Short Story: The Blue Bird (part three)
The person who lived here, number 46, had gone someplace. They’d all gone someplace. She went back down the hall…rattling knobs along the way, aggressive. She got to the landing, and turned to watch. No door tentatively inched back. No head craned out.
Back on third, her apartment found as she’d left it, Gitana began to plan an expedition. For one evening more she would bide her time, venture it when morning promised hours of light. The idea was the angel on her shoulder’s, batting down suggestions from the other side, that this desertion was eerie. Dave’s word.
She hadn’t known the standoffish woman in the blazer, or the man who’d come in after, but something in their way with each other made her think that they—and maybe the next two arrivals—were of a group. Days ago she’d walked alone with an umbrella against the ash, to the line of barricades where people were turning their cars.
She knew of two places she might reach, where people tacked up notices. With water in the house, she could afford to stopper the sink and wash. She could put on fresh clothes, fill a thermos, pack snacks, and take another walk…which probably would be a short one, and would teach her not much of use. She supposed her camera still had life in its battery. She put writing paper and a pen in her knapsack.
This time she did lock the door.
Behind her building a fence topped a hump of grass that separated the parking lot from an off-limits retention pond. The fence lay flat. The way around the pond would be shortest, then, cutting right past the last of the outer streets, and landing her downtown.
She pointed her camera, zoomed to get a better look.
No…no movement of uniforms, no flashing lights, no traffic at all. There was a park area belonging to a psychiatric clinic; a concrete bench under a black plum, a forlorn abstract sculpture showing human forms embracing. There was the gate, opposite, of a condo complex.
A block farther on was a bookstore—which her lens could not reach—but in the coffee niche, she knew, they had a bulletin board. It would be consolation enough to find the store open. She was beginning to feel singled out, as though others had been evacuated; as though, invisibly, she had been assessed and found unqualified.
“Hey, I forget your name!”
It was Dave. Gitana turned and saw his hand fall away from the stairwell door. Stepping over the yellow bumper, coming up to her, he nodded at her camera. “Getting some shots.”
“Gitana,” she told him. “Did your radio come on?”
She wanted to ask, half-serious, if they were the only two people left in the world. But this sounded like a line, and she was hardly flirting. “Did they give you flashlights?”
She spoke tramping over the unmown grass where violets and dandelions grew, and where she saw not a bee hovering, not a robin foraging.
He fell in behind her. “No. For some reason, I’m persona non grata down there. You saw, maybe, they blocked me in with boxes when they brought the stuff.”
“Oh. Are you the only one in the basement?”
“Seems like. You don’t really keep track…I mean, I wouldn’t. Is every place on your floor rented?”
Two thoughts had come at once…to share with him the fourth floor emptiness, and a picture of packages lining the hall. That he should go take one, why not? She looked at him, and instead of either thing, said, “Why are we waiting?”
They were at the bench, and the statue, and she sat, positioning the camera. She trained the zoom from this new angle, and caught a human being. Furtive in movement, dressed in white jumpsuit and dark glasses.
“For the power, I think,” he said, and stood near her, but didn’t sit.
“It’s not going to keep us all quiet, promises.”
“Well, but we don’t need anything. We don’t want to get in the way… I guess we’ll know what’s up as soon as we see the news.”
“Do you have a mother and father?”
“I have a mom.”
“So do I. I’ve been telling myself everybody’ll be in a panic, trying everything at once… I mean, for me, I don’t take it as a desperate problem, because we’re adults…I want to know she’s okay, but I don’t have to step on other people’s emergencies to know it.”
“But you think about it…you’ve gone over it in your mind, haven’t you, what you’re going to say when you call? What she might say to you?”
“She’ll say, you okay? And I’ll say, fine, how bout you?”
“No,” Gitana said. “You’ll say, what does it look like where you are? Was there fire? Was it like an earthquake? Are a lot of people dead? Did a bunch of officials come in and shut things down and leave you without explaining?”
“Well, words to that effect, sure. But first things first.”
The Blue Bird
(2019, Stephanie Foster)