by Jordan Faber
Their conversation blossomed at midnight, a moonflower opening in a soiled car of the M train.
He’d entered bare-chested at Fresh Pond Road. Her phone battery drained; she’d been listening to the finespun sounds trickling out of other passengers’ headphones.
He chose the empty seat beside her. “My shirt disintegrated,” he confessed as raindrops scattered from his wiry beard to the gum-speckled floor.
She could see his ribs. A brief urge to feed him cut through her. “How?” she gave him a kernel of her crackled voice.
“I found it in a gutter in the garment district. Its label said polyvinyl.”
“That’s a soluble material,” she explained while watching his skin goose bump, blonde hairs rising over his muscled, deeply tanned arms.
He shrugged, a shiver running up his knotty spine; he extended his hand, wrung with technicolor friendship bracelets, “Angus Forrester.”
Angus stared out into the torrents of rain stealing away the filth of the storm-struck train. “Did you know that we’re riding in a future coral reef?” An overflow of information oscillated on the rims of his blue-tinged lips. He just wanted to talk to her. Her large, emerald eyes refracted the fluorescence of the overhead lights with a tactility he felt in the fabric of the starched air between them. In a city that dressed in all black, she was so bright in her all white—an angel with tawny, straight hair grazing her collarbone.
“What?” she said and tilted her head further toward him.
He watched the glint on her pink glossed lips shift as they moved and knew it was exactly the kind of thing he’d never be able to get enough of. “The MTA sinks subway cars instead of sending them to rust in landfills. They’re used to create artificial reef systems along the eastern seaboard. They remove the oily undercarriages, take off the windows and doors and steam clean the metal. Then the city drops the train cars off barges into the ocean,” Angus let his voice trail off, a falling wave lapping at her ankles as he looked down.
Claire saw the train car transforming with bright scarlet coral growing over its poles, white coral spreading over its dingy seats. Luminous green anemones swayed against brustling plumes of iridescent algae. Beds of obsidian-black mussels piled together in heaps like glittering spikes of glass. A schooling rhapsody of striped sea robins swam in a whirl of shimmering scales around them. The rainforest of the sea spread out before her; a sand tiger shark skimmed past them on its hurried way to the next train car, just another commuter.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered and looked up to an imagined sun scattering its euphotic rays over the deep blue of squalling waves.
The conversation, starting in this aqueous place, grew. A flowering vine, it trellised them inside a florid twining of their lives. He told her about his work building just intonation guitars out of maple and rosewood.
“They’re crafted to tune in intervals of whole number ratios, calculated by additions and subtractions of pure natural thirds and fifths.”
Claire sunk into the soft cadence of his Midwestern accent with his vowels pressing to the front of his mouth. It made him feel closer to her than the inches away he was.
“It’s a perfect way of tuning that expands the sonic possibilities of sound more than the mainstream form of intonation is capable.”
“So, your instruments are in tune and all the rest of the world’s are off?”
“Basically,” he smiled, revealing a line of bright, straight teeth.
She told him how she designed silkscreen prints for Vivienne Westwood, but he had never heard of the designer.
“She got her start designing for the Sex Pistols.”
“God save the queen,” he exhaled, his cheeks flushing pink; she liked that.
Their vine coiled, shedding velvety petals veined with talk of: bliss, Nietzsche, hiking, nothingness, caffeine, and Warhol until the West 4th Street Station. This was his stop. Angus pulled himself reluctantly from his seat and asked if she would meet him the next day in Greenwich Village, Boucherie, Sunday brunch: 11 a.m.
Her thumb spindling through notifications, Claire approached the crisply clothed table. Angus sat feeding breadcrumbs to a slender pigeon with a hard wattle.
“It’s holding you back,” he greeted her.
“What?” she slipped into an iron backed seat.
“This radio frequency device,” he picked up her phone from the space between them, flipping it around in his hand.
“You don’t have a phone?”
“No. Didn’t you notice how I just gave you an address and a time?—like it’s the 70s or something.”
In retrospect, it had been refreshing. He hadn’t asked for her number, her Twitter handle, just her presence.
“Do you think Robert Allen Zimmerman would have become Bob Dylan if he’d walked around here with everyone he went to high school with back in Hibbing, Minnesota in his pocket?” He let her phone rest on his palm, raising it up and down. “You think this thing is light, but it’s heavy.” He let the device slide from his hand with a soft thump.
The pigeon flew up, landed on his shoulder. “This is Darwin,” he introduced the bird, “and he’ll be conducting my correspondence.”
“He’s my carrier pigeon,” Angus fed the bird a tuft of bread from their basket. “I rescued him while I was backpacking in Kabul. Drug traffickers there escape surveillance by sending flocks of carrier pigeons between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He’d gotten separated from his 4 group in a sandstorm and become disoriented. When I found him wandering outside my yurt, he was carrying a miniature backpack with ten grams of heroin inside.”
Angus detailed a ceremonial disposal of the drugs in the Pech River. Cool water carried the powder out to the Arabian Sea. The pigeon flew United back with him as an emotional support animal.
