by Nathan Ihara
Your house is so normal that sometimes when you wake up you forget.
You look through the telescope but no bird. It has been two months since a bird. What if, what if, what if. A storm, eaten by a larger bird, or worse, what if—but it is no use thinking like that.
Rations of coffee are low. Rations of oatmeal are okay. Rations of rice: okay. Rations of ice cream: none. Rations of milk: none. What you would give for a cow.
Your arms are long and elegant and could belong to a man or a woman. They lift the porcelain cup of coffee to your soft lips. Are you a man or a woman? It does not matter. You will never see another human again, most likely, and so what does it matter? There are no mirrors so you forget what you look like. There is one old silver spoon and you hold it up. There is somebody in it, a stretched sad somebody, or, on the other side, a great round somebody. But they are small and tarnished and do not give you a good idea. There was a mirror once, you think, but something happened to it. Ah—you threw it off the skyscraper. In a fit. A wild fit. You have wild fits, from being all alone, from never getting to see another person, from not knowing your own face, from waiting, from lack of milk.
Sometimes, in a fit, you think you will take the elevator down. Which is absurd. And the elevator, the machinery, the cable—it is not safe. A hazard—the world is full of ridiculous hazards. Only your house is normal, on top of the skyscraper, but the elevator is not safe. There is a plaque in the elevator that says it was last serviced. . . . two hundred eleven years ago.
But, you think, you could. Just step into the elevator, as if everything were the same, press L for "lobby," and descend. Into a normal lobby, with normal people, and step outside into a normal world—but it is no use thinking like that.
You look through your telescope but no bird.
What if the person who you send the bird to, and who sends you the bird, is sick? Or what if he or she—you do not know if he or she is a he or she—is too sick to send the bird back? Or worse: stuck between two heavy objects? Or in a hole? Or eaten by a Giant? Dead. And then you are really finally all alone.
Rations of water are okay. Rations of shoes are okay. Rations of candles are okay.
You have a phonograph, but no records. You should throw it off the skyscraper, but you like the elegant shell-like spout of it.
Rations of records: none.
You look through the telescope and see a Giant. It is coming over the mountains, stooped low, feeling the ground for something to eat. It can't see, because it does not have any eyes. It is wearing overalls. Its head is a flower.
The Giants look like people but much larger, and with strange heads. The most terrible ones have vacuum-cleaner head.
The world is full of ridiculous hazards.
There you are, with your long arms, in your normal house, on top of the falling-apart skyscraper, surrounded by hazard, waiting for the bird. This is your life.
You can feel a fit coming. You start singing a nonsense song. You should be quiet because of the Giant, but, oh, it does not have any ears anyway, and what do you care? You don’t care if the Giant knocks down the skyscraper, if the Giant eats you. You are sick of no ice cream, of no records. You lift the phonograph, and lug it to the edge. But then—
You look through the telescope and yes. Bird.
Goldfinch, yellow as mustard, as dandelion. Furious wings against an overcast sky. Closer and closer with each furious beat.
What has the bird seen? Over blooming hills, and bubbling lakes. Thousands of miles of untold hazard. Deserts. Dinosaurs? Blackberries the size of buses. What is left of Salt Lake City.
The bird alights. It is fluffing and rearranging—not paying attention to you. You put out water and seed on the table and it comes inside.
What did the bird bring? It does not seem to have brought anything. No gift or message.
Why not? Why did he or she, living wherever he or she lives, at that unknown point at the other end of the bird's flight, in his or her boat or cave, not send something back with the bird? Does that mean something in of itself? Does it mean, I am tired, I want to be alone? A normal pause in their conversation of things-sent-by-bird, a breath. Or what if he or she is sick? Or in a hole?
You had sent a grain of rice (rations of rice: okay) exactly carved with where you live: the normal house on the falling-apart skyscraper with your arms sticking out of the window. You do not know what you look like, so you could not carve yourself onto the grain of rice—that is why you only carved your arms. You thought maybe he or she would like to know where you live, and who knows, maybe someday—though this is impossible—if the Giants go to sleep, and the hazards become less ridiculous, less hazardous, and the elevator starts working again, he or she would like to come and visit, and would know where to go, where to come to.
You had put the rice inside a plastic egg and tied the egg to the bird's leg, and it is not there anymore. Which means he or she got the rice! Or, that it has fallen off, in the wind, on the way. What kind of knot did you tie? You try to remember what the knot looked like, how many loops it had. You imagine the egg with the rice in various places, in the hands of the other person, hanging from the branch of a tree, floating on the surface of a bubbling lake. Which image seems the most vivid?
The bird coughs. Or it opens its beak, and you imagine that it is coughing. Is it sick? Do birds get sick? Is it choking? Do birds choke? You tap its back with your index finger, in case it has something stuck in its throat. You feel foolish doing this, but you are worried about the bird.
It spits out a smooth black seed. It is not one of the seeds it has been eating, they are yellow and round, and this seed is larger and shaped like an almond.
It is marvelously black and shiny.
This is the gift.
You go around looking for dirt. Rations of dirt: very low. There is a little dirt on the feet of the bird, and you scrape it off with a fork. Dirt from far away. There is some dirt in the bathtub. Dirt from your body. Dirt in the carpet. Dirt on the windows. A small bowl of dirt.
How much sun, how much water? It did not come with directions. Every time you water, you wince, thinking, that is too much, I am drowning the seed. But then, the next morning, you think, I must water it. You move it from the table to the window sill and back again.
The bird likes to stand on the lip of the phonograph. Thank goodness you did not throw it off the edge.
You are already planning what to send back, but you must wait to see what he or she has sent you.
One week, two weeks. You stay up some nights, looking at the bowl of dirt.
Rations of coffee: gone.
You have a feeling this is no ordinary seed.
About the author:
Nathan Ihara fiction can be read online at Eyeshot, Opium, and Sweetfancymoses. He has written extensively for the LA Weekly, and his essay on punching Harmony Korine appeared recently in Post Road. He is a masters graduate of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. Nathan lives in Northern California where he plays and deals poker to support himself as he works on his first novel.