly, wet March. Without turning on any lights I made my way down the back stairs into the kitchen avoiding the urge to look back over my shoulder.

I poured a glass of cold water in the light from the open refrigerator and gulped it; less drinking than hydrating. I poured another and reached back behind the eggs for the old pill bottle. A day that started with an edge before sunup was a day best avoided. I shook a few tablets into my hand and regarded them carefully before deciding on an orange football. I swallowed it and replaced the bottle, closing the door and sliding back into the dark. Still nothing brightening outside.

With the refilled glass I padded into the living room and sat in the recliner. By feel I found the cigar box on the table and opened it. Like a soldier who learned to break down his weapon blindfolded, I took the glass one-hitter out of the box and broke off a piece of bud that was rolled in the corner of a plastic bag. The lighter flared and I sucked an enormous cloud into my lungs. I held it only so long as the bud was burning away and took a second hit-bigger than the first. The ember in the pipe went out. That was that. I sat back and embraced the smoke for what seemed like hours before letting it out with a slow whistle.

Once, when drinking, I had told my brother about my drug habits and how I dealt with life’s stresses. He called me a coward.  Of course he did-the prick. I had wanted to slap him, but he was my older brother. And bigger. And in better shape. Had I slapped him he would have been surprised and maybe laughed at me. But there was the possibility he might have kicked my ass, so I didn’t slap him. Wonder what he was up to these days? He was a major pain in the dick, but I still wondered sometime where he was.

I rubbed my hand over my face hard. Once. Then again. It was starting. The roof of my mouth was dry. My lips stuck gently together. The water-sipped like expensive wine-was perfectly chilled. My heart fluttered a bit more-the dope would do that-but only for a little bit. By the time I got back into bed and stretched out, the layer of warm, wet cotton would cover me from the top down and I’d drift back off into the black. Of course, there was always the chance that I wouldn’t fall back to sleep and would just lay there stoned for a few hours. Which, on balance, beat the shit out of laying there straight.

Back in bed I glanced at the chair once more. Still seemed to be empty, which was good, but I resisted any temptation to go near it. I remembered slapping my lips once. Then drifting away.