A short tale about a grey man and a red bird.
One of my first serious works, the entire story is available to read right here.
A Short Story
The grey man sighed as he shut the door to his tiny apartment and put his back against it, bending his knees and sliding down until he was sitting on the floor. He stared off into the distance, eyes glazing over as his life slowly fell apart around him. A dead-end job, a partner who’d just left him, a lousy one-room apartment, and a void in his head that swallowed any semblance of joy that he may have once had. He scratched as his greying scruff of beard and ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair as he considered getting himself off the floor, his view out of the small window on the opposite side of the room grey and dismal as he stared out of it from his spot by the door.
“Why bother?” he said to himself, almost in a whisper. “I could just sit here forever… waste away and nobody would know. Not until they come looking for rent, at least.” The grey man chuckled grimly, picking himself up from the floor and forcing his tired legs to carry him over to his apartment’s only window. A grey room, a grey life, a grey man without a purpose. He undid the latch on the window and slid it open, resting his arms on the windowsill and looking out across his grey city. He lived on the seventh floor of a seedy apartment building on the roughest side of town, where the only residents were the broken and the forgotten. The grey man wasn’t entirely sure which of those he was.
“Why bother…” he said again as he looked down towards the cracked pavement some ninety feet below him, knowing that such a fall would likely be the end of him. He hesitated as he considered stepping back into his apartment, his grey-blue eyes still locked on the ground far below him as dark thoughts began to creep and claw at the back of his mind. The end of him. A messy one, but likely quick and painless. Another lost soul extinguished, or had his soul left him long ago? He found himself asking such questions as he moved to sit on the windowsill, his legs dangling out over nothing as he felt a soft breeze tousle his unkempt hair.
A sharp chirp snapped him out of his thoughts as the grey man paused, his hands gripping tightly onto the windowsill that separated him from oblivion. He slowly looked to his right to see a small Cardinal watching him from its perch atop his neighbor’s window planter, a splash of bright red amongst the otherwise grey flowers and leaves. It hopped about in the dirt for a moment before looking back at the grey man, tweeting a soft series of chirps at him as it poked about the planter for seeds.
“What are you after?” the grey man asked, transfixed by the crimson feathers of the small animal. “You’ll not find what you’re looking for in there, if you’re hungry. At least you can fly away, somewhere far off and better for you.” he said, returning his gaze to the street below. “I can fly too… but only for a few moments.”
The Cardinal tweeted at him again, its red feathers ruffling as it shook itself free of the dirt it had covered itself in while foraging. It hopped up onto the side of the planter, looking out over the grey city as the man had done just minutes ago, and began to sing. It let out a quick series of tweets and warbles as the grey man watched, the thoughts of his own short flight fading away as the beautiful creature sang away into the evening air. After a few minutes, the Cardinal spread its wings and took off from the planter, leaving the man alone once again.
“Fine. Not today.” he said as he watched it fly away, a speck of red slowly vanishing into the grey of the surrounding city. He pulled himself back into his apartment, placing his feet firmly onto the uneven wooden flooring and letting out another sigh. He wouldn’t fly today.
The grey man stood by his window again as the sun began to rise, a sleepless night behind him and a grim day before him. His rent had gone up once again, and he was left faced with the potential of living out on the streets like the poor souls he had seen wander below his window late at night. He reached a grey hand over to the small table pushed up against the wall and picked up a half-empty bottle of cheap whisky that he had come to rely on to get out of bed each day, approaching the window and opening it to look out over the city. He raised the bottle to his lips before he paused at the sound of tweeting to his right.
The Cardinal once again was perched amongst the dull yellow flowers of his neighbors planter, bright red mingled amongst the dark green stems and leaves as the bird let out another snatch of its song.
“What do you want?” the man asked, resting the bottle on his windowsill as he stared down the bird. “There’s nothing in there for you, give up. Get out of this place and fly somewhere better, you’ll find no seeds there.” he said, the alcohol momentarily forgotten as he watched the Cardinal sing. It stopped after a minute, looking back at him before fluttering over to his windowsill and landing beside his bottle. The bird looked curiously at its reflection in the glass and tapping its beak against it.
The grey man did nothing but watch as the red bird hopped about his windowsill, chirping and pecking at the glass bottle and singing bits and pieces of its song to the man. He looked into the dark brown liquid through the neck of the bottle and then looked back to the Cardinal, shaking his head before pushing the whisky from the window and letting it fall to the empty streets below.
“Fine. Not today.” he said gruffly, the bird hopping about a few more times before taking flight once again.
The grey man opened his window in the early hours of the next morning, the sun rising over the city and splashing orange and yellow light across the grey buildings. The wind caused the bright yellow flowers of his neighbor's planter to sway softly as he placed a small metal ashtray onto the windowsill that he had spent an hour the previous night cleaning. The birdseed inside the tray shuffled about slightly as he rested his arms against the windowsill and waited for the Cardinal.
He stood there for an hour, old blue and red cars rumbling along the street below his window as the city began to wake up and the grey people who called it home began another long day. The grey man had forgotten about his lost whisky while he had gone looking for birdseed and had forgotten about his cigarettes when he cleaned out his ashtray to use as a bowl. He had forgotten about his short flight as he waited for the Cardinal to return, waiting for the splash of color that he had begun to miss in the young hours of morning.
The now-familiar song was tweeted to him from the right as the red bird returned to his neighbor’s colorful flower bed, the contrast of its crimson feathers from the yellow petals of the daffodils making for an oddly soothing sight. It chirped and tweeted at the grey man as it hopped about in the dirt, and he nudged the tray of seeds closer to the right side of his windowsill.
“You won’t find anything in there. Here, let me help.” he said, staying as still as he could manage as the Cardinal once again flew over to his windowsill. It tweeted happily and began to chirp its song in full as it picked at the seeds, the grey apartment filling with the joyous warbles of the crimson creature. For the first time in his recent memory, the grey man cracked a small smile.
“Fine, not today.” he whispered to himself.