No Bird but an Invisible Thing

by Christian T.S. Crumlish

I reached under the lampshade to turn off the light.

Picture Cyrus wedged into his cubbyhole at home. Crumpled paper stained with the thin blood of deli roast beef stuffed in the wedge formed by the top of his computer monitor and the corner it backs into. Piles of books lean in from all around him. Perched on his ergonomically correct chair all he would need is a tall pointed hat decorated with stars moons astrological symbols. A longer beard. A sturdy staff leaning somewhere maybe against the scanner over there. Cyrus is a seeker after arcane wisdom, wisdom of the past wisdom of the future. A lonely man busy with his cerebral hobbies. So he's a scholar? No. A scientist? Not really. A sorcerer? You’ll see.

Let's take it from the top.

In the real one I'm up late trying not to make any noise.

Cyrus's outward pose was normal, even supernormal: successful. High achieving. He was a computer programmer but he never talked about it and had no programmer friends and worked alone, selling his services as a free lance. He had always been bright, if desultory, had merely seen the handwriting on the wall in college and fallen into a readymade opportunity for an easy living.

His dark red kinky hair was cut in a short bushy style. He had pale skin with freckles everywhere a broad flattish nose gangly limbs. Picture him wearing a red and black plaid flannel shirt open over a black t-shirt jeans sneakers; he and his clothes look dirty, as if he never washes them just wears them over and over eventually discarding them. The air around him is gray. The sky threatens.

The story can start anywhere

So is foreknowledge then an essential aspect of the story?


The record is incomplete,

He was Orpheus and down he went not walking or swimming spinning out of control. And in the dream he saw Maureen but she was not his sister she was his wife. He was going down to find her and then she was going to find him. Don't look back he reminded her and she put him back together one piece at a time. He saw that he was naked he was ashamed. He put a hand down to cover himself find the missing piece. You are my sister he said. Oh Cyrus she said. He loved her he didn't love her he did.

Still I spend the whole day

The characters in the story tell each other

Time fascinated Cyrus. He knew from high-school physics that time stretches and contracts, unlike light, the purest form of information. In his computer programming he often sliced it up, something much easier to do than isolate a single piece ("moment") in time. He knew it ran crazily in dreams and that dreams represent a higher level of perception than waking thought and he derived from this that time's uniformity is an illusion. So he asked himself, Where am I going? And what's taking me there if not time?

            He is dead.

Trying not to think about money

Maureen turned the knob and entered Cyrus' apartment. She is Cyrus' twin has his freckles and kinky dark red hair in long braids but her brow is less prominent than his her nose smaller. She is not gangly. She is slightly older than Cyrus.

As usual the place was a mess. She ran a finger along the molding and grew a dust bunny. The tiny living room was matted with newspaper sections and strewn clothing. She peeked into the kitchen and had to look away. The door to his study was closed.

This is good, he thought. It's keeping me in character.

Maureen pushed the door open and peeked inside. Cyrus was lying on his black leather couch. A helmet nestled over his head and extended to gloves on each hand. It looked monstrous covering his whole face. She heard him whispering.

I want to watch him return, he murmured. And then, Do you love him? Maureen tapped his thigh. He twitched.

Of course, he continued, And he loves you. Maureen looked over the bank of hardware and lights adjoining Cyrus' workstation. She flicked a switch. Cyrus jerked on the couch, then flailed his arms and legs as if having a seizure but only for an instant. He lifted his gloved arms to his head and unlatched the helmet. Then he eased it off. Looking around and blinking he fixed on Maureen.

Never do that again, he said, it's psychically painful.

Maureen rolled her eyes. Cyrus trailed his equipment over to a lab console and put on music loud. Maureen shouted, What were you doing in there! Why don't you get a real life! We were going to go for a walk today, or don't you remember!

I remember, he mouthed quickly defensively. What time is it?

It's ten.

The stereo said push me in the water.

He said I thought we were going this afternoon.

We were but you were supposed to call me. I got tired of sitting around waiting for you to call.

The stereo said take me to the river.

You've flaked on me before and plus you still haven't told me what you were doing in that reality thing of yours. Hey why is it always so cold in here?

And what kind of love is it

They sat in his kitchen where he had cleared some space on the small table wedged in the corner. He poured three scoops of ground coffee into a gold mesh filter with a bent plastic rim. She said, Does your refrigerator always buzz like that. And he said, Yes, except it stops every now and then. I guess I don't notice it anymore. The water was boiling so he poured some into the filter.

Some drops of grainy coffee water splattered onto the stove top. Maureen said, You should just pour a little in at first and let the coffee grounds settle.

Sometimes I hear the chugging of the refrigerator as it shudders to a halt like it's exhausted and then silence. And only then do I realize I've been hearing this droning buzz we're hearing now although you're probably used to it already like I am. But you can hear it if you pay attention. Listen.

