A Flock of Birds

The sun had been up for an hour, hidden above the clouds that brought rain to their Sunday morning. She made oatmeal with honey and two percent milk. He made the coffee and toast. They sat across from each other at the oak table at the end of the kitchen. The bay window admitted a view of the gathering storm. He had the comics section, culled from the Sunday paper, folded beside his plate. She had nothing to read, and stared out the window at the back garden while she ate.

“Everything is like a flock of birds,” she said, taking a last sip of her coffee. A little more remained but it had gone tepid and bitter. She set the cup down and pushed it away.

“They settled here a while and ate seeds and bathed in the fountain, she said.” “Then one by one flittered up and flew away.”

“Everything is?” he said, but did not look up from the comic strip that was making him smile.

“What?”

He stirred the coffee in his cup and finally looked up at her. “You said everything is like birds. You can’t mean this house is like a flock of birds, or this table, or me. You can’t say everything is like anything because some things are not. Some things are like other things or nothing makes any sense. So what do you mean by everything?”

“I mean life. Life as I thought life was and would be. Life got startled and flew away. Nothing is quite right anymore, and I don’t understand.”

“I see,” he said. “The birds are an existential metaphor; at breakfast, no less.”

“If you insist.”

“I do.” He held the newspaper in front of him and snapped it like a great pair of wings and folded it to see the next page. “Life saw the great cosmic cat in the yard and scattered, took to the trees.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“No, no. Yes. Teasing a bit. So what kind of birds?”

“What?”

“What kind of birds flew away and left nothing but memories?”

“Not real birds.”

“I know,” he said. “But since you’re imagining them, what kind of birds do you see?”

“Little ones. Sparrows.”

“Hungry, nervous little things. No mockingbirds, no hawks or gulls? Nothing more formidable?”

“Just the little birds, like I said. They’re gone and it makes me sad.”

“Well, it’s not quite spring yet, and pretty soon …”

“I realize they come and go and I might blink and see them all returned, or just a few, or many more than ever. I’m talking about how I feel. They’re gone forever, every one of them.”

“And took away the waters of the birdbath, the withered petals and the yellow leaves? I think you need another cup of coffee, Dear.”

“Maybe so. I’m still tired. But it threatens to sour my stomach.”

“I never digest anything well anymore,” he said.

She ignored this, remembering the day when she was four or five and her mother took her to the pond. They had half a loaf of stale bread, to feed the ducks. The large, demanding goose frightened her, and she wept.

“We still have the summer, the memories of it. And it was wonderful. I should be grateful to God for my memories.”

“I understand. And then, you also still have me,” he said.

He pushed away from the table, picked up his bowl and cup and took them to the sink. He started the hot water flowing and went back for her cup and bowl, and the small plate on which they shared the toast. He washed everything in lemony soap while she sat at the table by the window and watched the cold rain fall.

 

 Kyle Kimberlin

Creative Commons Licensed

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The Larger Death

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. You were probably aware; I believe it was announced. So last night I sat here at my desk and read a few lines from Ripening by Wendell Berry:

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead!*

Ol’ Wendell knows a thing or two about the human heart. So in keeping with the spirit of romance and earthly love, here’s a vignette, a bit of love story fiction by me. I wrote it and it’s mine and the author of it is me. (I’m teasing a someone who thinks I post too much stuff by other people.)

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An After Dinner Walk

There was a day – late summer because the days were still long and warm – when we decided to go for a walk after dinner. I thought it was a poor idea, being full and sleepy. I wanted to sit and watch a game or the news, to have the cat ju­mp up in my lap and fall asleep, purring.

We started out briskly. She was in the lead as always, with her quick clipped steps. By the time we passed the gray bungalow with white window frames, two doors down, she was pulling ahead. She walked like a grade school principal on her way to break up a fight.

Hey, after dinner walks are customarily taken at a more leisurely pace.

Oh, you have the book of customs for taking walks. I’ve been looking everywhere for that. You need exercise. 

Madam, I will not have you walk me like a dog. Slow down and enjoy the stroll, or forge ahead alone.

No need to get mad.

I’m not. I’m just saying.

The bird bath in Mrs. Aldernecht’s front yard was full of fir tree needles again. The morning paper was gone from her drive, which meant she was getting too old to care for the birds, but not too sick to go outdoors. I was relieved.

Two doors farther and across the street, Charlie Harmon stood in his open garage, polishing his Yamaha. His wife left him, took the kids, but he kept those tires black and the chrome bright. He had a new satellite dish, bolted to the chimney high above the roof.  Reaching from the corporeal to the divine. We waved to him.

We reached the end of the block and turned, went on and turned again, circling back to the house. In the kitchen, she poured a glass of wine. She offered me the bottle but I shook my head.

You didn’t want to go on? I said.

What?

We went around the block, and didn’t go on to the park.

No.

She went to watch Jeopardy on the bedroom TV, to change her clothes, to drink the wine. I sat at the table and watched the last light from the window strike a metal rooster trivet hanging by the stove.

I wish we had gone on to the park, so I could pick a flower for her to have. Someone would be playing Frisbee with a dog.

