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Scott Parson, dabbler in typestries and fabulations
Vultures

He Belongs to the Carrion Bird Now


“Are you into birds?”

Not in the slightest. “Sorry. Missed what you said.” The truth was, Richard might prefer birds to people. What he was ‘not into’ was having strangers chat him up during his lunch break.

For as long as he'd worked in the east Seventies, Richard took his midday meal in the gloomiest, off-trail parts of the Ramble in Central Park specifically to avoid people. It made for a long walk and a short lunch, but he wanted that solitude to refresh his disgruntled spirit.

“I thought you might be, the way you’re out by yourself here.”

As you may have noticed, you idiot, I am no longer ‘out by myself.’ “Not that into birds.”

“Great spot for it.”

Do the math, you moron. “I’m sure it is.” Crowd minus people equals solitude. “Thanks anyway.” Please minus yourself, you numbskull.

Richard needed these few precious moments of isolation to make it through the second half of his work day. Otherwise, the brainless fartwads back in the office get the win.

“I can see why birds find it appealing.”

Not interested.

“Gives them a break flying over the city.”

All right, you pain in the ass. “Who?” Make him dig for it if he’s not going to stop talking.

“The birds. This spot. Great for bird watching.”

“Ah. Hadn’t noticed.”

“Too bad. It’s quite remarkable.”

Richard had not yet bothered to look up from the lunch he’d spread out over the wax paper on his lap. He hitched up the corners of his mouth in a charitable smile and turned his face to the newcomer, but the newcomer stared at the treetops.

“I’m surprised there aren’t more birdwatchers hanging out here. Because it’s really phenomenal.”

Nothing I’d like more.

“It’s always like that, isn’t it?” the newcomer continued. “You stumble across something awesome and there’s no one to appreciate it.”

“Take a picture,” asshole, “and put it on Facebook or Instagram or whatever.”

“Social media wouldn’t do it justice.”

“Too bad,” said Richard, shrugging, and puckering his face into a sphincter-like smile.

Most normal people would take the hint and find a more cordial spot. They wouldn’t sit next to him on the shaped log he used for his bench. And they certainly would not keep speaking to him.

“Because if you were into birds, this would really make your day.”

Not a chance. “I’m sure it would. If, as you say, I were into birds.”

“Maybe you know someone who is? Bet they’d get a kick out of it.”

“Can’t say that I do.” Wouldn’t if I did.

“Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many vultures in the Park.”

Richard, primed to give out with another chill-inducing conversation killer, stopped. “You see vultures?”

“Sure. I said it was amazing.”

“I got that part. Where do you see them?”

Richard stood up and looked where the newcomer pointed.

“They’re all over the tops of the trees. You can’t see them?”

Of course Richard saw them. “Are you sure?” He’d been aware of them all week. He wanted to make sure this lamebrain saw them, too.

“They’re up there. Big as life. Amazing because, you know, they’re not something you find in Manhattan. They look lost.”

Richard began laughing, hard, doubling over, then whipping back. He broke into a jig of a dance, trying to get control of himself.

“Buddy, are you okay?”

Richard pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead, coughed, and wheezed out, “Yes, yes, yes!”

He paced for a moment, eyes fixed on the vultures, then stopped, his hands thrust into his hip pockets and canted slightly as he studied the birds.

“Those miserable pests have been staring down at me the last five days I’ve been coming here for my lunch. I was sure the whole thing was turning into a cheesy metaphor.”

“You mean hallucination?”

“No. I mean a metaphor.” Richard wheezed another laughing burst into his handkerchief.

“Since Monday, coming here, I had this awful feeling I was being eaten from the inside out. My guts plucked at, pulled out, and digested by vultures. I’d never felt this way before, and it had me wondering if this is what regret, true regret, feels like. I couldn’t think what else it might be. Something was eating me up, and I was convinced those birds were a manifestation of my misery. Until you told me you saw them, too.”

“Why? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Usually I would mind. But, since you put my mind to rest, I’ll tell you.”

Richard sat down on the log, pinching his pants at the knees, giving a tug to loosen the tension on the fabric.

