“If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” - Shel Silverstein

Monday, January 25, 2010

Between Living and Dying

She had never seen anything really dead.

At least not as dead as this.

Zero curled up against the wall of the shack and held her breath. She could hear the boys inside still. She knew her brother was in there. Zero rubbed her eyes and peeked back through the crack in the shed wall. She knew if he caught her out here he would kill her.

“Where’d ya find it?” one of the boys asked. Zero could only see a portion of the inside. She could see her brother’s face and then her neighbor Tommy. He scowled across at the other boys, but seemed to be looking right at her, or through her.

The thing lay under a blanket.

“Back in the woods. I told ya.”

“What are we gonna do?”

“Nothing,” her brother said. “It’s not our fault.”

“Yeah but its dead.”


“So…it’s here.”

“Well you are the one who brought it here. You should’ve left it in the woods.”

Someone sniffled. There was a nervous shuffle of feet. Zero’s leg was starting to cramp from crouching. She wanted desperately to move it. She also felt a tickle in her nose and feared she would sneeze. She wondered how fast she could run, if she could outrun those four boys. Possibly. But probably not her brother. And if he caught her out here spying that would be the end.

Tommy reached over and lifted the edge of the blanket. He cocked his head to the side. Zero couldn’t see what was under there, only Tommy’s expression of quiet wonder and disgust. She watched his eyes blink quickly as if he could ingest the image for so long before having to stop.

“Gross,” someone said.

“I think its Anna’s.”

“No it ain’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Cause I know. Just shut up.”

The boys rearranged the milk crates that served as chairs. Her brother spoke. “We gotta do something with it. We can’t leave it here.”

“It should be buried.”

“Maybe we should call the cops.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“Maybe it was a bear.”

“Nah, there wouldn’t anything left.”

“Alright listen up,” her brother said, quieting the boys down. “We gotta bury it. It’s the only right thing to do.” There was silence and through the crack Zero watched Tommy nod his head slowly. He looked like he was about to cry.

“We should tell someone,” Tommy said in a whisper.

“No way,” Zero’s brother barked. “We can’t. We don’t know what happened. It coulda been one of us.”

Everyone was stone silent.

“Right,” Tommy said eventually. “Let’s get shovels.”

There was a rustle of activity as the boys stood up, the scraping of crate against wood, the click of the latch on the door. Zero pressed her back against the shack. If they decided to cut through the woods, she was caught. If the took the path away from the courts to the main road they wouldn’t see her. She heard their sneakers on gravel, a cough, her brother spoke but she couldn’t understand what he said, and then their voices faded. They headed toward the road.

Zero exhaled. She tucked her short hair behind her ear and waited and listened. It was quiet at the courts. Nothing but the panicked twitter of birds on the edge of the woods. They were gone.

Zero crept around to the shack door and pushed it open. She had never been inside before. It looked smaller than she thought it would. There were crates and boxes stacked in the corner. Magazines and food wrappings littered the floor. Her brother’s pack was rolled up in the corner. Profanity was written with marker on the walls. The place itself seemed to notice her, to assess her and then, to reject her. It smelled of sweat. Her mouth went dry, the knowledge that she did not belong in this place, that it was a world she was not a part of, filled her. Zero wanted to run, back to the house, back to her room. Her mother always told her to leave her brother alone. He’s a boy, she would say. Let him be. As if they were these otherworldly creatures. Not human. Not flesh and blood. But boy. Made of something different. Something that lived, that thirsted, that took, in a way a girl never could.

It was there, in the center, under the blanket. She refused to turn back now.

Zero kept the door open, so that she could hear the boys return just in case. She had never seen anything dead. Except for the fish. Her brother had caught it back at the lake, brought it home in a bucket. It was a small fish and Zero watched it open and close its mouth like it was telling her a story. She wanted to keep it. But her brother said they had to kill it. It was too small to eat, he said and they couldn’t leave it in the bucket. Her parents were upstairs. She could see the flicker of the television in the window. Zero had stood on the gravel driveway, as her brother picked the fish up and put it on the ground. It flipped over and over, like it was doing a dance and she had to cover her mouth not to laugh. She grabbed at it once, but let go quickly, the jagged scales hurt the inside of her palm. Her brother came back with a small plank of wood he found under the deck. He said it was the only way. It took a long time. So long that Zero was sure that her parents would hear the thudding. When it was over, and her brother saw her crying, he called her a baby and he pushed her hard on the gravel, right next to the fish. Its mouth wasn’t moving anymore. Its scales ripped.

