Sleep Sparrow

Molly leaned her head against the window. The rolling cloudscape made her contemplative. It was a different world up in the sky. The clouds were like mountains and hills, valleys and deserts. And she was a little bird flying over them. Like the sparrow.

She closed her eyes and tried to sleep. The flight was too long. This was the problem. She hadn’t slept in at least a day. Maybe two — she couldn’t be sure with the time change. And now she felt like she was starting to lose her mind.

Her mind drifted, but sleep did not come.

“You’re too good for this world,” her mom had told her once when Molly had brought the sparrow home from school. She’d found it sitting in a puff of feathers with its eyes closed, hunched on the asphalt of the playground. It had broken its leg and upon further inspection had a puncture wound in its tiny wing. A cat was the likely culprit.

The sparrow had lived, but what her mom had said stuck with her. Not in a way that made her think she was better than everyone else, but rather made her wonder what world she should have been from and what that place was like. Was it filled with people like her? Those who always felt like they really didn’t belong? Those who could see certain things that others couldn’t, or didn’t care to? Did they have moments of clarity the same way she did? Like those times when she could see the past and the present at once, and sense that something — or someone — was alongside her. Someone who was cloaked in shadows, faceless and hungry to be seen.

Yes, she needed to sleep.

Little Baby

There was a legend about the well in the garden. It’s deep, cavernous mouth gaped at the sky, swallowing light. Ruth peered at it between her fingers as if she was in a horror movie and couldn’t bear to watch the atrocities on the screen unfold. She inched closer. Just slightly. Just enough.

Ruth you’re a baby. Baaay-bee.

Stop it.

She reached down and itched her leg under her Easter dress absent-minedly. Her mother had purchased it from Sears. It was supposed to be special, but Ruth couldn’t wait to get it off and put her Dungarees back on so she could play in the barn.

Ruth is a silly baaay-bee.

Sunlight fell on the smooth stones that flanked the well’s mouth. Small, persistent ivy clutched and crawled desperately along the sides, looking for its way in. A crumble of concrete that it could hold, a small bump to act as a ledge. How long had the vine been creeping closer and closer to the mouth of well? Much like Ruth now did too. Unlike the ivy, she didn’t want to hold on tight. Just look. Just peek and see.

Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth. Ruth.

It sounded a bit like her mother. Maybe a little off, a little different. Maybe like her mother as a child. Ruth wasn’t sure. These were considerations for much older people. She couldn’t yet fathom her mother as a child. In her mind, mother was perpetually mother. She always had been mother and always would be. Children had no room to consider their parents as actual people.

Ruth, little baby. Here, here, little baaay-be.

Ruth lowered her fingers from her eyes and cocked her head, pulling her chin toward the warm sun like a flower bending gently toward the light.

Ruth. Ruth. Come here. I’ve got you, little Ruth. Come and see.

One step. Two steps. Three steps and Ruth had reached the lip. All there was to do was look over and see who was in the bottom of the well.

Law and Order

He didn’t understand what he’d done to her, but he would by the time she was finished. His attempts to focus on the words that were coming out of her mouth continuously failed him. It was just so hard to pay attention. Everyday it was a new thing, a new reason she was mad, a new injustice he had committed. Everyday he must face her judge and jury of one. She had picked the fight in the living room just as he had settled in to watch Law & Order: SVU.

“Hey. Patrick. Hello?” Minnie put her hand on her hip. Whenever she did that she unconsciously pushed her hip forward and stuck out her lower lip – a lady pout. Patrick smiled up at her from the couch; it was quite sexy actually.

“Yes, sorry.” His eyes traveled down from her swollen lip across her delicate neck and remained there. He loved that space. The space where her neck and shoulder met. It was strong. Lithe. Feminine.

“Are you staring at my tits? Jesus, Patrick.” Minnie flicked her thick inky hair off her shoulder as she rolled her eyes.

He moved toward her and took her hand.

“So what if I was. I still do. Isn’t that worth something?”He squeezed her hand as he said it. Minnie softened just a little.

