No Wings

A dead bird is lying in the gutter, by the bus stop. Its wings are bent at impossible angles, and a red ribbon of blood winds through the dust, away from the broken head. Through dirt-streaked glass, the girl at the bus stop is watching ants crawl over the black feathers. She closes her eyes and leans back against the glass. The sidewalk is dusty and the air is dry; it has not rained in weeks. The grass in the cemetery across the street is tinted brown, and worn, like old green velvet.

A young man ducks into the bus stop shelter, swearing bitterly at the cold. Shivering, he shoves his hands deeper into the pockets of his thin windbreaker and leans against the wall opposite the girl. He is staring at the ground, tracing the cracks in the pavement, where nothing grows, not even weeds. When he glances over at her, she is looking across the street, at something in the cemetery. He coughs and lights a cigarette. The smoke rises disappearing to the ceiling, and he stares blankly at the sidewalk again. Ash falls from the cigarette to the cement, forming a small grey drift which is protected from the wind by the glass. He watches absently as a bug crawls over the toe of his shoe. When it reaches the pavement on the other side, he moves his foot and places it in the insect's path again. It struggles to climb the impossible slope again, but fails repeatedly. Eventually, he moves his foot and the bug continues at high speed towards wherever it was going. He looks over at the girl again, but she hasn't moved. The glass is smoky, and the sky is too grey. Across the street, in the cemetery, nothing moves. Then,

"Beautiful day," she says, with a note of wonder in her voice that makes him look up, expecting the sun, although he knows that he has not seen the sun in weeks. Outside, the sky is grey and the air is grey and it is not beautiful. He notices that she is not looking at the sky. She is looking at something in the gutter by the bus stop. He sees the bird, and is not surprised. Then, because it seems that the girl is waiting for some sort of answer, he laughs harshly, and says,

"That bird wasn't here yesterday. At least, I didn't see it. But maybe I wasn't looking."

"Maybe not," she says without emphasis, but he realizes that she knows already that it is exactly the kind of thing he looks for.

"Poor thing," he says.

"Yes, poor thing," she answers indifferently. She is thinking about what a waste it is for a dead thing to have wings. He drops his cigarette and stamps it out, lighting another immediately. This time, he offers her the pack, but she shakes her head and pushes the raincoat at her feet out of the way a little.

"How do you suppose it died?" She speaks softly, and it is not really a question, although she phrases it like one. He answers her anyway.

"Who knows. Just one of those things, I guess. Doesn't really matter anyway."

She doesn't reply. The silence becomes awkward, and he looks over to gauge her reaction. Her eyes are still fixed on the bird in the gutter; her face is a mask, unreadable. A gust of wind sweeps by, ruffling the bird's feathers slightly, but it doesn't move the air within the glass at all. Finally, he can't stand breathing empty air anymore, so he says,

"I've never seen you here before."

"I don't take this bus, usually. I was visiting my brother." She gestures to the cemetery.

"I'm sorry," he says.

"Don't be. He's not dead; they'll never bury him. Despair is like that." And without bothering to explain this remark, she lapses back into silence.

At the end of the street, a car turns the corner, and his eyes pull it closer until it passes them and disappears abruptly. He can't follow the wheels past the fallen glove, past the winged dead thing at the side of the road.

"It does matter though." He is confused for a moment, and by the time he catches the thread of her thought again, she is continuing. "If it doesn't matter then what was the point? All of this..." She spreads her arms and drops them in a movement of absolute hopelessness. "It's all worthless and nothing means anything if that doesn't matter!" She is almost desperate now, and he is certain that she's about to cry. He moves hesitantly towards her, thinking that he should do something, but not knowing exactly what.

"Look,"he says, trying to calm her down somehow, "I didn't really mean..."

She turns on him, and hisses violently, "You did! Of course you did!" And he's no longer uncertain now, just angry.

"What's it to you anyway, lady? It's just a dead bird, dammit!"

She brushes him off, becoming more upset every second.

"Just a dead bird," she spits back at him, viciously. "You're all so willing to spend your time in cemeteries and wrap yourselves up in pain and never believe anything, and when it doesn't matter to you then I can't matter! I don't mean anything!" She advances, and he backs up to the wall, wanting to melt into the glass, because suddenly she is glowing, incandescent. Her hands shake with barely-contained power, and she has grown taller. The glass walls are singing, about to shatter.

"Look!" she shrieks, "Look out there! It's beautiful and you don't see it because you're all too damn busy looking for the wrong things, and I'm dead. I'm dead. If that doesn't matter, then I died with that bird and there is nothing left!" She is crying now, sobbing, with tears streaming down her face, but he is too terrified to move. She sinks to the ground, and as suddenly as it appeared, her light is gone, and she's just a girl sobbing quietly in the corner.

He relaxes a little, watching her warily, but she doesn't move, except for her shaking shoulders. She has her arms wrapped around her knees, and her head is bowed, hidden by a fringe of hair, the same blue-black as the feathers of the bird in the gutter. She is whispering broken phrases and words that he can't hear. Cautiously, he slides to the ground and sits with his back to the glass, watching her intently. Her crying subsides slowly, until she is merely huddled in the corner breathing shallowly. Finally, she raises her head a little and says quietly and clearly,

"I am so tired. I'm tired and I'm lost and I think I might be dead as well. Funny, because I don't feel dead." She laughs bitterly. "I'm not supposed to die."

She looks directly at him and he is hit for the first time in his life with the full force of despair. Her eyes are utterly empty, and the expression on her face is too much for him to comprehend. He looks away quickly, and thinks that she must be right, that she could be dead.

At this point, he is past rationalizing anything.

The girl looks back at the bird in the gutter. She smiles, an acid, twisted smile, and gets up slowly. She goes out to the side of the road and kneels by the gutter, drinking in the dirt and the blood and the broken wings with her eyes, and no longer noticing the way light reflects off the blue-black feathers. Stretching out one hand and, she traces the outline of the twisted neck and the broken wings in the air just above them, and then glances back over her shoulder. Something there catches and holds her attention, and slowly she breaks into a real smile.

He is watching her at first, when she walks out to the curb and kneels by the bird, but something distracts him. Something in the sky catches and holds his attention, and now he is watching black wings in the distance trail across the pale sun, and smiling.

She gets up and walks back to the bus stop. Inside the glass walls there is no wind, but she picks up her raincoat and pulls it on. He looks over at her a little blankly, as though he had momentarily forgotten about her.

"Are you alright?" he asks mildly, noticing that it looks as though she has been crying.

"I'll be fine, thanks," she answers. She looks over at him and he looks back curiously with no trace of fear, or even recognition.

"Beautiful day, isn't it?" he says.

"Yes. I heard it's supposed to rain later."

"Rain? That would be great- break up this dry spell." He pauses. "I've never seen you here before," he says hesitantly.

"I don't usually take this bus. I was visiting my brother." She gestures to the cemetery.

"I'm sorry."

"That's alright. Thanks though." She smiles sadly and traces something on the glass with delicate fingers. It begins to rain. The number eleven bus turns the corner and slows down as it approaches the stop.

"This is my ride," she says, pulling up the hood of her raincoat and beginning to turn away.

"Hang on. Can I...ah...can I get your number?" He smiles shyly.

She shakes her head, says, gently, "I don't live around here. Sorry."

"Well, what's your name then?" he asks, grinning.

"Hope," she answers. "It was nice meeting you." And she waves once and turns away, and steps onto the bus, leaving him looking at the bird in the gutter through glass beaded with light like diamonds, and watching the rain wash away the blood.