Zero leaned forward and picked at the corner of the blanket. She saw her fingers shaking and chickened out. Maybe they were coming back. Maybe there wasn’t time to look. She shuffled around the room, trying to remember everything she saw, wondering if she would ever be back in here again. A car went by on the street. A dog barked in the distance. Everything seemed to stand still as she stared at the dirty green blanket.

She counted to three. And then she counted to three again. On the third try she stomped forward and grabbed the blanket edge without thinking and yanked it back so fast that she couldn’t chicken out.

She saw the teeth first. The black gums. The lips curled back. Empty eyes like glass. Its face locked in a snarl.

Then she noticed the hole. It was neat, almost a perfect circle. The dried blood looked black, like paint. The matted hair, twisted, and split, flecked with twigs and dirt and something white as bone. Tommy was right. It was Anna’s dog. Her name was Daisy. The hole in her chest was deep, so deep that it just turned black inside, and the more she stared at it the deeper it seemed to get, a passageway between the living and the dead. Zero wondered where the guts were, where the muscle was. It should be oozing all the insides out, she reasoned. But it wasn’t. It didn’t smell. There were no flies or maggots or anything. It was just still. Zero didn’t think anything could ever be that still. It was empty. Quiet. As if whatever had once been inside was gone.

Zero sat on the floor, pulling her legs up to her chin. She waited. She tried to stay as still as the dead thing. It seemed far away now. She watched it like it was just picture on television and tried not to be scared. She wasn’t going to cry. Little girls cried. She wasn’t a little girl. She was going to be nine tomorrow. Nine year olds didn’t cry.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mr. Bloom's Chess Game

Mr. Bloom decided to buy the chess set the year his grandson William turned three. He phoned his daughter to inform her.

“I think he’s a little young dad,” she said sounding distracted and Mr. Bloom knew she was. He both knew that it wasn’t easy to raise a child and that he himself had never actually done it.

“I think he would like to learn. You used to play.”

“I never played, Dad,” she said with a heavy punctuating sigh. “You taught me how the pieces move, when I was like… seven, and we might have played once. It wasn’t a fun game then. I doubt Liam will enjoy it. He’s only three.”

“I know that. But I think it’s a good thing to know. Kings and Queens played chess. It was the sport of a gentleman. It teaches character.”

“Liam doesn’t need to be taught character. He’s only three. He needs to be taught the word No. He needs to know he can’t have everything he wants. He needs to stop throwing temper tantrums and he needs to stay out of my drawer and stop pulling apart my pantyhose, okay? That’s what Liam needs. Listen Dad, I have to run.”

“Of course, Clarissa. My apologies for keeping you.”

“Don’t say it like that, Dad.”

“Like what?”

“Like I think you are a burden. I don’t think you are a burden.” Mr. Bloom listened for the fifth time about how busy Clarissa was and how her husband, Zack, was working overtime and how Liam was sucking every last minute of peace out of their life. He nodded and then realized, foolishly, she couldn’t see him. “I’ll get the set, and then if he likes it, we’ll play. If not, it’s fine.”

“That’s fine, Dad. I gotta run. Bye.” Mr. Bloom heard the phone rustle, the yelp of his grandson in the background and then nothing. He wondered why in movies there was always an immediate dial tone.

He bought the chess set at the shop on Tompkins Street in the city. It had been many years since he had been down there and he spent the rest of the day retracing old routes. He stopped by the bench in the park that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He thought about his wife and reasoned that it was 9 years and not the 7 that he had originally thought that she had been gone. This struck Mr. Bloom as a startling idea.