“Last Friday I had to get some financials out the door. You know how it is. End of the week, people trying to slip away a few minutes early, not being careful. They will, without fail, screw up your work. I make them wait until I check it over. Sure enough. One whole page was wrong. The books were already copied and bound. I made the woman who’d screwed it up wait while someone else fixed the page. She offered to do it, but I wasn’t about to let her. I did make her wait until it was done. She sure as hell wasn’t going to start her weekend while I had to stand there waiting for the books to be re-copied and re-bound. She needed to feel just how much her stupidity was costing everybody.”

“That why you thought you were seeing vultures? Being rough on her?”

“Not at all. You stay on top of people or they won’t take you seriously when it really counts.”

“Makes sense, I guess,” said the newcomer. “So, why the vulture metaphor?”

“I can learn a lot about a person’s weaknesses from their mistakes.  If I figure out how they managed to screw something up, I know exactly what to look out for next time. I went back to my original spreadsheets. What could have been so difficult about copying and pasting some numbers into a presentation?” Richard blew out a long breath. “Turned out I’d given them an old page to work with. But—if she’d bothered to spot check, she’d have seen the numbers didn’t foot and could have let me know. I guess she doesn’t do math.”

“Ah. Wasn’t her fault.”

“That was Monday. Those fucking birds have been up there since then. They didn’t shit, they didn’t fly off, they didn’t hunt.”

“Vultures don’t hunt. They’re scavengers. They eat dead things.”

“Exactly. They didn’t move. There hasn’t been at least one dead rat, pigeon, or squirrel this entire week? I tried throwing rocks, but they’re too high. You get why I thought I was seeing things? I admit. It shook me. If they weren’t real, what did it mean? That’s when I started thinking they might be a metaphor.”

“Not an hallucination.”

“Was there something I was supposed to do, something I was supposed to say?”

“To the woman?”

“I did try working out how I might bring it up to her. But everything came out so weak-assed. Like?—?like?—?like?—?”

“Capitulation.”

“Exactly. What’s to keep her or anyone else from thinking that’s exactly what it is? The harder I worked on finding the right words, the worse it got.” Richard rubbed his fists over his midsection as if grappling with a great, intestinal pain. “Then you said you saw the vultures. It was like the talons let go their grip.” Richard’s hands opened like flowers in relief. “I don’t have to tell some idiot that, ‘I’m soooo sorry, I must’ve made a mistake, and you can go back to thinking so highly of your piddling skills.’”

“Something along those lines probably wouldn’t hurt.”

“They get paid to take the heat. Otherwise, we’re walking on eggshells, watching every word out of our mouths.  ‘Ooooh, I guess I can’t point out someone is a bonehead because of the one time I slipped up, and what if they remember that?’ No thank you.”

“So, you’re not going to say anything?”

“It’s better if she goes on thinking she let us down. I’m doing a favor for the next person she does any work for.”

Richard relaxed against the rough slats of the make-shift back to the log bench. He stretched his arm out to check his watch.

“I’m going to be late back from lunch. But you know what, I’m feeling pretty good.”

“Glad to help,” said the newcomer, “I guess.”

“I should probably see a doctor, though,” said Richard. “I hate doctors.”

“Why see a doctor?”

“Get this looked at.” Richard unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it open.

“Holy shit! Everything’s eaten away.”

“You see why I’m glad those bastards up there are real? I was so afraid it was all a metaphor, being totally dead inside. I dreaded the idea I’d have to make up with every cretin, imbecile, and pinhead that ever thought I offended them.”

“That is a metaphor,” said the newcomer, staring at Richard’s chest.

“You told me you see the vultures, too.”

“I do, but that’s a metaphor. You wouldn’t be walking around.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No.”

“Then you could be wrong.”

“There’s nothing there! No liver, heart, lungs. Just a few pieces of intestine. Even the sternum’s gone.”

“All the more reason to ask a doctor.”

“Whatever it was you planned to do about that woman back at work, you better do it right now. Don’t wait.”

“I’d rather see a specialist first, if you don’t mind.”

“Suit yourself, buddy. But you need to get it straightened out.”

Richard reached into the empty cavity of his chest and ran his fingernails along the inside of his ribcage, making a sound like a child’s mistuned xylophone.

Richard’s good mood evaporated. On top of that, he still had to go back to the office.