Johnny America


[An ear­ly chap­ter of an un­named novel]


The tim­ing was pret­ty ter­ri­ble. It hap­pened right about the time I start­ed see­ing the head­shrinker, which is a pret­ty un­holy co­in­ci­dence, but, ba­si­cal­ly, it was enough to push ad­min over the edge. I was walk­ing in­to the build­ing, a Tues­day morn­ing, just try­ing to fig­ure out how I was gonna make it an­oth­er four days, and found the two se­cu­ri­ty guards stand­ing near the front door, star­ing at their jack­boots. As I got clos­er I re­al­ized they were look­ing at some­thing on the ground, some­thing small­ish-just stand­ing there, look­ing. From a few feet away I re­al­ized it was a bird, dead.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“This bird flew in­to the win­dow,” said Pot Belly.

“Big ol’ thud, man. Fuckin’ stu­pid bird,” said Glass­es, gig­gling like a school­girl while im­i­tat­ing the thud noise, spit­tle land­ing on his badge.

“What are you gonna do?”

“I ain’t doin’ shit,” said Glasses.

“I think they al­ready called the build­ing su­per,” said Pot Bel­ly. “They’ve got the main­te­nance con­tract. They’ll han­dle it.” By han­dle it he meant some boss would send some lack­ey to pick up the car­cass and throw it in the park­ing lot dumpster.

“Bet­ter be quick,” said Glass­es. “It’s gross­ing every­body out right here.”

“The build­ing su­per will han­dle it.”

I went inside.

Two hours lat­er I went out the front door for my morn­ing break and found the car­cass still sit­ting in the same place, un­touched. There were flies buzzing around it, and the beau­ti­ful lit­tle thing looked like it was suf­fer­ing even though my mind told me that was im­pos­si­ble. I could­n’t take it. I looked around for some­way to pick it up. There was noth­ing, the world cov­ered by con­crete. There was no easy way to move her. I don’t know any­thing about birds, but I just felt it was a fe­male bird‑a bird that now left an emp­ty nest some­where, un­guard­ed chicks, a mom­ma bird out look­ing for food or stray bits of cot­ton or fluff to make the nest warm and com­fort­able. Like I said, I just could­n’t take it.

I reached down to pick her up. Just then Glass­es came out­side, a gut­tur­al groan from his stu­pid maw, ap­par­ent­ly dis­gust­ed be­cause I was a touch­ing the poor thing. I picked the bird up and start­ed walk­ing. Be­hind me I could hear Glass­es telling Pot Bel­ly that I’d ‘just picked it up’ with my bare hands, ‘just like that.’ I did­n’t have time for it, I had to find her a lit­tle place. Af­ter walk­ing around the con­crete and as­phalt hell for a few min­utes, I fi­nal­ly hap­pened on to a dirt park­ing lot, the first ac­tu­al earth I could find. Among the trash in the wind-blown cor­ners I found a splin­tered mop han­dle. I knelt down and be­gan to dig. The mop han­dle loos­ened up the cold grav­el and the dirt okay, but did­n’t scoop it very well. I had to dig it up with my hands. Af­ter a minute or so, I fi­nal­ly had a small hole. The sun stung the back of my neck and sweat be­gan at my eye­brows, be­hind my ears, my neck. I dug deep­er. I felt the stares of the oc­ca­sion­al pass­er-by, peo­ple won­der­ing what the hell that crazy man was do­ing. I be­came faint­ly aware of a noise I was mak­ing-some­thing like a grunt and like a sob. It ac­com­pa­nied each drag of the mop handle.

Deep enough, I dropped the beau­ti­ful lit­tle dead bird in­to the makeshift grave. I passed a few kind thoughts about the tran­si­to­ry na­ture of things, the calami­ty of this im­per­fect world we live in, and hoped, if this was a mom­ma bird, for the best for that nest of chicks. I hoped they’d be adopt­ed by a larg­er flock, one that would teach and pro­tect them. Then I cov­ered the car­cass with the fresh-dug earth, pat­ted it down with my dirty hands. Then I found 5 stones, each slight­ly small­er than the stone be­fore, and stacked them up‑a crude head­stone. I felt like cry­ing for the whole stu­pid world, for every-damn-thing and every­one. I was about to. But the noise that came out was a kind of chuck­le in­stead, a lit­tle laugh. A des­per­ate, an­guished gig­gle that then broke in­to a quick, short cack­le. I gath­ered my­self up and walked back to the of­fice, past avert­ed eyes of a few co-work­ers, past stu­pid ol’ Glass­es just dy­ing to ask me what I’d done with the bird. My fin­gers were black with soil and some kind of god­damned salvation.

My fif­teen minute break was over.

Filed under Fiction on September 5th, 2008

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