When he returned home he set up the chess set. It was marble and cost more money than he could afford. He debated bringing it back and getting a cheaper wood set but once it was out of the box, the idea of going back down to the city seemed exhausting. Instead he lifted each heavy piece out of its foam tray and unwrapped the bubble wrap. Mr. Bloom set them with a satisfying click against the board. He lined up the pawns first, white facing the reddish-pink marble that stood in for the black pieces. Mr. Bloom straightened them so they lined up neatly. He frowned. He didn’t like the reddish-pink marble. He preferred the standard black and white. Mr. Bloom unwrapped the knights, rooks, bishops, king and queen. When all the pieces were set up and facing each other he leaned back in the seat.

The phone rang, suddenly and just once. He looked it at, waiting, but it was then quiet on its cradle. His daughter wanted him to get a cell phone but Mr. Bloom never saw the point as he didn’t go often go anywhere.

When it rang again it woke him from his sleep. He wiped his face, feeling the rough whiskers and struggled to get out of his checked armchair. His arms felt weak. The phone jangled from its spot on the wall, screaming for attention, demanding to be acknowledged. Mr. Bloom, pulled the phone off the hook, dropped it, struggled with the cord to get it back up and then accidentally spoke into the wrong end before turning it around.

“Hello?” He said clearing his voice. “Hello.”

There was no answer. Mr. Bloom said hello again. There was a click and something that sounded like a rushing noise. The lines must be crossed, Mr. Bloom reasoned. “Hello?”

“The game begins.”

“Hello? Who is this?”

“The game begins. E4.”

“Margaret?” Mr. Bloom said, just once, in little more than a whisper. The static on the phone rose to a harsh buzzing and then, a series of clicks and then nothing. Mr. Bloom coughed and placed the phone gently back on its cradle.

The kitchen was untidy, as was often the case since his wife was gone. Mr. Bloom noticed the crumbs on the counter, the stains from yesterday’s teacup. There was still a drip from the faucet that patted out a steady rhythm. He made his way back to the living room and looked at the set.

The white pawn was moved to the E4 space. Mr. Bloom reached down toward the set, his fingers dangling over his own pawn. Tentatively he slid his own pawn to E5. He stared at the board but nothing happened.

When the phone rang again, Mr. Bloom was still standing over the board. He shuffled back into the kitchen and picked up the phone.

“Dad, it’s me. Listen, real quick, I just wanted to remind you that Liam’s birthday party is on Saturday.”

“I know that.”

“Yeah and the weather isn’t supposed to be great so if you can’t make it, it’s fine. I don’t want you troubling yourself.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“Okay, well, whatever you need let me know. Did you eat tonight?”

Mr. Bloom looked around the kitchen again. He eyed the crumbs. “Yes,” he said as he decided it was true. “I ate.”

“Alright. I’ll talk to you later. Again, no worries about the party. I don’t want you wearing yourself out.”


“Alright, bye.” There was a click and more silence.

The following morning the white knight sat on C3. Mr. Bloom sat across from the board. He moved his knight out and wondered when he had become such a copycat player. He used to be much stronger than this. But it had been years since he played. He thought of his old combinations. He wondered if it was too late for Fool’s Mate or if he could even remember the Traxler Variation opening. Mr. Bloom stared at the board and made his move. The clock ticked loudly.

Mr. Bloom closed his eyes and when he opened them the white queen was out on the board. He was surprised to see her so soon. His rook was now placed on the side of the board, having been taken. Mr. Bloom took a pawn opening up a passage way for his bishop. He licked his lips. It was all coming back to him.

The game last days. Or hours. Mr. Bloom recalled the sun setting at some point, and he recalled waking up in the armchair, his back stiff. He recalled the phone ringing again but he didn’t get it in time. He stared at the board and wondered if he could force a perpetual check, moving his King back and forth from one check to another. He was going to lose but at least a perpetual check ended in a draw. He wondered what that meant here. In tournaments that meant half a point for each player. But he had a feeling it would mean something quite different in this game.

He shifted in his seat and moved the king. The white queen slid up the board soundlessly. He was in check again. He moved his king back to its original spot. The queen didn’t follow. Mr. Bloom would not be able to pull off a perpetual check. The white rook moved to h7 eliminating the second rank. There was no where to move his king. He was not in check but he had only one square to move to that wouldn’t put him in check. Mr. Bloom reached his hand over the piece and noticed that it was shaking. The tremor in his fingertips moved its way up his hand. Glancing at the window, and watching the light creep through this closed blinds, he wondered if he took his pill this morning. He slid his king into the only spot.