Patrick caught a glimpse past her as Detectives Odafin Tutuola and Benson tackled a perp running out of a bodega on the television. Minnie had picked this fight right as SVU started. She knew the beginning of the show was essential. Between the title page and the opening theme song was the most important part–the whole story began. Opening credit, then poof–a naked woman lying in bed with multiple stab wounds. Or, opening credit, then poof–murdered little kid in a dumpster. Miss the beginning? Shit, just turn off the TV. You’d never catch up. Patrick had missed the beginning. No point to this now. He might as well listen to Minnie.

“Minnie, what is it? What is wrong?”

Minnie moved toward him just a little. It was a good sign that she was giving in. He took her other hand. She didn’t resist. That was an even better sign.

“I don’t know.”

“Minnie. Come on.”

“Forget it. Go ahead and get back to Benson and Tutu-whoever. You are obsessed with that show.”

Patrick stood up and put his arms around her waist. He buried his face in his favorite spot and breathed in deeply. He loved the way she smelled. No matter how annoying she could be, he couldn’t help but love her.

He looked up at the TV. Dr. Huang, the child psychologist, was scaling the side of a sky scraper telling a teenager that he could help him get out of this after all. He knew he didn’t kill that woman.

“Okay. Let’s just add this fight to tomorrow’s agenda.”

Patrick guessed he might never know what he’d done today to upset her, but he was sure he’d do something else tomorrow. He didn’t care if he missed Dateline NBC.

Poof

He was a terrible client. The absolute worst. His agent Aggie knew it. Hell, even the rabbit in his hat knew it.

“Listen, Charles, you can’t just go around throwing rabbits behind couches, and thinking the crowd doesn’t notice.”

He couldn’t see her, but he heard the cigarette, the sound of air sucking through her shriveled lips. The wheeze as she inhaled and the deep rumble as she exhaled.

Aggie had been his agent for over 10 years and Charles had been in her tiny salmon pink office so often that his mental picture of her was complete in his mind’s eye: The roll of her eyes, the deep pull of the Marlborough, the way its tip glowed and advertised untold delights, seducing its the next user—moths to a flame.

“Aggie, I didn’t throw a rabbit behind the couch.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

Charles sighed. It was true, sort of, but it had been a joke, ironic. What kind of magician makes his rabbit disappear by tossing them, obviously and wildly, through the air?

“For the record, Aggie, it’s not a couch,” Charles muttered, “It’s a Lazy-boy that I use to hypnotize people. And I didn’t throw the rabbit. I said, ‘Quick, get behind the couch!”

He heard Aggie rustle in her chair through the crackle of her old telephone. It was pink too. But bubblegum pink. He had a serious suspicion that her office used to match that phone before she locked herself in there, closed the windows and smoked away the last 20 years. Charles decided that next time he visited her he would say, “Oh Aggie! That painting is crooked, can’t you tell?” and shift it just enough to peek and see if the paint behind it was the same nicotine-stained Marlborough pink of the walls or bubblegum pink.

“Aggie, the rabbit, it’s my schtick.”

“Charles, you have hit the big time. There is no room for schticks in Las Vegas. Let me explain something to you since you don’t seem to get it…” her voice lowered conspiratorially as if she was about to tell him him some rich secret, There is no God, or even a mundane tip, Sucrets are on sale at the Piggly Wiggly. “Rabbits are for barmitzvahs and birthday parties. No rabbits. No ladies sawed in half. And jesus-christ-on-a-pickle-stick, don’t say ‘poof’ anymore. People want illusion.” She let the last word roll slowly through the phone: Ill-ooooo-sion.

Charles rubbed the bridge of his beakish nose and closed his black eyes. “I like ‘poof’. It’s my thing.”

“Your thing? Please, darling. Not another schtick.”

“Look, Aggie, I respect you. You’ve been a good agent to me over the years and a better friend.”

