Short Story: The Blue Bird (part two)
The Blue Bird
She thanked him for the water. “I’ve got to get back upstairs.”
They’d had one of those friendly congruities of feeling between people not ready to be friends. Dave fading back into distance, giving her this non-answer answer, rejecting the invitation to speculate.
And Gitana forgot soon enough, after she’d left him.
As to the promised distribution, she went down just past sunrise (up so early…after nightfall having nothing whatever to do), and saw boxes were stacked in the stairwell, under the stairs, blocking the mailboxes and the door to the basement. Someone else was there, a woman in a blazer and cap…
But she was only dressed this way. She shrugged at Gitana’s question.
“I would just take what you need. It doesn’t look like stuff’ll run out.”
The water was in five-gallon jugs, tough on upper-floor residents. There was milk in cans, cheese and chicken-spread in cans, crackers, raisins, powdered soup. There was instant coffee. Pointlessly, a box of plastic silverware.
“Did you see who brought it?”
“I know, but did you see them?”
The woman had emptied one of the boxes and was filling it, disproportionate in coffee…and cocoa, wafer cookies. More things discovered. Someone else arrived. He, clad in sweats and windbreaker, set to work, patterning himself off her. Packets of cutlery and soup began to litter the floor.
She wasn’t going to answer, now the moment had passed. Gitana was an irritation, for whatever reason. Spoons were snapping off their handles under heels, and a salty onion smell rising, brown powder beginning to grind underfoot. She’d been going to heft water to her apartment first—but now, with these two grubbing in, Gitana thought she had better fill a box of her own.
Another pair arrived, their crowding breaking the silence. But the words exchanged among the five in the stairwell were imperatives and admonitions.
“Hold your horses!”
“Careful about that!”
Gitana toed away a rolling can of chicken, rested her box on the landing; then on second thoughts jumped down and grabbed a jug. This overload meant moving first the box, then the water, up two or three steps, climbing after, repeating the process…but she didn’t want to come back down.
In the middle of the afternoon, someone knocked at her door. She sat eating crackers, not reading (all these fictional mundanities—bad marriages, kids rebelling—grown so hopeless), but swiveling a chessboard to play white and then black. When she looked, there was another box. It was small, contents sheathed in bubble-wrap. Inside this, two flashlights. She left her door standing open, rushing out, as she would not have in the past.
The hall was empty. But the box had been there only a minute; the floor above, if they worked in logical order, would need finishing. She stuck one flashlight into each pocket of her robe, thinking of these as precious, a thing not to have stolen, while her money, her gold jewelry…
Of course the foresighted thief might work against a new day.
No electric; no elevator…and only one staircase that gave onto the parking lot. She darted to the end of the hall.
Here on the fourth floor came luck.
Someone in a worker’s vest and short-sleeved shirt bent, a hand resting on a wheeled cart, the other in the act of dropping a box.
A second passed. He grunted, standing, then said “Hey”, back.
She glanced at his chest, looking for a badge. “What happened? What was it?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
The rapping of knuckles on the next door and drawing of his cart ended their talk. He made for the exit.
She did nothing yet. She paused, turning things over.
A terrible accident, the experience of it no different for her or anyone else…in this small pocket of the wider world. But you were hired, called from your home, summoned face to face…it must have been like that—
Given a task to do. And you would say…of course you would…
No one had touched the boxes. They were all there, resting on carpet before closed doors. The worker’s instructor had said to him… Don’t speak to anyone?
She ought to follow at once, catch him before he drove off, shout: “Where are you going? Who gave you this job?”
But she thought of this competing mystery.
Gitana herself knocked. And called, “Hello?”
The Blue Bird
(2018, Stephanie Foster)