White countered with a pawn putting his king in checkmate. It was over. He had lost. Mr. Bloom laid his king down on his side, in the formal show of concession. The phone rang, as he expected it would. He picked it up on the 5th ring and said “You win.”

“Dad?” his daughter’s voice sounded funny.

“I said, you win,” Mr. Bloom responded.

“Dad, it’s me. Is everything alright?”

“Oh, Clarissa. Of course. Yes dear everything is fine.” Mr. Bloom said glancing back at the chessboard. “Everything is just fine.”

“Listen Dad, I need to talk to you,” his daughter began but there was a knock at the door, which Mr. Bloom had been expecting as he had expected the phone to ring.

“I’ll have to call you back,” he said to his daughter. He pulled the phone away from his ear, noting how thin his daughter’s voice sounded coming out of that machine and placed it gently, as if not to hurt her, back on its cradle.

Mr. Bloom lifted the peephole cover and looked out into the hall. He put his other hand against the lock and with some struggle and a barely audible whimper slid the deadbolt out. He kept his eye against the peephole even as he turned the knob, a small tear forming, knowing that what he saw standing in the hallway in front of his door, was the end.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maman Brigitte

She had been warned by her grandmother not to take the bus. But her grandmother always had warnings; not to gaze at the moon when it is waining because it will steal your baby (the moon is a jealous woman after all); not to cross the street behind tall men because their shadows will stay with you and haunt you. They were ghost stories, old country stories, and she was sick of them. The fastest way to the center of town was the bus. And the center of town was where the doctor was.

Before the girl left, her grandmother rolled her filmy eyes up at her, pointed at her and with a “tsk” and a shudder muttered something in the oldest language, so old in fact they were words that hadn’t been whispered aloud on this side of the ocean.

The girl threw her back her shoulders and walked out.

It was the last day of her first life, the last day she would be Marguerite, really truly. They wouldn’t give her the name Maman Brigitte for decades after her first death but they would still, in the stories that would be told, go back to this moment boarding the bus as her Loa birth, the moment she ceased to be mortal and became one of the Voodoo spirits of Haiti. The windows were open and the island heat rose in waves off the dirt. It was warm, warmer, than it should have been and Marguerite’s blouse damped with sweat and clung to her. She took a seat, feeling the sway of the bus making her queasy. It was 21 stops to the center of town. At the first stop, an old man got on the bus. At the second, a mother dragging 4 screaming children. Marguerite looked away. She could not make eye contact. The youngest child screamed in her mother’s lap, her tongue wagging like a wild thing, her head thrown back till it seemed the child’s neck would snap.

Marguerite closed her eyes for what felt like just a moment but when she opened them, the screaming children and the mother was gone. Next to her sat an old woman. Marguerite rubbed her eyes, and pulled her shirt away from her sweaty body as she scanned the landscape. They were not close to town. The woman next to her smiled at her and Marguerite smiled back.

“It’s a boy,” the woman said, showing a mouth full of broken teeth.

“I’m sorry…” Marguerite started to say. She stammered a few words but then just let them trail off.

“If you aren’t going to raise it, birth it, kill it and keep it, because it will have power. It’s a twin.”

“I…don’t know what you are talking about,” Marguerite felt sick suddenly and rose to leave. “Excuse me.”

“Sit down, child,” the woman said, grabbing Marguerite’s arm with her hand. Her skin felt so hot and her dirty nails dug into her flesh. Marguerite could feel the bile rising up in her throat. The woman with the broken teeth squeezed her arm and as she did, like a pump, Marguerite’s throat was a wash with acid, as if this woman were calling it out of her. She sat back down, as the woman with the broken teeth told her to do.

“You must be careful, in the city. You never know what people will do. Pickpockets. They will steal from you without you even knowing they are doing it. You are going to the doctor, yes?”

Marguerite finally found her voice, though it was just a whisper. “How did you know?”

