Short Story: The Blue Bird (conclusion)
She backed into the living room and picked up the remote. The news channel showed three women on lounge seating, two resting hands on books. One read aloud from hers.
They were not personalities Gitana had ever seen. Someone had found them, told them: “We have no programming. Improvise.”
Past midnight, having cleaned, she carried on with the impulse. Still dressed in a pointless cardigan (though it had cost almost nothing), Gitana looted her own possessions. She filled a laundry basket with things to get rid of. She turned all hangers the same direction, put blacks with blacks, reds with reds, blues with blues.
All the while her TV screen segued into broadcasting the ordinary; at the last, before she switched it off, a music countdown show. Hits of the 80s. People who had disappeared or died anyway.
Her mind, as she fell asleep, told her go to work tomorrow. You’d better.
At the Center of Industry museum, the botanical gardens across the road, Gitana going and coming pulled into the bus lane, put her blinkers on, waited a full ten minutes.
Because the street carried no traffic to obstruct.
No one stood expecting her when she reached the zoo. Here she would circle, and change the sign from south to north.
Worried about the animals, she even had got out—breaking a rule—and gone walking up the entry path. At the visitor’s pavilion the shutters were down. No one collected tickets. She saw a uniformed guard in the distance…it was always in the distance, these days, you got a glimpse of authority. She passed through the aviary, the snake house, coming out to the cheetah enclosure. The cats were sleek; they circled eager, as though the missing humans gave hope. She smelled popcorn.
“Is there any charge?” she asked the man at the booth.
He grinned, lifting eyebrows, and pointed to the sizes.
A number of them, the ones you spoke to, were like that. Her fancy was that they knew another language, and the secret of their being here required this pretense…that they were not strangers.
But she was herself almost isolate now, as one of the past people. Gitana might say she was the stranger.
“This one goes uptown. To the hotels?”
For abandoning her vehicle, she’d acquired a stowaway. She saw a yellow wad of paper, trash…but on her seat, where she could not have dropped it. She knew also that it was hers. The bookstore Glimmerings stood untenanted, but with its light burning. Gitana had edged in, called out; finally she’d pulled a pin from the board—just an arm’s reach inside the door—and put up her note. At the time she’d thought the appeal no longer necessary.
Please get in touch with me.
Every day, her phone service flashed area codes available to be called. Not yet her mother’s…but the sense of things being done brought inertia; it was pacifying.
“So you’re not getting off at the garden?”
He sat adjacent on a bench seat facing the opposite window. “See, the problem always was…”
He broke; she drove the two of them onto the highway. He started again: “The men who studied these things could see the pattern, looking at history. Martial law would be invoked; a dictator would rise. He might himself be austere, kind of mystical. The mobs would be attracted. But his circle—
“Those people would take anything they wanted…just plunder and plunder. Insurrection would catch like fire…
“Still, no one understood what triggered the moment, exactly. Of course the whole rotten cabal would get themselves hanged. So the question became, how do you induce in people a will to do what you want them to… You can’t by asking, not by ordering, not bribing. None of those things work with the masses, because, we know it, there can never be enough to go around.
“But you could custom-build a molecule of your own design…they learned that, the scientists…one with a polarity, an element that would attach itself to nerve tissue, maybe bone or blood cells. Because of polarity, it would align, say, positive or negative. Yes no. Stop go.
“So figure, someone walks into the room…you feel angry. You hate that guy. Another person, you fall in love. Could be a guy…” He laughed, meaning himself. “It’s chemistry. I mean it’s not us in control. You see what I’m saying…it was the dust. Dust mattered. All those detonations were only to raise a cloud…and in that humongous cloud there were all these engineered molecules. That you would breathe in, that I would breathe in. Then from a distance we could be summoned. We would choose, believe we’d chosen, never question. If we were supposed to leave our houses, we would leave them.
“The dust would work on most people. But there would be some percentage where it didn’t take. Or not strong enough. You. Me. That guy you were with the other day…”
“Dave. I wasn’t with him, though, really.”
And now Gitana wondered if she felt this reservation, said this, because they didn’t want her attaching to Dave. She had come out of darkness rebellious, questioning. Dave seemed a placid, go-along guy. She could hold no sway over him if she disliked him.
“So where’d they go?” the man asked.
She eased her bus to a standstill; gained at this stop a rider. Gitana’s informant fell silent.
And her day was nearly over. By a supervisor she didn’t know…a new person…who’d pointed to her new schedule on his screen, she’d been given a few short hours. As with all things now, one or two of the other drivers were acquaintances.
She had not been able to speak to them.
The Blue Bird
(2019, Stephanie Foster)