The Bird Lovers

Emily Toder


It was March and nothing was in bloom. Nothing was blooming though it was March and though they knew it was too soon to bloom in March the sound of March and everything March had felt like so far made it seem sad it was March and nothing was in bloom.

The trees were craggy and lopped off at the tops and they had to ask what kind they were because they could not study the forms or accept them without knowing their designation, though it was not their Latin name they needed to know, but their regular colloquial one, which was lime, which was not Tilia.

That Alice knew or not that the lime tree was a linden and does not make a lime was relevant for one moment, though she behaved as though she were not sure when this came up in the one moment, which was ridiculous, and so in the moment in which it was relevant she became ridiculous as she could not say for sure and her not saying for sure made her slightly ridiculous, and Tom loved her and ridiculed her, which made her try to redeem herself, which she had kept trying to do all day and which she always did and felt she would always feel she would need to do.

The lime trees having no leaves nor limes and nothing having any color to it, the grass frosted hard, and the soil muddied sand, and the sky only that one day vivid, and the air rough and coastal, that nothing was in bloom was sad so subtly and so in passing that there was still a lot of joy around them, and in point of fact, it was not even March, it was February.

It was February and nothing was in bloom because February is part of the winter, the severest part of the winter, and not the last leg of winter like March might be in some years, but part of the core of winter and in all years and every year winter's most prominent time and greatest-spanning and severest and so it was doubly not sad that nothing was in bloom because it was winter and it was the height of winter. It was actually joyful that nothing was in bloom because it had never occurred to them before that winter that winter could produce blooms the way that winter it had occurred to them that it could.

It occurred to one of them only, but she projected it onto him, and he felt it and they both walked with it between them, and anything the other didn't know or feel he or she felt or thought immediately, even though it was dead with winter and the air was splintered and the land lackluster and mute except that one day.

They were in Sussex, where there was a kinship with mute land. They were in Sussex, where there were immense reasons to be, and they were there for just a few days and so the reasons were weighted, and on that one day when it looked like spring, spring much beyond the bounds of February, the reasons' weight was white and reason itself was colorless and they moved in Sussex and in the weight of Sussex airlessly, which Sussex let them.

They woke up in the morning at a B&B just outside the village, just where the brick pavement gave out to gray fill, just at the end of a sloping dirt road, on the top story of a quaint classic and rose-flowered English cottage, in a pale pink and green room they would end up not paying for, and had gone down to breakfast armed with activity so as to evade the mindless and later sadly mindless musings of the subtly senile stand-in innkeeper, and had sat together at the round table musing at the provisions and remarking every now and then on the unusually good look of the day, ignoring the innkeeper's drawled talk and questioning, he consuming the fare and she too nervous to ask for more coffee, and he eating perfectly gracefully in the English style and her squeezing and sneezing into her napkin which she wrestled under the table, and he getting some clues on the crossword, and she getting some others, and some others getting teased out of her, until it was finished. After breakfast they had gone upstairs and had gotten back into bed and slept together in a way they would not have at home, that is to say, in a way unfamiliar with the immediate environment and charmed by it.

They had decided to stroll the South Downs that day which she had known would not be a stroll and he had known would not be a stroll but someone used the word stroll, perhaps stroll only in retrospect, only in retrospect it could not be a stroll. The South Downs were phenomena atop which the isle that they were on could at last visibly appear as an isle, as a bit of crust slightly higher than sea level, upon which things could be built and had been built for millennia, and upon which human beings can survive, as it is touched all over in air, and the South Downs were made of mass even atop this base surface and the South Downs therefore could make the island appear as such and it was important to go up them and to see that they were in the middle of the ocean and that all land is in the middle of ocean and the ocean is itself land only covered with ocean. All this was good to be reminded of.

But they did not know how to get to the South Downs in the best way, which was fine because they loved to talk to people, which they did, in the center of the village, where people and people with their dogs were glad to answer them and to advise them on how best to walk, though it seemed there would be no best way today.

The prettiest was unfeasible and the practical was not pretty and was steep and close to motorists on narrow motorways, but the nice way and the way that would be more pleasant was muddied and would not be pleasant and so the practical way up the motorway is they way they chose.