“That you go to the doctor? Because you are with child. You are having twins. Twins are magic.”

“How did you know I was pregnant?”

“It is from Ezili Dantor, the Black Madonna. When a Loa spirit gives a child, you must use it. Don’t anger Ezili Dantor. She is quick to anger, unlike her sister.”

“I have to go,” Marguerite said as the bus rounded a particularly sharp corner. The engine whined at the road. She noticed for the first time that there was no one else on the bus. “Please let me pass.” She wasn’t going to talk to this superstitious woman. She sounded like her grandmother, spewing nonsense about deities and Loas. It was this kind of talk that destroyed this town, destroyed her mother. The old world religions had no place here, not anymore. And Marquerite was not the kind of woman to fall pray to superstition and voodoo. Not like her mother did, driving herself mad, and eventually to suicide with potions and cheroot and spells that are all garbage.

“I am only trying to help, child,” the old woman hissed. “You should be thankful. Pray to Ezili Dantor and she will show you the way. Light the Virgin Mary candles. You’ll see.”

Marguerite tried to push her way past but the old woman wouldn’t let go of her arm. Why did she take the bus? There were always crazy people on the bus. People who wanted money, thought they were blessed by the spirits, believed in this kind of garbage. “Let me go, please, I don’t…feel well.”

“Sit, child. You’ll make yourself dizzy.” The old woman pushed her back on the wooden seat, and as she did she brushed her hand across Marguerite’s breast and down her belly. It was then that Marguerite knew something was wrong. But she couldn’t move.

“Take care child. Remember twins are powerful. Magical.”

Marguerite felt a burning inside her, swelling up from between her legs, like she swallowed lava, a thick hot raw burn in her stomach. She doubled over and threw up. She lifted her head and, noticing that the woman was gone, put her hand to her chest. It was at this moment that she realized her left breast was gone. Marguerite yanked her shirt up, her head spinning and could see nothing but smooth skin etched with five white scars, like fingers, in the shape of a hand. She started to scream, but no noise came out.

That is the story they will tell about the birth of the Loa spirit they would call Maman Brigitte and it was also the beginning of the death of the mortal woman named Marguerite. The doctor told her she only had one child. But she knew that on the bus she had had two, much like she had had two breasts. And she knew the old woman had stolen them both. After that Marquerite became very very ill. Two weeks later the boy fell out of her in pieces. First an arm. Then a leg, like small doll parts. Marguerite screamed and screamed as her grandmother collected them in jars and took them to the shed out back. Her grandmother fed her, soothed her fever, nursed her through the curse.

That night Marguerite had a dream of a hot land. She crossed the hot stones of this dreamland and with her walked a small dark boy with no lips and no tongue, his hand clasped in hers. When she approached Ezili Dantor she knew who she was, the black Madonna, cloaked in a gold wrap. Ezili reached out for the boy, who ran to her, and hid beneath her dress. Marguerite said nothing, because you don’t talk to the spirits when they come to you like this. You wait for them to talk to you. Even Marguerite knew this.

“You have been wronged.” Ezili’s voice echoed inside Marguerite’s head. This is what talking to gods is like. “I gave to you a boy and a girl. The boy is with me. Your daughter was also saved, ushered into life by another woman’s womb, 250 years before now. Her name was Iwa. She lived as a high priestess in the old world. She bore many children. Those children were brought here carried in the belly of boats. Dutty Boukman was one of them. When they cut off his head and his arms the flesh never decayed. He was a warrior, like Iwa. He freed the slaves. He gave you your freedom before you were born. I did this.”

“Thank you Maman Dantor,” Marguerite whispered in her dream. In the waking world Marguerite rolled in bed, awash with fever and her grandmother whispered in her ear.

“I gave you twins. The girl has already saved your life. The boy will do so in later years. You will be a priestess. You will serve me. Here,” from under her cloak she pulled a long knife. “Your child ushered you into this world. In this harsh country you will now pay her back.”

Marguerite took the knife and placed it against her remaining breast.

“You will grow old but you will not die. Your name is no longer Marguerite. You are now Maman Brigitte. And you will worship me. I will give you power, for as long as you worship me.” Then the voice was gone.

