Stories No. 78 – William Lemon

Inconvenienced by Death

By William Lemon

The guests poured into the hotel pool dressed in robes, bathing suits underneath their fake, downy fur. The children did not bother with such pretense. They wore as little as possible, unafraid of cancer or the judging eyes of their peers. I joined the procession, tie still about my neck.

Near the entrance to the pool, a cry from the bushes brought my progress to a halt. A small bird, no bigger than my fist, shrieked in desperation. I scanned the area, expecting some doting fowl to race toward him, a reluctant progenitor with a mouthful of worms. Not a soul stirred, though. The little bird remained all alone in the bramble.

When I cried for help, the congregation inside ignored me. The drone of adult conversation suppressed my voice. Not even my flailing arms caught their attention. The parents drank and laughed, heads turned away.

Below, the wailing became louder. I hovered above this poor bird, hand placed on my cleft. After a plan failed to materialize, I went with my only real option: I stormed the lobby, armed with photographic proof.

 

At the front desk, a man in a suit stood upright like a scarecrow, eyes hollow.

“How may I help you, sir?”

“Um, yeah, well, there’s this bird that’s by the pool.”

“How dreadful.”

I waited for him to continue speaking, but the words never materialized. The man shifted his vision to the middle distance, eyes blank with a doe-like sincerity. I repositioned myself to meet his gaze.

“And? What will you do about it?”

“The situation will be handled promptly.”

“Well, good.”

I drummed my fingers on the desk. Though I tried to create a rhythm, the beat came out wonky. Even to my ears, it felt like a disjointed mess.

“Can I offer you a drink voucher,” the man said. “The bar makes a lovely Caipirinha.”

I paused for a moment. White cotton formed at the sides of my mouth. “Ah, well, I suppose so,” I replied. “I’ve earned it, right? Good Samaritan and all.”

“Of course, sir.”

His smile trembled when writing out the coupon. It reminded me of how my arms used to quake in gym class, straining to do just one pull-up. I could not look back as I exited the lobby, sure I’d notice something else from childhood.

I positioned myself toward the pool before ordering my drink. Despite the impossible warmness of alcohol, my tie felt attached, even though I removed it upon arrival. Like a phantom leg, it throbbed for attention. After one more, then another followed by another one, the noose tighten. I called for a shot just before leaving. The sweetness from the lemon drop made my tongue and canker sores pulse with electricity.

 

On the way back to my room, its cry echoed through the concrete canyons of the hotel. My little bird sat atop a black plastic bag inside the garbage area, resting in a pool of unknown fluid. With drunken hands, I constructed a burrow of newspaper and plastic bags. Like baby Jesus, he cooed in his makeshift bed, unaware of the future that awaited him.

In the lobby, the man now slept upright, hands in the shape of a y to support his chin.

“Uh, excuse me, sir,” I said, cupping my hands so that my voice would travel. “Thanks to you, the hotel has an almost-dead bird on its property.”

He blinked before answering, eyes slowly registering our connection.

“I am sorry, sir?”

“You tossed the bird into a dumpster. How is that taking care of the problem?”

“Sir, I will handle this personally this time. There is no need to–.”

“No, there is a need to get angry. I am so goddamn peeved right now. You cannot imagine the review I am going to write on Yelp. What’s your name again?”

“It’s–.”

“It’s what, guy?”

“It’s–.”

Tears began to stream down. In the middle of speaking, he slumped over, curling into a little ball. He rocked back and forth on the floor.

“Mister?”

“I just want to go home,” he whimpered.

“Ah, well, yeah, I’m sure you—” I said, not bothering to finish my sentence. He retreated further underneath the alcove.

“You don’t get it,” he replied, voice muffled. “I haven’t slept in forever; the hotel wants us here in twelve-hour shifts. I can’t think anymore.”

I walked around the front desk, moved his chair out, then sat down next to him. I folded my legs like a kindergartener, inching closer.

“I’m a good person,” he said.

“I’m sure you are.”

“I told the maintenance guy about the bird, and he said he would take care of it.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I replied, “It must be that jerk’s fault.”

He stopped rocking for a brief moment, positioning himself toward me. While his eyes were red, he had a calmness swirling about the center.

“Maybe you didn’t try hard enough?” The man’s voice shook at the end, wobbling ever so slightly before crashing.

“But I did,” I said. “I went and told you as soon as I found him.”

“And then you put it on me,” he replied. “Just because I’m here in this position and you’re there in that one, why do I have to deal with it?”

“I mean, I suppose it’s not all on you. It’s on me maybe?” I said, not intending it to come out as a question. “I can take a swing, I guess.”

His head no longer sagged between his knees but rather swiveled like a bobblehead.

“Let me get you Animal Control.” He scribbled the number out, then folded the paper into fours. After passing off the responsibility, he managed to stagger to his feet. A faint smile crept over his face, curving slightly at the edges.

 

Back at the nest, I found only darkness. The lights above me buzzed for a moment before turning on. The bulb created a halo over the whole garbage area. Though shadows obscured the bird, I pictured two different possible outcomes. One bird, languidly, lifted its head, meeting my gaze with an almost half-smile. The other, however, slumped over at my touch, no longer in control. Both scenarios had their own set of consequences, none of which seemed preferable. With eyes closed, I thrust my hand into the shadows to secure the little bird.

A faint sound appeared when I pulled him out of the darkness. I imagined nursing the little guy back to health in my hotel room, wrapped in Kleenex so I wouldn’t catch any diseases. I’d have to take him to the conference, too. My hand hesitated a moment. I didn’t let go. I held him in the darkness. The daily slog of parenthood kept playing in my mind, every monotonous aspect of life now a routine, scripted. I held my hand inside the darkness until the light above me went out. His chirping reappeared, louder than when I first met him at the pool. I scampered back to the lobby with him wrapped in plastic, hands shaped like a nest.

The man at the front desk barked at me when I left him on the doorstep.

 

William Lemon teaches literature and composition at Los Angeles City College.

Photo Credit:  Gudellaphoto / Adobe Stock

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