Stopping outside the post office to get back bearings and to interact further with the village they stopped outside the notice board outside to muse at local flavor and locality which they loved, their reasons in Sussex so airless and weighty, or perhaps they had done this the day before. And doing so the day before had seen with both of them seeing without saying and both of them knowing the seeing and not saying, an ad signed and hand-lettered by someone named B, announcing ROADKILL! in all caps on top and an explanation that the bodies of dead birds, not too squashed, and not too common, like those of chickens or pigeons, would be appreciated, for as B put it, "I am in need of bird skeletons." A number was left and the thing scribbled and not rife with but containing one typo and plunged into the board with flat tacks and it was delightful and a delightful invitation that compelled them both and pleased them both and delighted them both and one thought for the same reasons, though that can not be confirmed, but that one who thought that did not need it to be confirmed. She was simply in love and in love did not need this sort of thing to be confirmed.

They had both seen it and they had noted it and commented on it, they had discussed it in silence and they had discussed it with sounds, and one of them but not both of them had copied it in its entirety and with that breastpocket scrap they continued on. On the motorway they mused at it and its potential, its looniness and its absurdism, the way it had specified the kind of birds, the way they should be beaten, the parameters of their crush, and, B, who she took to be a woman and who he took to be a man, how B lived, where and with whom and why, if they could see it, and how nice it would be to see it by donating some bird, and how they wished they had this bird. Thinking of this meeting along the motorway, Alice began to look for this bird.

The way along the motorway was narrow and they walked single file at times and at others they could arrange their widths alongside or he would drop to the road and she atop a muddy tuft and when a car came he on the tuft in front or behind and maybe after the car she in the road, when the tuft grew too muddy or the grass strandy on the ankles, the both of them in the road, and she all the while with her eye out for feather.

After what they took as a mile they were at the foot of the Beacon and slowly progressing up it, at first gradually because the incline was gradual, progressing in a measured progress. The grass grew soft and something emptied in the air, the sky hovered banal, it grew blank and benign, something happened to the wind, the air was different. The hill was sunken, it was softer and was chalk and mud as they moved up it, and the view became more panoramic than Alice was used to and she thought by the looks of it Tom must be used to it, for he moved along in it and into it undaunted and plussed. And as the incline grew less gradual he grew to a dot, his checked blue shirt like lint on the ochre grass every now and then stopping to touch his knees and he touched them like mackerels touch other mackerels. Each of her steps in the hill now dug and slid into it and into it in such a way her ankle bent forward so that her foot was bent upward and oblique to the shin, planted for leverage not so that she could move the next foot but so that she would not tumble for now it became clear she could tumble.

To tumble now would only take not cleaving the ankle into the doughy grass once and having not done that, moving the other foot from its position. It would mean transferring the weight of her from a stable base of her to her unstable other base. Having done that, it would take just a slip on the slick strands and then it would feel like sledding, like sledding, she thought, until she got caught in a scrag of sorts some place further down, some tangle of the tree that was here and there further down, a foliage-free mess of knot further down, for every thing was further down now, for as you climb every thing sinks, and the only thing that stays unsunk is the sky, but even the sky sinks when as you climb you lose all sight as you do, as you must do at some time, when as you climb you see that the sky sinks because although so great it is bound up.

She stood in the spot, in the spot she was, with her two feet planted and waited for him to turn around from the many feet ahead of her he was and see her speck. It took several minutes and then seconds of swept gestures and he was trudging back, looking down in the funny unmeditative way one must downhill, not because one is thinking but because one must study the ground, and all the ground on the way to her, his arms swinging mostly from beyond his control, from the control of inertia, and from the control of momentum, and a small portion from his own control.

"I can't go any further," she told him, still planted, like she might pivot, only she would never pivot, communicating by her plant that she would never pivot.

"Oh, yes you can," and he called her her nickname, his nickname, and stuck an arm out suddenly and helpfully, like a fare from a taxi you can have now, jarringly.

And the insistence humiliated her and the mechanics of the body humiliated her, the gestural mechanics but also the mechanics of the joints, and the body that she was in, and the body he was in, the body he was, and it became a way that she could assert herself, to insist that she could not move, and this insisting became a way for her, and it became a quality about which she could become assertive, and she practiced her assertiveness by her assertion of her stasis, and she took this quality into her, assuming it as part of her.