Maman Brigitte woke, as an old woman and her grandmother was long gone. The blade was under her pillow. From her window she could see the flicker of the candles that the village women left her on her doorstep. Their prayers, their fears, their wants and needs flickering in the window. She was far from that island now, back instead, in another dark land having fled a thousand captors and a thousand lives. Before she went back to sleep her old hands, wrinkled, scarred from years of magic making, reach up to trace the scars on her chest. The five on the left had never faded. The one clean knife scar on the right bled still, on occasion, but that was to be expected.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Birdman

The joint was a roadhouse really. In the town I grew up in, it was one of the only real bars, at least real as in populated by the people of the town and not the men who drifted through on their way down to the city or up towards the river. It was local. It was the sort of place continuously strung with Christmas lights where, more often than not, a line of Harley’s occupied the spaces nearest the door. In the summer they threw sand in the backyard so they could re-create some faux beach volleyball match played by overweight mothers way past their prime who believed, when fueled by enough alcohol that they could still fit in the high school jeans they secretly kept in back of the closet. It was the sort of place my siblings wouldn’t step foot in, and that my mother wrinkled her nose at. But it was where Tim picked. And we went where Tim picked.

I parked the car in the back and turned off the engine. I flipped open my phone and called the house. My husband answered the phone.

“What’s wrong?” This was his typical greeting. Not ‘hello’, not ‘how are you’, not ‘how’s it going’ just ‘what’s wrong.’

“Nothing. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. Everything is fine. I’m watching the game with your father.”

“Is Mom there?”

My husband proceeded to yell at the television for a few more minutes before returning to the phone. I could hear my father in the background.


“I said is my mother there?”

“No she went shopping. Something about desert for tomorrow. Hey you there?”

“Yeah I’m here.”

“Alright well have fun. Be safe. Call me if you need a lift home.”

“I won’t need a lift home.”

“Okay but call me if you do.”

“Alright, love you.”

“Loveyoutoo.” He always said it like it was one word. Loveyoutoo. Like he was naming
some exotic tropical bird.

I made my way inside the joint. Since it was the holidays, I had expected it to be crowded, loud, and exhausting the way the joint could be. I had expected to sit there with my old friends, and catch up on a years worth of life like we had been doing for the past 8 years. I stopped in the snow, right by the door. 8 years. That long?

But it was quiet inside, strangely quiet. Solemn. The frivolity that usually punctuated the joint this time of year seemed to have been sucked out of it. Like it sat in a void somewhere, floating out in space, oblivious. There were a handful of bikers at the bar, a couple families in the back eating and that was it.

I stopped at the bar and ordered the pitcher of Guinness that I knew Tim would want to toast with when he got here.

“Quiet night, huh?”

The blonde bartender nodded and took the money out of my hand. “Mostly everyone is down at the memorial.”


“Yeah, Jake’s memorial is tonight.”

I nodded. I had no idea who Jake was. I thanked her for the beer and settled into the bar. Martin showed up next. He made the same stupid face he always made, a mixture of a sly smile and stupefaction that he should find me here, tonight, of all places, even though this night had been planned since last year when he made the same stupid face. He wrapped me in a typical bear hug. Within 30 seconds he was showing me updated pictures of his kids. They looked just like him. Which is really a shame considering his wife was surprisingly cute. He married way out of his league.

Larry was next, slightly balder then last year and still twitchy over his divorce. Tim was last. I noticed that we all sort of sat around, with feeble conversation until Tim showed up. It was always that way. We may have known each other since we were kids but we were just the arms and legs. Tim was the head and heart. He had always been our leader.

Tim sauntered into the bar, leaned over, kissed the blonde bartender quickly on the cheek, took her hand and murmured something in her ear. She thanked him and smiled sadly. Must have been about the dead guy Jake.

“My friends!” he said. Tim hugged us each in turn and suddenly what felt strange before now felt right. “Another year, my friends. Can it be possible? Here now,” he pulled the glasses towards him and filled each one in time, retelling us about the time he was selected to be a Guinness Draught Master, the youngest American in Ireland the year he stayed there to study Irish literature for his second masters. There were few countries that Tim had not stepped foot on at some point. Not that I hadn’t traveled, I had done alright myself, thank you very much.

