There was a closet and inside the closet a bare bulb hanging. And from the bare bulb a length of twine. The closet once held suits and shirts and a trunk, and inside the trunk lined with pink flower-patterned paper, under the paper, there were secreted letters from across the sea. The letters described horrors of body and mind. The person to whom these letters were addressed never wanted to read the letters more than once but could not help it so that the letters were worn from being folded, unfolded, handled, read. The reading of the letters caused them to deteriorate and turn partially to dust. The motes of dust clung together by the typewritten letters on the letters. And they then were finally put away and finally forgotten and the person left the house and the things were found by the next tenant and the person was found at the bottom of the ravine and the suits were cleaned and replaced by dresses and the trunk was kept because she loved old things and old trunks and she never found the letters but they continued to rot inside her closet and permeate her clothing and she wore the putrid crumbled words of forgotten horrors on her body and she carried what could not be carried.
Her mother caressed the gun she’d pulled from the nightstand. She clutched at something that gave her strength. Not the strength to face her fears but the strength not to succumb to them. She never left the bed and had Claudia drag the chiffarobe and the armoire and various other articles of furniture in a kind of labyrinth with herself at the very epicenter. She wouldn’t speak to her daughter anymore but scrawled notes on tiny slips of paper which she would let fall to the floor which was covered in a blizzard of scribbled white. There was a novel of sprawling instructions which Claudia never read except by walking through them. And her mother wrote on a slip of paper: cry, which was an instruction to herself. So she did, long jagged tear drops that flowed unchecked from her eyes.
There were more and more birds gathering over the empty beach, just swarming in the air in a circle. All kinds of birds. Eagles, swallows, pigeons, hawks, hummingbirds, cranes, storks, canaries, egrets, jays, finches, sparrows, crows. They flew in a counterclockwise circle following no one and each other in a parade of futility. Muriel had her telescope out and was looking through it, not at the birds but at a man who was standing on his roof with a pair of binoculars looking at the birds. She tried to make out what the face of the man looked like but it was covered by the binoculars. The house was a few streets over and it was hard to tell exactly which building he was on top of. His clothes were ordinary, of dull and bland colors, the shade of the jacket slightly off from that of the pants. She must have watched him for three hours before she heard the sound of her brother’s voice calling her name.
Chad sat at his desk and heard his name being said in another part of the office. He waited until the officers came in. There was a man cop and a woman cop and they both seemed sturdy, professional, assured, employed. They fit their jobs. They moved around, their mouths opened. Chad gestured to two chairs and they sat. There seemed to be only the sound of a tea kettle about to boil. Chad’s desk was empty. There didn’t seem to be anything in his office. Officer Petty began to ask him the questions. Chad seemed resigned. He showed them the view he had and how it overlooked the beach. The officers asked if he had seen anything. He’d seen lots of things. Is the pain in your abdomen sharp or dull. Does it hurt when I do this. Chad could feel the place under the skin where the pain was. Would you mind showing us your foot, Officer Encore said. Her hair was pinned up in a braid under her hat. Chad bent over and began to unlace his left shoe which was black and freshly polished. Officer Petty was looking around and asked what exactly it was he did for a living. Chad took the shoe off and placed it with a thunk on the floor. There was nothing under the shoe. Officer Encore reached for her gun. I know this looks bad, Chad said. He was missing his left foot. Officer Encore placed him in handcuffs while Officer Petty opened the drawers of his desk. They were all empty. We’re going to have to take you down to the station, Encore said, informing Chad of his rights. What are you looking for, Chad asked as Petty closed the drawers. Hey, Encore said. Third drawer. Petty looked and saw that the third drawer hadn’t closed all the way. He pushed on it, but it didn’t move. It was only a fraction, but he pulled the drawer all the way out and saw what was taped behind it. He looked up at Chad. Chad shook his head and said, I didn’t put that there. That’s not mine. Officer Encore handed Officer Petty a plastic bag and he dropped what he found in the desk into the bag and sealed it. Officer Encore took out the phone book and circled Chad’s name.
They rode down in the elevator in silence, Chad between them. They took him to the car and put him in the backseat. What do we do now. What does it mean, Officer Encore said. Officer Petty lifted the plastic bag and looked through it at what was inside. What do you think this is, he asked. Neither of them had any answers.
The birds would be gone or the birds would be there. They would tirelessly circle on the air above the beach, or else nothing would. On the days that the birds failed to materialize, the man with the binoculars would note it in his notebook. Sometimes the birds would be gone for days at a time and the man wrote that in his notebook not knowing if they’d ever come back. And then they would return, blotting out a portion of the sky. And he wrote that.
Claudia felt cold walking home from the grocery store, her left arm being dragged down by the weight of the bag. Her right arm feeling light in its sling. The newspaper said they’d caught the guy whose foot had been cut off. Shouldn’t they have been trying to find the person who did it, Claudia thought but felt relieved anyway. Now the beach would reopen and everything would return to normal.
Damien, planting his plants, digging in the earth, had struck his trowel on something hard that was not stone. He scooped more dirt aside and uncovered a large expanse of material buried where he meant to plant irises. He tried to find the edge of it, but, though it bent and turned, it went on and on. He cleared away enough soil to get down on its level. On hands and knees he placed his ear against the material. He lifted the trowel and brought it down.