"I'm stuck," she said. "I'm stuck," this second time like it was not her doing, this second time as if it entertained her, this time like she was bound to be stuck, and stuck was natural because of how she simply was and because of every thing that had happened to her, this second time like it was a product of her past, which he knew about, though distortedly, as one can only know the past of someone else before inserting oneself into it, as he had, gracefully and out of necessity, like a duck feeds, inserted himself. Again he descended a bit with his one arm towards her like a car door and took her hand and gripped it, there was something about the face slant, the way it was slanted, that made the arm look like that. She put her fingers in the dips between his knuckles and their heels met and his felt like a loaf it felt like a roll she'd once had in Poland that had cost impossibly less than half a cent and was famously her favorite roll of all time of course circumstance was everything to her, and the heel of it was unyielding but soft as the roll and then she could look at him and it made her ankle loosen and she removed her foot from its planted stance and she again planted it a step further up and she did this thing looking at him, began to walk looking at him and with her hand in his hand the roll like a dance and he went along backwards also like a dance. She realized this is how dance derives. And then as her fear remounted as was wont, and grew stronger, she realized she needed to move faster and not look down, but move faster, so fast she would not have time between the replantings of each foot to contemplate not pivoting and to entertain states of stuckness on South Downs which was after all so enjoyable and so picked up her pace and raced up a steep chalkside mound of chalk and tuft, planting each foot at alien angles and not looking and not looking up and not looking down.

Her motivation now derived not only from the simple momentum of her moving nor from her desire to prove to herself and to him that she was not stuck, but from the fact that despite not looking up or down she had managed to perceive or somehow intuit a plateau that was incipient. She had perceived or intuited that after several more minutes of the stiff foot planting she would reach a level ground, she could see that her activity was not ceaseless or boundless, but would cease because it was bound, and somewhere in her field which she had restricted she had perceived a flatness and the flatness motivated her to keep moving and eventually she reached it.

There was an atypical scene of triumph.

There was a change in the breathing.

There was a cowering.

The sky opened further and grew dauntingly further cloudless and inane.

The land below sprawled further and there emerged patterns in it that evoked war, and agriculture, and aquaculture.

The sea swept further and fuzzier and the way it was a blue different from the sky was so boring it was perfectly elemental.

There were horses and dogs and the people who led them which was backwards.

He was up there, too, on this strange grasslanded platform oversprawling Sussex to the sea with its weatherless air, for now there was no chill, and with its green and blue grades, and with its small bodies of water, which have special names, which they would learn, or which they had already learned, but had forgotten, and would be reminded, and which they would remember.

He was up there and had been up there for a bit of time, as he had resumed his natural pace when she had been encouraged and after she had watered about her old roll and they had danced, while she had kept her face fixed on the immediate visible, he had recommenced his own launch up the thing and so when she reached that highland she knew he would be somewhere on the highland already having arrived and made his own cower, though most likely not, most likely having done nothing he was not accustomed to doing.      

He was on the highland, talking to a woman about her dog and alternately playing with the dog. He was standing up and then bending down alternately to do so.

He saw her. He looked at her but did not make a big deal about seeing her. He turned to her to see her and he looked at her and so he saw her. He could not make out anything of her.

She approached him and in her approach broke into a trot and jumped up and into him, colliding only slightly so that it was slightly imperfect, and then exclaiming all she could with her swung legs that they were both atop this thing now, which deserved exclamation. At this level that they had reached she reassessed all climbing metaphors about life and found them justified. She could not feel the air any more.

Then they walked alongside again along the top of the Downs and learned the names of the water deposits found on topologies of the sort, and they were each most likely reminded of something by the landscape, though she could not be sure; she imagined he was reminded, for she was reminded by the landscape of another landscape that looked like it. This landscape evoked that landscape and that landscape descended into this landscape but that was all, it was not like a curtain drops, everything was revocable. She did not mention any thing about this other landscape, but maybe he would see this other landscape some day, she thought, and indeed maybe that was the reason for not mentioning it, she thought, because maybe some day again together and in one another's company that landscape which was not here but which had briefly descended for her into here would remind him of this landscape, the landscape here, and she could watch it descend on him, the way it descends on you when you have seen such a pair of landscapes.

All the while she stayed her eyes solid at her feet where her weight kept impressing the tufts where she kept hoping to see and sometimes conjuring a mound of feathers where a rare bird was gently and naturally decomposing, which she would twist into an inside-out bag she would produce, and which she would then deliver, with Tom, to B, if B were interested, which B, in the fantasy, would be.