Sure, I still hear it.

After a while it starts again but I don't notice. Then it stops again. It's one of those things I only notice when it's not there.

I'm like that with people, said Maureen. I take my friends for granted till they're gone. They were quiet for a while until Cyrus said, Cream?

And if you were always in the now

She came out squinting

I feel numb, said Cyrus, as he walked alongside Maureen. The hill was getting steeper.

What do you mean numb? You mean your feet.

Don't joke. This isn't easy for me to discuss. I mean numb like a zombie, like am I even alive?

I wasn't joking. You're breathing hard too. You should get out more. You're so pale.

I'm just like you, if I'm not in the dark I burn.

Well, it's shady here, at least till we get to the corner. You need the fresh air at least.

You're changing the subject.

Well, what am I supposed to say? What do you mean "numb"?

I mean I don't know if I have any feelings. I don't feel anything. I don't feel my feelings. This isn't making any sense. It's like I've become totally unemotional.

You're probably the most emotional person I know. Look, let's stop here for a while. They sat on a bus stop bench.

Well it's obvious to you that I'm emotional. And other people have told me I'm moody. But I'm telling you I don't fell it. It's like I'm a spectator.

Maybe you're afraid of your feelings.

Obviously. But why?

It's not so obvious. Don't be dismissive. Why do you think you're afraid?

I don't know. I don't know. I guess. . . I just. . . don't. . . it's like I've kept my feelings under some kind of control so long that I've become a stranger to my own emotional life. I don't know where to begin.

And when you do begin, it's too scary?

Too intense. I run away.

Well I'd say you withdraw. You know, into books computers games distractions. Anything you can control. Anything that happens on a thinking level.

I think too much.

It's like you're never alone.

But I'm always alone. I don't have anyone besides you. Let's start walking again.

You know Cyrus I've gone through periods of feeling like I needed a savior, someone to pull me out of whatever rut I was in and show me my true self make me feel alive. But it's never worked. I mean, no one else has ever been able to do that for me. I have to look in the mirror for that.

Cyrus started chuckling.

What's so funny?

When I look in the mirror I see you!

Maureen laughed. No way, you're much uglier than me! Remember when we used to play the mirror game?

You could always beat me. You always knew what I was going to do.

I just psyched you out.

But I could never anticipate your movements.

I'm telling you I can read you like a book.

Cyrus though about them playing that game like Harpo Marx (or was it Lucille Ball?) Their matching bowl haircuts their matching bell bottoms. So much corduroy and velour. Back then they were equally adorable he'd been told.

Look! said Maureen. They were just passing out of the shade of the building on the corner the air was lit with a mediterranean radiance clarity.

Finally it came to me what they saw.

Look at what?

There on the ground, I mean on the street.


Between those two cars. She kept pointing. She held her breath.

And what was she pointing at between two parked cars? Two bird's wings dirtier than a pigeon's but that same gray city color gray white black and different kinds of gray dirty raggamuffin like the frayed ear of a stuffed animal or the stump rather after the ear itelf has been pulled off still sort of fuzzy woolly but soft.

Two wings laid next to each other but where's the bird, no bird.

Like two little angel wings, she said.

Almost, yet sort of horrible, said he. They headed back to his house without talking.

            He is dead.

Let me tell you how she saved my hand:

            He is dead.

Maureen found Cyrus's digital recording device, pressed Play. Cyrus's voice began:

. . . being at the beach with my mom and dad. Well that's actually not true. I have a memory but I suspect it of being recycled. I was two at the time and I have no other memories from that far back and besides which I seem to remember too many of the details. It's a patchwork memory but still it's the one I've got. I was playing down in the sand down by the water's edge playing oblivious completely lost in my own world when a huge wave swept over me and carried me out. Maureen had been sitting on the blanket and saw the whole thing. Daddy, she said, Cyrus is gone. They looked around and said, What do you mean? (Now, I know I can't really remember this part, it must have been told to me but I've known it so long, it's a memory of someone else's memory. In fact, I've reremembered it myself. It's a third- or fourth-generation analog memory with tape hiss and drop outs.) A wave a wave, she screamed, a wave took him away! Then Dad understood and he got up and went into hero mode, racing down the beach and diving into the shallow surf. He came up with me almost immediately. I'd been tossing and tumbling toddling and floating underwater still oblivious. I didn't even know to be scared until my father a big bear of the man at the time though he grew eventually rather normal sized and average looking, until my father seized me out of the waves and held me aloft. That's when I started crying and became afraid. My mom was crying too when he carried me back. Only Maureen was calm--

The voice cut off. The recorder stopped and turned off in her hand.