It all started with a bit of a cough. A heh-heh-heh and the clearing of a throat. I ignored it, as I was lost in the rising hope that perhaps, I was on the verge of not a Heh-heh moment but more of an A-Hah, lightbulb over my head, I get it, I finally get it, I can see it, it was always right there just waiting for me to...I slap my forehead and smile inwardly at my own stupidity. To be SEEN, one must first learn how to SEE the signs. No, not the big Times Square neon light display, nor, in my case the Flickering Flame at the end of the block that never, no not ever, goes out.
I glance over my shoulder. Shrug off the cough and return to what for me is an exquisite encounter with an idea still slightly shrouded in shadow, but even at this distance, I can see the outline of footprints leading out of town, and looking down at the soles of my familiar yellow boots, I see it. The footprints are mine. Perfect prints of the rubber ridges I run my palms over, back and forth, back and forth. I have been forth. Time to try back. Go back. Back and forth. Forth and back. I am rocking to and fro, rocking back and forth, in search of a rhythm, a familiar beat, my head nodding, body swaying in search of a sense of direction. Clicking my fingers, shimmy shimmy shaking shoulders, I hear the bass notes. No, I feel the bass notes and I tap my foot on the floor. Then the other. I am getting ready to dance. I need a partner. It's scary far away, critters lie in wait in the shadows, and dancing is much more fun with a partner. That's it, I need a partner. I see the footprints in the distance. My footprints.
Only my footprints. Heh-heh-heh-heh.
￼Only my footprints. Pepper.
Pepper is coughing.
Pepper is lying on the bottom of his cage, curled into a fevered feathered little ball, barely breathing. His chest barely moves. I place one finger inside the cage and gently smooth down his ruffled feathers. A prank. This must be one of his more sinister and desperately seeking affectations, the ones he morphed into back in the day, when the only way to derive affection was to arouse significant attention. Even if the attention meant the addictive soothing of a few drops of whiskey on his tongue, just enough attention so that he would be still. Sleep through. Be no bother. Return to roost. Step up up up the ladder, wobbly legs tethered by talons wrapped instinctively around the post, until the towel over the cage shut out the sights and the sounds of the world beyond the bars. Sinking into the stupor of his good old friend Jack Daniels, and easing into the woozy haze of dreams, dreams of flapping wings, flying high, clipping the tops of trees and dipping into the creek at the edge of the wild. His escape from the tame. Escape from the same. The tame. The same. The tame. The shame.
The shame. My shame. My shoulder shrugging shame of being so busy trying be seen, to find my way home, that I forgot Pepper. My avian companion, my traveling man, the little guy with the flashlight, the flashy fashion sense, the spats and the wrap around Elvis sunglasses. My night light. My completely non-PC-bleep-the- microphone-staggering-swearing-stand up-comedian is down. And out. Crumpled like a piece paper in my hand. I am cradling his tiny
￼body in the palm of my hand, leaning down and straining to hear the sound of his breath. Or the smell of his usually boozy breath.
Sober. Pepper is stone cold sober and so am I as I hurtle us down the stairs from the studio to the street. The street lights are on and somehow they lead me to a crumbling barn on the outskirts of town. The home of Doc Hatcher, the Vet. The Vet for pets. The Vet for the Pet cradled in my pocket on a blanket of torn tissues and wheezing ominously into the lining of my jeans.
Doc sets Pepper down on the examining table and lays his stethoscope on his chest. The scope is too big for Pepper's britches, so Doc simply leans down and places his ear on his ribcage.
I do not like this new ability of mine to see things in the distance. I do not like it one bit. For now, in the distance, along with the roaring sound in my ears, I see one set of footprints. One. Only one. Leading away. Away from here.
Leave him with me, Doc says. Leave him till the morning. We'll see, Doc says, we'll see.
And I do as he says, even though, Doc doesn't know what I have already seen.
Words echo in my head, as I return the following morn, knowing I am soon to mourn, for the refrain has tumbled through my head through a long and sleepless night...
Robert Frost again..."and be one traveler long I stood". One traveler. Not two.
￼As I enter the barn, I am one traveler for sure, as the cage door is open, Pepper is gone. Doc is gone. I lift the cage and straighten the little red ladder one more time, and a feather floats out. A fashionably festive feather, rainbow hued, floating on the air not down, but up up up, caught by the breeze, grabbed by the gusts and flying on into the sky of blue above my head. In the distance, the sound of flapping wings, unfettered wings, a hiccup, and the outline of a pompously plumed creature soaring and bobbing and weaving, threading itself through the morning stars, until it disappears from sight.
It wasn't supposed to end like this. It wasn't supposed to end like this. It wasn't supposed to end like this.
I return to the studio, pack up my CD crate, fold up the table, store the lounge chairs in the closet, and leave the microphone on its stand. I stand, in my yellow wellies, and close the door to the studio one final time. With my hand on the doorknob, I peer through the glass at the empty cage in the corner, and notice once again, the silvery edges of the G and the V and the W scratched into the glass.
In one final gesture, I raise both my hands out at my sides, tilt my head back, and close my eyes. I am on a bike and I am riding into the sun. I lift my feet off the pedals and I am flying, flying down Main Street, with Pepper on my shoulder, and we are free.
We are free and going home.
When I open my eyes, I am on Main Street.
It wasn't supposed to end like this. And a distinctly boozy voice replies...
Maybe it won't. Hic.
Chapter 26 |