“To my dearest friends, my oldest friends, my truest friends. Since we were little neighborhood kids, dogging cars up nearly Crumb Road and wreaking havoc on old lady McGlinn’s pea pod garden to now, as Wizened Old Gentlemen,” Tim always referred to us as gentlemen. I think when we first met at only 6, he failed to notice that I was in fact a girl and has yet to really consider the position, “as Adventurers, as Captains of our Destiny and Kings of our Making. Merry Christmas!”

Our glasses clinked together and within moments whatever unease had been previously felt melted away inside the joint. Numerous pitchers were ordered. I lost count. We didn’t bother much with the updating of our lives. What was the point? We delved rather quickly into the past. Back to when the fort was built. To campfires in the backyard. To hiking up to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain. We told the stories that made us feel as if those days were not as far away as they really were. We avoided naming years. Instead we dated time by our ages or by something big that happened that year. Like when Peter, my friend Beth’s old sister, bought that used car and accidentally drove it right into the lake at the bottom of the hill. We dated time by memory. And memory is fickle. We bickered over whether or not we found the dead dog in the woods before Tim’s little brother was bit by the rattler snake or after. We dated time by experience which jumbled together, mixing up in the muddle of our own making, in the fickle bitter tonic that is recollection. Then the conversation turned. It happened while I was in the bathroom. But when I returned to the table I could feel something had shifted.

“It was too. I found him. I saw him hanging there. I was the first one there,” Larry was saying, running his fingers through this thinning hair. Martin hissed at him to be quiet. I felt the beer turn on me a bit, as if I had walked into a different room. The air had changed, and there was a metallic taste on my tongue that I did not like. I tried to sit down casually. But I had never been casual and I was terrible at pulling off casual.

“What?” I said. I felt myself make a stupid grin that I’m sure Martin would have found quite agreeable.

“Nothing, darling,” Tim said pouring another round. He changed the subject to his current art installation. But I didn’t want to talk about that. I wanted to talk about the past some more. I wanted to talk about whatever it was that they were talking about when I came in. And I knew what it was. I pretended not to. We all pretended at some point not to know anything about it but I knew. So, in true suave form, I blurted it out like a mentally ill patient.

“Remember the Birdman?”

Larry cleared his throat. Tim looked from Larry to me to Martin and let out a howl of laughter that was ill appreciated by the bikers at the bar.

“The Birdman?” he laughed. “Of course we remember the Birdman.” He shook his head like he hadn’t thought of it in years, but I knew that wasn’t true.

“It was your brother wasn’t it?” I said.

“Mine? Never. No I think it was Ray’s older brother. Remember the one that lived up the block?”

Larry shifted uncomfortably. I knew why but I didn’t care right then.

“No way. I know it was you, you and your brothers.”

“My dear,” Tim said placing a hand over his heart, “I solmely swear, that while, I spent my childhood, up to No Good, I am not responsible for the Legend of the Birdman.”

“Remember when we found his shack out in the woods?” Martin offered. Larry stared into his drink.

“That old stone thing? Oh my god, didn’t I dare you to enter it?” I laughed, too loudly I realized. My stomach got tight. For a second, I thought I was going to throw up.

“Yes! You were going to pay me your five dollar allowance if I went in the stone shack and stayed there for ten minutes.”

“Wow, five bucks for ten minutes. That is so not worth it.”

“Why do you think I didn’t do it?” Larry laughed.

“Remember the prints?” I kept pushing it. I wanted to even though it felt like my heart was in my throat. No one said anything. “Remember. They were like this,” I dug threw my bag. “Hang on,” I jumped up and borrowed a pen from the blonde bartender. “Like this, right?” I grabbed napkin out of the holder on the table and traced a Y shape.
Everyone stared at it.

“No,” Larry said. It was the first thing he said since I mentioned the Birdman. “It was more like this.” Larry redrew the Y shape but made the end longer. Exactly like a three toed bird. We all stared at the paper in front of us. No one said anything for awhile. “But they were big. At least 2 feet across.”