Through his binoculars he was watching not the birds but a person. This person he was watching was watching the birds through the scope of a rifle. Muriel watched as the man watched the rifler take aim at one of the birds and pull the trigger.
There was a sound like a crack and the echo of it simultaneously. Like the cracking of a whip or shell or lightning bolt or smile. It sent fissures out on all sides, crackling.
Daniel heard it driving home, the crack or the echo of the crack, residuals shimmering throughout the car, trickling up his arms. He could feel it tingling in his face like his face had fallen asleep, that pins-and-needles feeling prickling on his lips trying to shoot down his throat. It stabbed at his eyes, the sleep, and his arms jerked at the wheel. He woke to find himself driving through a field of petal-less flowers, the colors red and blue imprinted on the insides of his eyelids and then seeing them there on the cop car behind him.
She was on the phone; she could feel the phone in her hand and against her face. She could hear the phone in her ear. She wanted to speak into the phone, to say something, but the phone kept saying hello hello at her over and over so she couldn’t think of what it was she desperately needed to say. Her mouth was open but nothing came out. She thought maybe the phone would crawl inside her ear like an insect and lay eggs in there which would fall through her head and come out her mouth. She thought she heard herself say something, but it was only a roiling rumble like thunder that burst through her entire body.
They walked around the car according to protocol saying the words they were supposed to say which was to get out of the car. They told the driver to keep his hands where they could see them but so far the driver was still behind the wheel, no longer driving. Daniel was dazed. He heard the words of the police floating in the air disconnected from anyone. Hello hello, he said, but they couldn’t hear him. Finally he realized what they were asking and he opened the car door and stuck his foot out.
Officer Encore had her gun out and was positioned behind her open door. She had radioed HQ telling them of their detour and pursuit.
The table was set. There were plates and glasses, knives and forks on napkins at each place. They sat there looking at each other with happy, smiling faces. They took the carafe of water and filled their glasses. In the middle of the table was a large hole. Everyone was hungry and the smell of their father cooking supper only made their mouths water. There was a loaf of bread in thin slices in a basket. They eyed the basket greedily. Finally their father limped over on his crutches carrying the pot awkwardly. He leaned over and placed the food in the center of the table where it fell into the hole without a sound.
Daniel stumbled a bit getting out of the car and leaned slightly to the left. He put his hands up clearly in the air now that he was awake and aware of what was happening. He didn’t know if he should show them his palms or clasp them behind his head. The officers came out from behind their doors and approached him cautiously. They told him to turn around and place his hands on the car. He did so. He wanted to say something. There was a sound. It made him fall asleep. He wasn’t drunk or dangerous. Officer Petty was patting him down head to foot. But when he got to Daniel’s foot he said, Officer Encore, could you look at this. And there at the bottom of Daniel’s left trouser she found only empty space where his foot should have been.
There was a meteor shower and he stood out in it trying to catch the passing light. There was a meteor shower and she stayed inside with tape over her eyes and mouth. There was a meteor shower and it rained down on all of the rooftops with shards of sparkle and hissing pops. There was a meteor shower and it brought with it something from alien landscapes, something from the exterior that bred in the earth and filtered into the water. There wasn’t a meteor shower and everyone stood out in the streets, their silhouettes darkened by the empty sky.
They put him in the back next to Chad. They sort of sat in the front seat looking dumbly out through the windshield. Officer Petty did not start the car. It’s not over, he was thinking. And Officer Encore was thinking something similar next to him. She reached over her shoulder and grabbed hold of the seat belt, drawing it over her chest and lap and buckled herself in.
Officer Petty turned the key in the ignition and put the car in gear and drove out of the field leaving Daniel’s car there for impound to pick up. They drove to the station where they brought the two men into the temporary lock-up. One of the officers said that this was for their own protection. But when they sat in their cubicle looking at each other over styrofoam cups of coffee, they weren’t so sure. Encore took the phone book out and flipped it to the page where Daniels’ name was listed and circled it.
Muriel walked in the shade of millions of shadows cast by the absence of meteors shedding no light upon the absence of their observers. She walked through the empty streets where not even sound stayed up this late. She hadn’t been able to sleep but she wasn’t walking towards that. She walked in the direction of the rising sun, but the rising sun was still hours away from arrival. Muriel wanted to lie down on the black shadowed street, to become a shadow, flat, textureless. She wanted to lay herself out flat and have the feet of walkers step on her face, the wheels of cars to roll over her breasts. She wanted to be absorbed into the earth. To look out with eyes that saw into the nature of things. Now she only saw their surfaces and their lack of definition from what the darkness hid. As if they didn’t exist. As if nothing existed when you closed your eyes and slept.
In their cell they fell asleep. Light from a street lamp shining garishly in their faces. They didn’t feel as if any injustice had been done. They thought that everything was proceeding the way it should and they would wait and accept what continued to happen.
We should ask them what happened to their feet. We need to determine which of them belongs to the foot in question. We need to continue going through the phone book. Nothing had been solved. There were only ever more questions. What do you think Chad’s house looks like. I feel good. I feel like we are headed in the right direction. I wasn’t sure before. A second ago I had some doubts. Even at the beginning I had doubts. When we found Chad, I sensed something was missing. His foot. A piece of the puzzle. But now. Now that we are technically back at the beginning, even before the beginning, a minus one solution, I feel closer to it. You know.