The Blue Bird (part one)
The Blue Bird
Something buzzed, up like wind can at times, when it slices between gutter and roof edge. And this noise escalated, out of the hinterlands of notice, into skull-gripping alarm. A shock came, too loud to be heard, so loud it was seen instead, a shuddering together of all things, a tablecloth trick that left every glass and plate, lamp and vase, intact where it sat.
The impression of the flash sat on the eyeball. No one was harmed by this, sight returned. For a day, to step outside with ringing ears, and not be certain the brown sky was not ringing, rather, through its fall of cinders, made everyone feel they would wait to be told…what it was, what they might do.
Electricity was out, wireless was out, water soon ran out, and before some had had the sense to fill containers. Then it was necessary for neighbors to creep from their houses and knock at doors. The sky was orange now, in the evenings, sulphur yellow by day. Breathing seemed all right, though. If anything, because no one was driving, the air smelled cleaner. Or it smelled strongly of ozone, and this seemed fresh.
One or two from the neighborhood had gone out to see if the groceries were open, and met a blockade at the end of the street. Their car radios had flared into life, just here, an electronic voice saying the city was under emergency orders.
Stay in your homes. Keep vehicles off public thoroughfares. Wait for instructions.
A truck came on the fourth day, when the sky turned blue, and when they’d begun to feel that the thing—as they individually named it to themselves—might not have been disaster, only anomaly. Or, if disaster, far away. They began to wish then that they’d looked, while it was happening, and could better remember it.
They came out, straggling mostly in ones and twos, fringing the street either side. A few families from their houses, and clusters of renters from the two corner buildings, bulged the line, otherwise a straggling of singles.
The announcement was that food and water would be distributed, that those in need of medical care would be transported, and that the estimated time of the outage was three to seven days.
Keep vehicles off streets.
Since it was just an announcement, the truck moving at a footpace, flagging arms ignored, the message repeated, the windows too dark to see what sort of official was telling them this, Gitana wondered, “Do they mean three days from today…or…”
She spoke aloud, knowing neither man flanking her. One said, “Probably seven days from next week.”
“Have you heard anything?” she asked. The other shrugged, turned away and made for his door…and she had really meant her question for the friendlier one.
“I have a crank radio for emergencies,” he told her. “Kind of eerie, if that’s the word, what’s coming over it. Like someone left a line open in an empty room…and something crazy’s going on just outside, but you can’t quite hear…just bloop, bloop, wah, wah…and a lot of static. I try to keep it going in case the news ever comes on…here,” he said, “do you want to come inside for a minute? I’ll show you.”
“My name is Gitana,” she told him.
“I’m Dave. Everything’s a mess.”
For four days toilets hadn’t flushed, showers could not be taken, dirty dishes mounted. Gitana hadn’t changed clothes—she doubted Dave, layered in pajama top, sweatshirt, and jacket, had either. She told him it was okay, and didn’t apologize for herself.
The radio, on his living room table, sat buzzing; the buzz came rhythmically, a pattern that might have a cause. Now and again the noise broke into fragments of voices.
They sounded like voices…cries or shouts.
“So it’s coming back, a little.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
Gitana, on the third floor, Dave in the basement, hadn’t met…even so far as she knew, to pass in the hallway. He offered a bottle of water. “Go ahead.”
She wanted this water. All she had were drinking glasses she’d filled and lined up on her kitchen counter. But she didn’t like taking it, someone’s emergency cache…the etiquette seemed wrong. Gitana stood for a moment while Dave stood, holding the bottle in his hand.
“I went to the store last week…I had a whole case. Now I have exactly eleven. But they’re supposed to bring supplies tomorrow, right?”
“How do you think?”
“Back of a truck.”
“Why don’t they, if they’re out there, come and tell us something? It’s funny all the services go out, like it was a bomb or an asteroid, but they can fix them…they say in a couple days…so then you’d think it wasn’t. There’s someplace they can get food. They said medical help.”
Dave said: “Well…after the electricity comes on, there should be news.”
The Blue Bird
(2018, Stephanie Foster)