Dreamily swept into his stories, Claire ignored her phone, its silent pulsing vibrations except for when he asked for her address. She took it out of her neon pink fanny pack to text it to him then set it down. Angus pushed a Moleskine notebook and the stub of a pencil across the table. He pulled a medallion of bird seed from his pocket and told her to adhere it to the sill of her window with duct tape when she got home.
The bird picked at the remnants of a flaky croissant on her plate as their waiter arrived, apologizing for the avian.
“It’s OK,” she assured him, “he’s with us.”
Partially obscured by the giant leaves of a potted banana palm in the alley behind Boucherie, making out, a fevered magnetic energy passed between Angus and Claire. His hands traced her hip bones, and her arms wrapped around his broad but boney shoulders as Darwin flew kinetically above his owner. The batting of the pigeon’s wings flashed the shadow of flight over their fusion.
A day later, in the sun-dappled cube of her studio, her cracked open window let in the cacophony of the city’s rising tide. A crooning call cut through its recurrent sound waves, and she looked up to see a pigeon in her window, its orange claws planted firmly on the chipping beige paint of her sill.
The bird ruffled his feathers and pecked at its waiting bird seed.
A canister was threaded onto its back through a harness of thin leather straps. Claire unlidded it, her fingers tussling the white and black feathers of the bird’s silky back. Darwin stood patiently waiting. She pulled a rolled-up paper from the container. The message unfurled: Love is not a thing you do. Love is a thing you become. And for you, I am becoming. 828 Broadway. Front doors. Tonight. 9 p.m.
“You, Darwin?” she smiled. The bird ebbed his head side to side as if to say ‘not me.’ She turned the lid back onto its canister.
“Angus?” she called down to the bustling street. A butcher stood in his blood splattered smock smoking a double corona cigar across the street and yelled back, “Five dollars a pound!”
The bird took a step backwards, turned and flew to the bow of a sallow Gingko tree.
She slipped the paper into her back pocket, grabbed her keys and followed blindly behind her impulse to slide through her east-facing window onto the fire escape. She jumped the three feet from the last step to the sidewalk as she saw the bird spread its wings to the sooty summer air and take off from the tree. The force of her avidity spread through her limbs. She wanted to hear his voice, see his heavy-lidded, warm-hazel eyes.
“Angus?” She cast her voice out, a line snagging nothing but disapproving glances.
Perching on a dome awning, the bird stopped to wait for food to materialize from the bakery below, but nothing dropped.
Claire’s shoelaces came untied and slapped against the dreggy pavement.
The carrier pigeon speared ahead, landing on the shoulder of a man reading a book.
She yelled his name as a fire truck rounded the corner with its sirens blaring. She was too far and the enveloping noise of their city—overpowering. She saw Angus’s head bobbing down the steps of 14th Street Station. A crosswalk halted her with flashing red; a turning food truck obstructed her view.
She ran down the station steps to see him swallowed inside a glimmering L train as the metal teeth of its doors clenched shut.
She saw his back: a threadbare white T-shirt, Darwin on his shoulder as they rolled away.
This is why Van Gogh cut off his ear, she thought—just to feel some connectivity! How did people live this way? Without each other at their scrolling fingertips, just a click away?
She flashed her hands all around the pockets of her white skinny jeans. She felt nothing. The paper was gone, fallen out. Claire scanned her mind for the address but couldn’t remember anything, just that love was a thing you become. Yes, and they were becoming. Claire had felt the ink of his words wash through her blood minutes ago, but now their fluidity knotted with grief in her stomach.
The walk home was melancholic as she meandered around heaps of garbage and felt something like an affinity with their condition. She was god-awful, rotten at what he wanted—this purity of existence and its preclusion of their generation’s tools. She didn’t know where he lived yet. No phone. No email. No social media. She’d have to wait for the bird to come back to her. But if she didn’t show up would he even bother to send Darwin on another mission? Though presumably he had the pigeon all trained on the route. Except now the bird seed was gone. She’d have to buy birdseed and just hope. Her step quickened as the butcher called out to her again: “Hey, lady!”
“I’m a vegan!” she confessed to him this time.
The butcher began walking across the street as she hurriedly worked the key to her building’s front door in nervy fumbles. Her pulse sped as she heard his heavy boots hitting the pavement behind her; she could smell his sweat—edged with the aura of a slaughterhouse.
“Hey, kid,” he spoke to her back, but still she didn’t turn around. Then he’d said that he’d seen her drop something. It looked important. She faced him as he pulled the note out of the pocket of his apron. He held it out to her, now tinted with a smudge of animal blood, some kind of fleshy bits he generously blew away as he handed it over.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
The butcher revealed a gap-toothed smile before turning in recession back to his sanguinary refuge.
Claire unfolded the paper inked by her obsolescent but newly sparked eternal flame—fear disintegrating in the gloam of twilight giving way to the depth of eventide.
About the Author
Jordan Faber is a writer based out of Chicago. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her fiction has most recently appeared in: NUNUM, The Esthetic Apostle, FIVE:2:ONE’s #thesideshow, Deluge [Radioactive Moat Press], Bull & Cross, Dream Pop Journal, Lunch Ticket, and TIMBER. Jordan received an MFA from Northwestern University.