He heard the clink of an ice cube followed by liquid tinkling into a glass. Scotch, maybe? Nice combo, Aggie. What is it in LA? Ten in the morning?

“But you need to back off. I let you do what you do best, now let me do what I do best.”

“But you’re not the best, Charles. You’re a joke. Do you have any idea what Copperfield’s people are saying about you?”

“Poof?”

“Don’t sass me. Not poof. That you’re not the real deal. That you don’t deserve the Mirage—hell, that you don’t even deserve the Golden Nugget.”

Charles breathed deeply. It was ironic because he was truly a magician. Not just a guy who knew tricks, but a real magician. David Copperfield was just tricks with a million-dollar budget.

“Aggie, I’m telling you, I’ve been telling you for years, that I am the real McCoy. Have a little faith in me. ”

“Oh, I do. I’ve believed in you since I dragged out of that pathetic trailer in Wisconsin and pulled the bottle out of your hands. Don’t tell me I don’t believe in you, but—“

“But nothing. I’ll prove it. Listen. I hear your breath rattle when you breathe. It’s all that smoking you do. I have a serious hunch that the rattle is just the beginning. Isn’t it?”

“What? How dare you—“

“I know that you get up in the middle of the night terrified because you’re coughing up blood. Terrified because you can feel it, sense it growing inside your lungs.”

Silence hung on the line. The only thing Charles could hear was Aggie’s labored breath.

“Well?”

“You son-of-a-bitch.”

“True. No argument there. But you know I’m right.”

Aggie was quiet for a long minute. Charles would not have been able to tell that she was still on the phone had it not been for the wheeze of her lungs pumping in and out.

“Fine. Yes. It’s true.”

“Do you want me to fix it?”

“Fix it?

“Take a deep breath in, Aggie.”

He heard her death rattle.

“Hold it.”

Silence.

“Ready?”

She hummed that she was.

“Poof.”

The Happening

There had been many theories on how she had been murdered, but none of them had been correct. In fact, no one would ever find out what had occurred except for Mae herself. And Mae wasn’t talking — at least, she wasn’t discussing it with the authorities.

She’d been told straight away, before the one-eyed man hit her the first time, that she was being welcomed into the Happening. He’d backed her against the brick wall near a dumpster in the alley, where she’d been crouching like a cat while smoking crystal. Her fingernails, painted black, dug into the mortar and her heart  raced, which made her armpits dampen inside her pullover that she’d decorated with  safety pins.

“What do you want?” she asked, trembling, understanding at the same time that no matter what she said, she was going to die. She’d never seen the Grim Reaper, but she was quite sure he was standing in front of her now.

“I’m inviting you into the Happening,” the man said. He was big and bald, towering over Mae with a pickax in his hand.

“What … What’s the Happening?”

“It’s a new life, Mae. A new start. You’ll change the world.”

In spite of her fear, she frowned at this. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, I know everything about you. I know that you came to San Francisco because your mom kicked you out. I know that you left your sister behind, with your step-father. And that you live with the guilt of what he’s doing to her every day. That’s why you do crystal, isn’t it? Because of the guilt?”

Mae’s eyes were wide. “How do you know this?”

“Because I’m part of the Happening. And we know everything. Come with us, Mae. Seek revenge of you step-father. Kill your mother.”

“I … I don’t want to kill anyone.”

The man smirked and raised the pickax. “Too bad. Because I’m not really giving you a choice.”

The Unconcerned

It was up to her to investigate how the accident really happened. She’d been put in charge of this one, her first real case. She couldn’t screw it up.

She adjusted her shoulder bag and looked up at the departures screen. Flight UA116 was departing on time. Of course it was. The one time she wouldn’t have minded a delay, the plane was actually on time. She betted that her luggage wouldn’t get lost either. That was the way air travel worked ; it favored the unconcerned.

She wandered to the Starbucks, feet shuffling and head down. She’d rather be with Alex this weekend. They’d planned to jog along the High Line in Chelsea and get lunch at Bubby’s. And yet, when she’d told Alex that she had to fly to Malaysia, he his face hadn’t registered surprise or even worry. In fact, if she’d read him correctly — and she was very good at this — he’d been relieved.

