hobart logo
Well, That Old Lady Definitely Just Tripped Over A Bird photo


She is certainly falling, has certainly become a fulcrum for her own demise. You are watching this frame by frame from your eyeball edge: her shoe has caught the outstretched wing of a paused sparrow, each limb a novelty flag celebrating its impending union with the sidewalk. You are completing a salad sojourn at a cafe patio, devouring what at first seemed like surplus croutons but soon became a vital side dish. Your day, though earnest in scope, was planned. You just wanted to get into Golf Galaxy, mill around for ten lifetimes before deciding your dad will get another sports hat for his birthday, then head home in time to accidentally stay current on all the TV shows you hate.

Not anymore. You stop shepherding the terminal arugula shreds onto your fork and assess the area to reveal an abandoned wraithscape. Across the street two women seem to retract into their own torsos and lurch back into shadows. A teenager dissipates into a nearby awning. Your waiter is bent and hiding in the server station marrying ketchups with grim precision. Every store closes and the sky dims and constricts to a spotlight on you.

Of course she is holding bags, these ladies carry it all everywhere, never stopping or storing, and you can see the Aldi bag tear in near slow-motion, everything has gotten dramatically worse, the nectarines have scattered in jailbreak fashion. The bird is still present, hopping parabolas in a gravel patch.

You will have to help her. In seconds, you will need to negotiate the gnarl of table legs, alight on this lady's heaving frame, and reap the scatter her produce has become. Your history of helping strangers has been dicey by any objective appraisal, a mixed melange marked with hesitation and retreat. You have in fact never been tested by human peril, you're not the person that helps, or calls for help, or even the person that shouts out that someone should call for help. You think you find comfort in the stasis of suffering, a thought that almost makes you choke on crouton shrapnel.

You half-stand, holding your lapkin forthwith, hoping the world will acknowledge your intent and call it even. Your face apertures fashion into contorted concern, a version of the same face you give your aunt when she describes her vertigo, the opposite of the face you gave the man on the bus who spilled his coffee directly into his own briefcase and you basically applauded with excitement. It's the face you made when a spider scuttled out of your kitchen mop, a spider whose girth could depress a piano key, sounding a note so purely unplanned the surrounding air would gasp in reverence.

Something makes you pause. You are going to laugh, it's going to roil from your neck in rancid waves, atomizing forever onto the pages of the social record, but in the final moments you somehow transform it, unearthing an ancestral yawp into the delta of your sweater sleeve. You traverse the urban ambience, bypassing planters, darting through the slalom of parking meters, until you reach her, announcing your assistance with what will later seem like too much grandeur, and crouch down to help.

The bird is still standing astride the unfolding tableau, staring at you both, your hooked elbows straining, you pulling this lady up delicately like a trembling pie slice, her meringue hair aglow with a spectral patina, she is wheezing like a haunted calliope, you notice a foreign slaw that has glomped onto the sidewalk from her grocery bag, some kind of a briny hash with a skeleton belch smell, there is no rescooping this deli marvel, that is a casualty that cannot be saved, there is always loss in this kind of WHY hasn't he flown away? Get away from here, bird! I am doing a thing that is nice!

This sparrow clacks its beak back at you, a reply, a laugh, an elegy. You hoist this lady's fuselage upright, you can see she is mostly fine when she smiles at you, baring her teeth, and it's horrible, it's the world's worst smile, a parade of raisins, but somewhere beyond your immediate and sustained shock it does in fact feel better than you expected, it feels correct and calming. The bird decamps skyward to remember you as long as its evolution allows.



* * *


image: Valerie Molloy