The bird's not materializing became apparent, it became apparent that it was troubling to Alice that it was not materializing, but Tom had not maintained any hopes of its doing so, so that that it was not doing so was not surprising to him and in their chat on the matter he remained stolid and she screwed and bound at the brow, and resigned. And in their chat on the matter it also had emerged that each of them had thought individually that they could make the materialization happen themselves by killing a bird though they love birds and though they were bird lovers how they might kill a bird in order to meet B and to further B's cause and to help B, learn from B, and live the rest of their lives with B's impact on them within them. It had occurred to them individually and it had occurred to them when they were apart and each alone that the other alone and apart could or might attempt to render such a circumstance and produce in some way a dead bird, produce death in a bird, produce death in an undead bird, produce death in a bird that was not dead, produce death in a bird in which there was no death, produce death in a bird in which no death had been produced, and bring about death in this bird, and wring death into this bird, and bring this bird into death and death into it, to murder this bird in other words, to cause this bird to be dead by murdering it, to take the life from this bird and replace it with death, to concoct a trade of life for death in this bird, to take a bird that was alive and to make it dead, to take a bird full of life and render it full of death, to make death seep into an alive bird and to make death seep then out of an alive bird, to pounce on an alive bird and with an instrument render that bird dead, to sneak up on an alive bird and behave towards that bird in a way such that afterwards it is dead, and to do this behavior in such a way such that the way it becomes dead is still acceptable to B, to destroy the life in this bird in such a way that its bones still serve B, to destroy the life in this bird without destroying the bones in this bird, to take the life out of this bird and to cause this bird to be dead in such a way that its skeleton still fulfills B's purpose, to create a death in this alive bird so that the bird's bones are not crushed, to produce death in this bird gently, to cause death in this bird whilst preserving its bones, to not fracture any of the bird's tiny bones in the doling out of its death, to maintain the structure of the bird's skeleton throughout its death, to keep the bird intact throughout the course of creating the death, to, while the death is unfolding, take care to not damage or crush any of the tiny bones in the bird's body, to not crush the bird's body, to murder the bird without crushing its body, to murder a body without crushing a body, to murder the bird without doing it great physical harm, to do the greatest physical harm to a bird whilst not causing in it a visible physical harm, to murder the bird in such a way it could still be a specimen, to indeed render the death of an alive bird as if it were already a specimen, to kill a bird that was now only a specimen, to approach a bird that was a bird and kill a bird and end up with a specimen, to kill for science, to kill a bird to see its bones, to kill a bird to have an experience, to kill a bird to meet an eccentric person, to kill a bird to have an experience meeting an eccentric person and for science, to kill a bird around a person you love, around a person you should not love, to take a bird and kill it in the vicinity of someone you should not love, to love a person you should not love and be loved by him and to kill, to go with him to the countryside and to take a life and render it a specimen, to be loved by someone you should not love and to have an experience, to be loved and he should not love you, and then to go away together and produce death in a bird, to cause death in a bird full of life out of this love because it was illicit, to love when it is illicit and not because it is illicit which you will never be able prove, to take this love and to defend it as something you can never prove, to look at this love as a culmination where no culmination is, to constantly dare gravity to produce a death where no culmination is, to constantly tempt gravity where gravity is, to imagine a culmination that is not a death, to imagine a death that is not a death from gravity, to produce a death where no death is called for, to make more death in a world of enough death, to bring about a needless death and to love this person, to put death into a body that once had life, to see every other live bird from now on as a bird with life, to see each bird from this point forward as a specimen, to love and to find a specimen, to be loved and you should not be loved and then to take a life and make a death out of it, to use death to make life into a specimen while you are being loved, to love and then to seek a specimen, to take the specimen and fabricate it where there was once life, to take the specimen where there once was life and to make death seep out of it, to see this as a culmination, to consider this around love, to consider this in the large area of love, to mention this over and over in the same sentence as love, to list the ways of looking at this in the sentence with love, to litanize the ways of seeing this, to compile various ways of phrasing this, to make an inventory of phrasings for a single phrase, to make a single idea many of the same idea, to take action when it comes to this idea, to take action towards a bird, to play a role outwardly to a bird, to play a role when it comes to death, to play a role in a life, to change a life, to change a life without necessarily making it dead, to cause some other change in a life, to make a life more lively, to put more life in a life, to make a life more lovely, to effectively put more life into a life that has life in it, to stuff with life a life that is alive, to take an alive person and love the person so the person gets stuffed with life, and then to be with the person and then to be with the person illicitly and then to make phrases around the person involving the taking of life. To entertain a death in the midst of this kind of love.           

This is what she thought about descending the South Downs, which she did much faster than she had ascended them, because of gravity, because of gravity and because of other forces in the world that there were.