The Blue Bird (part one)
The Blue Bird
Something buzzed, up like wind can at times, when it slices between gutter and roof. The 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, 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 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. 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, going out to see if the groceries were open, had met a blockade at the end of the street. Their car radios flared into life…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 had 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 they had looked, while it was happening, and could better remember it.
They came out, mostly in ones and twos, fringing the street either side. A few families from their houses, and clusters of renters…a straggling of singles from the two corner buildings, bulged the line.
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; since the windows were 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… Bloop, bloop, wah, wah. A lot of static. I keep it going in case the news ever comes on… Here,” he said, “you wanna come inside for a minute? I’ll show you.”
“My name is Gitana,” she told him.
“I’m Dave. Everything’s a mess.”
For 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 and jacket, had either. She told him it was okay, and didn’t apologize for herself.
The radio 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… Like cries or shouts.
“So it’s coming back, a little.”
Gitana and Dave 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 filled and lined up on her kitchen counter. But she didn’t like taking it, someone else’s emergency cache. The etiquette seemed wrong. She 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 electric comes on, there oughta be news.”
She thanked him for the water. “I have to get back upstairs.”
They’d had one of those friendly congruities of feeling between people not ready to be friends. Dave had faded back to distance, accepting this non-answer answer, rejecting the invitation to speculate.
And Gitana forgot soon enough, after she’d left him.
As to the promised distribution, at sunrise she made for the street, and found boxes stacked in the stairwell, blocking the mailboxes and basement door. A stranger 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 in cans, crackers, raisins, powdered soup. There was instant coffee. Pointlessly, a box of plastic silverware.
The Blue Bird
(2018, Stephanie Foster)