Bird and Ghost

Source: Black Heart Magazine

Izzy hates seagulls, calls them winged rats. She tells me they’ll peck my body bloody if I’m ever on this roof alone at sundown.

“They’ll just do it ‘til you die if nobody is around,” she says.

My city is a ghost and I’d die like it did. Nobody was around, so my city bled ‘til it died and now my city is bones.

Izzy brought me here because she wants to see eagles. I don’t care about birds but I feigned some emotion and followed her up a million metal stairs to the top of the now-vacant arcade where I spent my childhood. We sit above the ransacked Tunnel of Love, our asses burning on hot tar coated in decades of sex and spit and acid rain. Izzy wants to see eagles. And I want to see Izzy see eagles.

She looks through binoculars beside me. “A bird’s eyes can take up fifty percent of its head,” she says. Izzy continues her bird-sermon and I let her words disappear into gales. I watch the oval of tar that separates my blue jeans from her black ones. The gap between us is waning in contrived harmony with the setting sun and now we’re almost touching.

“Why do you come here with me?” Izzy asks.

“I love birds.”

This building was an arcade full of people, and now it’s a ribcage that shelters ghosts. The structure has been vacant for ten years and is decaying like broken teeth. I hear the jangle of tokens in plastic tubs and Skee-balls clacking against their opening theme song, the sounds of ten years ago. I hear they’re tearing it down next year. Condos.

“Do you think they’ll really turn the east side back into something?” Izzy asks.

The east side is where we grew up, where skeletons of hotels half-built were left to sway in storms. Where rusty barrels carried by wind gusts crash into anything in their paths. Entire blocks of homes and theaters were torched and removed after years of city hall corruption, leaving behind not much more than concrete lots wrapped in razorwire. And those lots are surrounded by desolate streets, streets so devoid of life that rather than dandelions shooting through asphalt cracks, the toxic ground births metal rods. These are streets of glass and hospital waste. These are streets nobody walks on, right in the middle of the most densely populated state in the country. These streets are dead ends.

“They’ll do something to it,” I say, “Maybe they’ll make a ‘downtown’ again. Remember Woolworth’s?”

Izzy doesn’t answer because she sees something in her binoculars. A V in the sky, Izzy sees an eagle. She leaps to her feet, she’s pointing and she’s jumping. Her pocket change rains on my head. And I see her see an eagle so I stand too, and then I jump with her because there’s an eagle. She swings her left arm around my shoulder, holding the binoculars to her face with the right. Our bodies slam together like clumsy magnets and my face falls to the alcove between her arm and breast. And I smell her and this is where I want to be. And this is where I stay until she says, “It’s a crow.”

It is a crow and now nobody is jumping. Izzy lowers her binoculars and she whispers, “I’m all right.” The wind howls and she swallows a knotty swatch of her own hair. I swipe it from her bite.

“I bet eagles aren’t even real,” I tell Izzy as she pulls the brim of her black baseball hat over her eyes. “People make things up all the time.”

"Ghost Bird" image by Flickr user gerry

Izzy pulls a bottle of three dollar merlot from her bag and takes a big swig. She hands it to me and then I take a big swig. We finish the bottle. The sun is poised to sink behind the low skyline of condemned Victorians to the west but I’d rather watch the moon bloom from the ocean.

“If you were a ghost, who would you haunt?” I ask her.

“You,” says Izzy, wine stains east and west of her lips. “I’d haunt the fuck out of you.”

“And what would you do?”

“I’d spin the ceiling fan at your bar so fast that it detaches and slices up the whole top shelf. I’d make sea monsters dive in and out of the ocean every time you looked at it. I’d play 45s from the fifties about teenage girls dying in car crashes on your record player at odd hours of the night.”

“My favorite genre.”

Izzy delivers a punch to my sternum. I smack the black baseball hat from her head. We watch the wind swirl it through the air and slam it down it to the boardwalk below.

“Sorry Izzy, I’ll go get it.” I pull myself up by a rusted antenna.

“No, wait.” She grabs my hand and pulls me back to the cooling tar. She has a pink piece of paper in her hand. “I have to read you something,” she says. She reads the whole letter out loud but I only hear one part. “You have thirty days to vacate the property.”

“When did you get this?” My lungs are full of sand.

“Thirty-five days ago.”

“What are you–”

“They’re bulldozing the whole block.” She crumbles the paper into a ball and tries to throw it toward the beach but the wind volleys it back at her face. “It’s just ghosts here anyway.”

“I’m not a ghost, Izzy.”

“I’m going somewhere,” she says, her eyes glued to her dirty fingernails peeling rubber strips from the sole of her shoe. “I’ll figure it out.”

“You can stay with me.”

For a while we are wordless on the roof at the ocean’s edge, itching in suits of ill-fitting skin. She looks at me for an answer to the question she hasn’t asked and I answer, “I’m all right.”

Izzy stands up and pulls another bottle of wine from her bag. She sets it next to me and turns toward the metal steps. Her ankles disappear, then her knees and her hips and her arms and her shoulders and her hair tinted the color of carnelian from the sun’s final rays. I pull my legs close to my body for warmth and stare at those houses to the west, the old Victorian houses that will soon be replaced by condominiums and night clubs.

I don’t know where she’s going. I don’t know if she’s coming back. I didn’t ask. Izzy was all right most of the time and sometimes I’m all right too. If we talked about more than birds and ghosts we’d stop being all right. That’s how people go years without talking about anything. I mean really talking. They direct all of their energy toward just being all right.

Twenty seagulls hover above me as I sit gnawing through apple wax with nobody around. These winged rats, they shit on my head and they shit on my rotten apple but they don’t break my skin. They want this piece of fruit covered in their own waste. I throw the apple over the ledge and hear it slam into the boardwalk where ghosts line up to ride ghost carousels and eat ghost cotton candy. The twenty seagulls dive after the apple but soon they’ll tire of shitty apples as I have. Twenty gulls will come back for me. But before they do I climb down the metal staircase and find Izzy’s hat right where it had fallen.

I bring the black baseball hat up to the roof. I guzzle more wine and close my eyes and at first I smell the sweet musky sweat that hid beneath Izzy’s arm. I let myself sink into wine-warmth as the sun and its heat dip below the next houses up for demolition. The moon is moving west in the path of the sun and then twenty winged rats come back screaming for more fruit.

They came back for me. They scream and shit all over me and one swoops down so close that feathers brush my cheek. Maybe they don’t want more fruit. “They’ll peck your body bloody.” That’s what Izzy said. I’m here and the sun’s light is barely with me. Nobody’s around and they’ll peck my body bloody.

But above my head is an eagle. I know because it’s not a crow. I know because the seagulls screech and fly away. I sit on top of this building’s corpse gripping a bottle of budget wine with an eagle floating above and I’m all right.

I hold Izzy’s hat in my hands. I stare at it and I lose nothing. But I know if I look away, something else will disappear like a hatless head down a metal staircase at the edge of an abandoned building on the brink of new wave of colonization. I don’t even let myself blink.

Izzy’s not coming back. But if she does I’ll say everything but “bird” and “ghost.”

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