“Can I help you?” asked the dark-skinned woman at the counter.

“Grande misto please, with soy.”

“Name?”

“Maggie.”

The woman nodded and tapped the screen with her long, purple and silver-starred fingernail. Maggie handed her the company’s credit card.

“What’s this?” the woman said as she turned the card over. “You work for the F.A.A?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not one of those air marshals, are you?”

Maggie laughed. “No. But I couldn’t really tell you if I was anyway.”

The woman smirked. Her lips were purple too. Maggie decided she was prettier that most fast food employees. She at least cared enough to put on make-up.

“So where are you going today?”

The Impostor

He left on a Friday afternoon and the room was more than empty. It was hollow. He had taken all of the energy of the place with him when he packed himself into the carseat and waved goodbye. She knew that he would return later, but she sensed that it would be different. There was no real reason to believe so. Just a foreboding premonition absently tickling the back of her mind. Sort of a feeling; one that is not all together dissimilar from the type of feeling you get when you have forgotten something but you are not quite sure what it is.

The house seemed cold without him. She had called into work that day believing that he needed her to drive him to doctor, but he had put her off, insisting that he was fine to do so himself.

“Won’t there be medications? Won’t you be groggy after the procedure?”

“No, no. I don’t want you to have to worry about me, darling. It will be fine. will be fine.”

She made him swear that he was telling the truth before she finally agreed to let him go by himself. But now she found herself with nothing to do today. She looked at her watch. Five hours. He would return in five hours.

She spent the rest of the day pacing up and down the hall, only breaking to eat a protein bar and some cashews for lunch. She didn’t really eat much and worried that the vegetables and fruits her doctor told her to consume were genetically modified. Even if the label said that they weren’t. She knew better. But you can’t live on protein bars he had said. She politely disagreed. Oh, she had lost some hair. Her teeth had yellowed a bit as her skin adopted a papery pallor. But she had survived. Just fine, thank you.

By the time she heard the car pull into the drive it was dark. The headlights blazed bright across the hallway’s dark walls and she could see that she had worn a smooth, bare trail into the carpet. It was the only evidence of what she had done all day.

The key in the lock.

The click of the deadbolt.

The flick of the light switch.

He was home.

“Sue. I’m back. Are you here?”

She looked up from the path she had been studying on the carpet and moved like a whisper into the foyer.

“How–” The breath caught in her throat. Who was this? This was not Tom.

“Sue. There you are.”

She backed away from him. She hoped it looked casual.

“Tom? Tom.”

“Yes. Sue, is everything okay?”

But it was not Tom. He looked like Tom, but that smell. Oh, that smell.  The stench of germicide masked the faintly human smell beneath it. But even that seemed manufactured. Injected. Created. Unnatural.

She would need to rid the house of this impostor.

Cloudscape

“Is it still missing?” I asked as I shut the door and stripped off my coat. The puppy jumped at my feet, her hind legs lifting into the air with each small hop.

“Yes,” he answered.

“How is that even possible?” I tossed my hat onto the table and dropped my bag next to it. The puppy pulled at my tights with her teeth. “Bad dog,” I said much less sternly than I’d intended.

“I don’t know, but it is.”

I glanced at the television. Yes. It was true. The plane was still missing. Flying through the sky one moment, fencing with clouds and shrieking through the atmosphere, like a great white goose migrating North for summer. Yet, it never made it to its destination. The bird fell out of the sky over the ocean, at some point when we had looked away, just when we thought that those things don’t happen anymore.

And what of all the people? What had they thought? Had they hoped? Did they even know until it was too late?

Or perhaps they’d never felt anything at all. I’d like to think that they plane is still flying. That it passed through a curtain separating this time and another. It’s still sailing through the sky, looking down upon our planet from a distance, wondering at its beauty and looking forward to touchdown.

This is what I  imagine happened.