What is This?

About six months ago, the tunnel courier delivered to me a series of "comedies" written by Ephraim P. Noble from 1968-1974. Maybe there is an older meaning to the word "comedies" that I'm not familiar with, because they seem nothing like comedies to me. In any case, I have scanned the covers of each of these very short stories, and hope to post them here on a regular basis.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dead Birds Tell No Tales

"Dead Birds Tell No Tales."

The bird wasn’t quite dead.

It hung there, upside down, its little talons or whatever still clinging to the wooden bar in the cage.

I opened the cage door and whistled at it. It shuddered and opened an eye. I tried to set it upright, but it just swung down again. It had no interest in living.

This was back in ’68, or ’69. I loved that bird. “Chirpy” we called it. I had just that day received my walking papers from Penn State: a bright career as an English professor down the drain because a few radical students in a group called RADIANT UNION talked me into serving as their faculty advisor.

Outside my window, the familiar sound of gunfire, a strangled scream. The police and the hippies, going at it up and down the alleys. The thump thumping of a helicopter overhead. A man’s voice on a bullhorn. The distant and then closer wail of sirens. It would keep up all night, because it was hot, 88 degrees at 11:30 pm, and there was another brownout. The lights in the windows of the tenement houses across the way flickered between dark urine yellow and blackness.

I stripped to a t-shirt and shorts. A drink in hand. With ice.

Then, suddenly, a pounding at the door. I stood mute. The bird opened its eye again. I was afraid it would chirp, its last living sound giving me away. I tip-toed across the floor as the pounding on the door resumed. I put down my glass, gently took the bird in my hands as I had a hundred times before, walked slowly to the open window, and tossed it out.

I hoped it would fly, not fall.

The sound of gunfire growing closer. The pounding on my door louder.

The birdcage empty.

Me alone.