“And what did he do Larry?” I whispered. My voice didn’t sound like my own. There was a part of my brain that was screaming to shut up. And another part that wanted to have this conversation.

“He would take you. The Birdman. He would take you while you slept. And all that would be left…outside…in the mud or the snow…were these prints. He would take you to his shack and…and…”

“Alright enough,” Tim said. He turned to me. “What gotten into you?”

But I didn’t care. “And what Larry. What else?”

“He could make you do things. He could make you do things you didn’t want to do. That you would never do. And then he killed you. Some say that he would eat you. But he didn’t. He killed you. Bodies would be found. Bodies pulled from the lake. Buried under leaves. Hanging…from…” Larry never took his eyes off the drawing on the napkin.

“Enough, Larry. Come on, boys. It’s Christmas Eve! Haven’t we happier tales to tell? I’m getting another pitcher.” Tim reached down and crumpled up the drawing of the Birdman’s prints. It broke the spell. When he returned we were already talking about how upon a dare, Larry had mooned the entire audience at high school graduation. Larry laughed too hard and choked on his beer, coughing and spitting all over the table. Tim slapped him on the back.

We said goodbye at the cars. Martin left first. Larry left second. He walked to his car with hunched shoulders and for a second I felt horrible for what I had done. He felt so thin through his coat.

“He’s been through a lot,” Tim said to walking me to my car. “You need to give him a break.”

Indignant I snorted. “I didn’t do anything. We were just talking about the past. God Tim, we were all talking about it.”

Tim wrinkled his brow and then it was gone. Any judgment he held against me, was wiped clean like new snow. “Merry Christmas, old friend.” He squeezed me tight.
I managed to eek out a quick ‘Merry Christmas.’

“You going to your brothers tomorrow?”

Tim nodded.

“Next year then?”

“I’ll be in city in February. We should get a drink.”

I nodded.

“You okay to drive?”

“Of course,” I lied.

I should have called my husband like he had asked me to. I should have left the car and called him but I wasn’t prepared for my mother’s disapproving looks on Christmas. I would rather take my chances. I checked my phone. No calls.

As I turned up the street to my house, I stopped the car. I parked it at the top of the hill instead of the driveway and got out. The cold air burned my lungs. It was quiet as outer space up here. The snow blanketed everything and the starts swirled above me. For another moment, I thought I was going to throw up but I didn’t. I walked to the edge of my parent’s lawn and looked at my childhood house. There were prints in the lawn from deer. I could see my husband inside, on the couch, talking to my dad. I watched him laugh, the way the smile spread easy across his face. I thought about going down the block to the courts, where the entrance to the woods was. I thought about it and decided I would go. I hadn’t been down there in years. We used to spend so much time there. Tim, Martin, Larry and I. But instead I walked the other way, past my car I parked on the side of the road and made a left towards the new development.

It didn’t take me long to find that house. It was empty. The rotten For Sale sign still posted in the ground. The wood of it molded with rain and snow. My feet crunched on the gravel but I didn’t dare step on lawn. The snow there was clean of prints, as if even squirrels and deer didn’t venture this way. I stared up at the tree at the edge of the lawn. All the branches were covered in snow. The broken branch, the one they sawed to cut him down was still there like an amputee’s nub. There was no snow on it. They say his parents found him first. But I knew that wasn’t true. We all knew the truth. We remembered Larry’s face when he came back, shaking and white. The boy was new. Adopted we think. The only black kid in the neighborhood. And he hung from that tree, right in the front of the house all night long. Till his parents woke up the following morning to that view of him, limp, still in his pajamas, dangling in their front window.

I walked to the neighbor’s house, and selected a slender limb from the tree. I had wished it would have cracked off, shattering the Christmas Eve silence but it didn’t. I had to keep bending it back and forth like it was made of rubber. I finally tugged it free.

Keeping my feet firmly on the road, I reached over to the tree and slowly and carefully, I traced the Y shape into the snow. I traced a line of the famous footprints from the trees edge into the neighbor’s lawn and out towards the woods. I started it again.

I brought the Birdman home.