Ascent

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A elderly man's dying wish can only be granted by the pigeons he feeds.

Submitted: November 09, 2015

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Submitted: November 09, 2015

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As the fluorescent lights pop on, one aisle at a time, the adrenaline inside of me begins to swirl. It won’t be long until I see my pigeons.

The hardware store opens at an ungodly hour, which suits me fine since I have forgone sleeping, and now dedicate most of my time to the lives of my children. And they are hungry. It unnerves me how hungry they could be.

In aisle 12 of the hardware store is where they keep the bird seed.

The first 8 years I fed them, I used a generic seed, but now I am much more picky. I gently place my hand against each tightly packed plastic of bag of seed. I feel for a heart beat. A pulse. The right bag always has a heart beat. I go from bag to bag to bag to bag until… THERE IT IS. A faint beat against the palm of my hand.

Then I smell the seed.

If the smell is off, I will toss it aside. If the seed smells of life, of fresh skin, sweet sweat, if I can smell the salt of tears, and the excitement of breath, I take that bag. I pay the exact amount with exact change every time, and I leave the store, never once making eye contact with another living soul.

I have offered a handful of seed to the bus driver everyday for the past year, but he has politely refused each time. He smiles at me the same way my wife used to, before she left this earth, but I have not once smiled back. I save my energy for the children.

Bus passengers frequently glance at the 20-pound bag of seed I carry with me on a daily basis. I sit it beside me like a passenger. If it sulks forward, or falls to the side, I am quick to prop it upright as I would an elderly lady missing her spine. Sometimes I even rest my arm around the seed, as if we were intimate. Very seldom does a passenger ask to use the seat, but when they do, I oblige, and carry the seed in my lap, lovingly.

My bus ride takes exactly 23 minutes to get downtown, to my very own corner. On this corner it is as if the Gods have spread the buildings and pedestrians away, so it is there solely for me.

There is a gigantic building that used to be the main post office, which has not been inhabited in twenty years. It is abandoned. Left to die and crumble into the river beside it. Beneath the street runs a railway, which shakes the pavement on a bi-minutely basis. Down the street to the East are apartment buildings all facing away from my corner. To the west is a rail station in which beggers, hustlers, and whores gather to gossip and do business.

The adrenaline swirling in my gut, begins to boil and fill my veins as we approach the corner. It is a magical thing. Bus passengers stare in amazement as pigeons begin flying beside the bus as it drives at the minimum speed down the street way.

Pigeons descend as if from heaven. They grow larger in number as we get closer to the corner, as if the bus were being escorted to the corner by a fighter jet squadron of birds.

They never look inside the bus, but they know I am there. Hundreds of buses pass down the street at the same time of morning every day, yet the pigeons know which bus I’m on every single time.

When the air brakes sigh as the bus stops at the corner, it is as if the bus has made a call to the wild.

Pigeons erupt from underground crevices, float and dive down from above, appear from around corners, and fill the air, practically blocking out the morning sun. Passengers are afraid to get off of the bus, which helps to make my corner truly mine, and no one else’s.

Before I even step foot off of the bus, the air around the doorway becomes a tunnel.

Pigeons hover in the air, while making a way of passage so I may pass and take my place at the throne: An aged milk crate, which sits on the sidewalk by a wall.

I never sit on the crate. Instead I slowly climb onto it. Sometime I purposefully struggle and stumble so a group of pigeons will come to my rescue to prevent me from falling over, bumping and nudging me upright to stand before them.

I look into their eyes, and I can see when they have had a rough night. It sounds insane, but every living thing experiences struggle, and no living being can hide it.

I can see who is truly hungry, and who went elsewhere to snack on lesser seed, from a lesser man. And I can see how they adore me, which I am counting on, because I expect a lot from them. We’ve got a deal. And it’s been a long time in the coming. Now, I need to cash in.

I watch as some of the pigeons turn to each other and speak secret words, and I know they are talking about me. I wink at the secretive birds and flash my best smile. It was a smile I was saving my energy for. The pigeons flash the breasts and beat their wings knowingly, then depart to feed amongst the others pecking up every seed off of the pavement.

To human passersby I am a statue. They walk right past me, and I will smile, but I, on a crate, adorned with pigeons, am no longer one of them.

I like to step down and mix with my crowd. I throw the seed to the birds, as I would to a child crawling before me. They devour it and immediately ask for more. If adrenaline is still possible in a body like mine, the birds make it so. The excitement of the possibility. The excitement of life!

I fed them wildly. I stood back atop that milk crate, and, like an orchestra conductor, fed those birds, whipping my hands up and down, left and right, sending seed into the air and onto the ground. And they ate. Growing stronger, as I grew weaker.

My strength has diminished to such an extent that I realize I have mere days or hours, possibly months, though doubtful, to go on. Which is why my load of seed today, was bigger than others. I believe.

As my pigeons attacked the seed I spread across the pavement, I slowly, gently, picked up my crate, shuffled over, and set it in the middle of the hundreds of pigeons that have gathered.

I put my foot on the crate, determined to climb back onto it. To address my children one last time. But I stumbled. Backward. I imagined myself falling into an open sewer. But I stopped myself.

I stood there for a moment. Watching the pigeons in an eating frenzy. A smile formed. I pushed both hands back against the side of my head, massaging my temples, pushing my hair back.

Then I looked at the pigeon herd, on that busy street corner, and walked into the middle of them all, pecking and flapping, and coo-ing, and caw-ing, and just being anything but human.

I climbed my milk crate. And I stumble. I actually purposefully stumble, to see if they will catch me. But they do not. They’re birds. And seed is all that exists to them.

I try to fake a fall again, and this time the birds scatter. It’s even worse than I thought. They don’t know me at all. I SCREAM at the birds. We had had an understanding! I take care of you, you take care of me. Honor your word!

I am determined, and pissed.

I climb, one last climb atop that milk crate. I reach my 98-year-old arms to the sky. I reach for my wife’s hand. I reach past her hand to grab her waist, but I still can’t feel her. I wait. I wait for my body to leave the ground, for my arms to grow higher, for my soul to lift and meet hers. But it does not.

I clutch my fist so hard, bones snap. I extend my arm to an unnatural length and joints pop, creak, and dislodge. Tears begin to burn my cheeks. I can taste blood in my mouth, leaking into my throat from the torn flesh of my inner cheek, captured between my old teeth. I stretch my neck toward the clouds, but it gets stuck. My knees begin to vibrate. My pelvis shakes uncontrollably, and my legs give way.

I know I am about to fall, so I jump with all my might, begging to be an inch closer to her. I elevate a mere centimeter, then return to the milk crate where my feet crumble, my ankle snaps, my legs fold in two, and my body topples backward, falling toward hell.

Just before my skull cracks against the pavement the world stops.

I freeze, mid-air, lying mostly horizontal to the sidewalk, looking at two clouds that remind me of my wife’s favorite earrings. And then the world moves.

But this time, very slowly. I rise upward toward the clouds.

I glance to the side to see the pigeons have made good on their promise. They have caught me. Pigeons embrace every inch of my body, they hover beneath my back, they hold onto my clothing, they tug at my hair, clutch my shoestrings, and cradle my weak head. And they use the strength they’ve gained from years of eating the best seed I could find, to elevate my body from the ground.

My ascent is slow at first. I am able to take one last look at my corner. A tear of joy splashes next to the milk crate. Then the pigeons push with all of their might, taking me into the sky with them, past the clouds, toward a new corner, where my wife waits for me.


© Copyright 2017 Lawrence Lamovec. All rights reserved.

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