Everything would be different if she had held the flower I picked for her and watched the dog running and jumping. We would have gone on to the playground, and seeing the children playing there, we would have gone home to make one of our own. Charlie would have sold the motorcycle and got his wife and family back, and I could have cleared the needles and filled the birdbath with water, to keep Mrs. Aldernecht out of the nursing home.

We turned and turned and the dog never played. The children never played and the sun went down. Then there was a day after dinner when she wasn’t there. Then neither was I. But sometimes I pick a flower, hold it for a while. When nothing happens, I let it drop.

An After Dinner Walk
by J. Kyle Kimberlin
Is Creative Commons Licensed

Once There Was A Man

I was just thinking. If my life was a book, what kind would it be? Not a novel, I think. Not a phone book, a pretty blank journal, or a coffee table book of surreal watercolors. Possibly a crafting book: 101 Things to Make with Macaroni and Elmer’s Glue. More likely, a chapbook of disjointed poems, printed on plain paper, galleys partly assembled and dedication unwritten. You would find it in a desk drawer, under a collection of old birthday cards.

And if that’s true, metaphorically, shouldn’t I do something about it? Life should be a travel book of images: Kyle’s Amazing Walkabout Through Time and Space.

Scary, isn’t it? This mortality business, I mean. This urge to do something and be something in our brief passage. And it doesn’t make it easier that life turns out to be memory and that memory is fragments. It all makes plot conjectural at best.

Once there was a man
who failed at everything he tried
but wrote it all down
before he died.

– from Good Stories by William Greenway, in today’s Writer’s Almanac.

Anyhoo, here’s a flash fiction piece I wrote a few years back; a story about a story. It was fun to write.

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What She Said

Here’s a bit of flash fiction, a scene of departure. Someone I love said the first sentence to me once, years ago, in a much different context. I wrote it in my notebook and in time it morphed into this small piece. An earlier version was previously posted in this space. I think it has improved. 


“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me. Just so you know, you really have no idea.” That’s what she said.

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Garden Window

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I always loved music. Trumpets and guitars especially, or a nice clear piano. Dance music or grave ballads, it didn’t matter. But here, only scratching sounds come through my window, like when the record ends and the needle skips against the label. Rats’ feet on dry boards. Not so much sound as the impression of it, the idea of someone whispering about me in a faraway room, about my problems and how I am nothing. So if a sound like music came through, perhaps two or three notes as from a tuba or a vibrating pipe, I could try to have hope.

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The Box He Carried

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

– Marcel Proust, novelist

No. Sorry, Marcel, but I’m not buying it. I don’t believe that it’s himself that the reader finds in a book; it’s not a mystical selfie. The best writing is a sort of tribal drum that calls us out of our isolation and into the firelight of the commonalities of humanity. Art helps us understand the suffering and hope that we share, not the machinations of the ego.

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The Things People Say

Someone once said that a writer is a person who observes the suffering of others and decides to take a few notes. Maybe it was me, because I can’t find it with Google. If you know the source of the quote, let me know. Unless it was me, then I don’t want to know.

Anyway, I was in a coffeehouse one day, as far as you know, and I overheard a woman say this to a guy. I imagined what it might portend and wrote this little flash fiction piece. It was originally in third person, but I think first person lends a greater sense of intimacy.

What She Said

“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me.  Just so you know, you really have no idea.”  That’s what she said.

I stood there in the bright sunlight, shielding my face with my hand and watching her where she stood in the shadowed doorway. I was trying to see, for the last time, how blue her eyes were. And I knew she was right.

I could tell you everything, from the first time I saw her in the park with her dog, wearing a pale yellow sun dress, no shoes. And how when I spoke to her, she took off her dark glasses so I could see those eyes.

As long as I can remember, my life has gone in the same direction. I’ve heard it’s possible to turn around, but I keep going the same way – mostly north, into cold country. Until that day in the park, when we stopped to talk about dogs. It was like I clapped my hands and everything changed. Or like she spoke and I believed.

Now everything has changed again, and of course she was right. I have no one to blame but myself.

My pickup was parked at the curb. As I turned and saw its faded green paint, it looked like a friend who knew I screwed up and didn’t care, who knew the roads where I might find hope, food, and a place to sleep.  As I passed in front of it, I felt the heat from the radiator, and I heard her finally slam the door.

Birds singing.  Dogs barking.  Maybe her dog, clawing its way up the back of her sofa to yell at me through the picture window.  A Cessna droned overhead, so I stood for a moment beside the truck to watch it go.  As a boy, I loved to lie on my back in the grass and watch the planes.  The sound of them could push me to the brink of sleep.

Merging onto the freeway, the growl of the engine working through its gears covers every sound but the rush of air.  Sometimes the right thing to do is right in front of you, but its impossible. The mind stands back and begs for time, and the heart defends its solitude.  I hate doing what I did and I know that I will pay for it.  She was right, and this will be a long road to drive all night.

When I reach the coast and see the sun go down in front of me, I’ll have to bear right at the junction and head north.

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What She Said by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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