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"Sunbird" by Tiffany M Storrs

The only sound, other than the baby lion purr of the train, was the screeching of some bird on the horizon line, darting in and out of the sun’s rays in direct defiance of both life and death. It was a hot and holy war fought alone and boldly, brazenly in the forceful rays that occasionally broke through the half-overcast.

She sat alone by the window, three new records loaded onto her mp3 player, shifting the weight of her overnight bag on her lap. She had switched trains an hour before and got her heel stuck in the escalator going down, resulting in a knee-jerk and a deliberate step - one, two. Her dress was white and pleated on top, navy and somber on the bottom. Her face was made up, her expression indifferent. He told her once that she was cold and aloof, but that was only part of the story; the secret was that she summoned that behavior only when she wanted to.

A man invited himself into the empty seat beside her, a booming apparition in pressed white linen. He was over 70 — mostly an open collar, a mustache, and a tan; a life well lived and leaking out of his pores (or perhaps that was the gin). He reminded her of someone on a cigar box. The man told her he noticed her at the station, taking her deliberate step - one, two. She nodded, her finger flipping the volume up in her headphones. She could only partially hear him, something about Panama or panorama or Pamela his lovely wife, God rest her soul. She wasn’t sure and assumed the man wasn’t either. M. Ward was singing the blues, and she wondered why she was there. It wasn’t because he told her that the reason he hated her so much was for being a better writer than him. It wasn’t for the 300 plus women he’d had, claimed he’d had, made the unbelievable claim he had had. Maybe one of them was Pamela. God rest their souls.

The man turned to her then and winked, face creasing in a shark-like smile, vapid and predictable. He asked what a pretty girl like her was doing taking a train so far away. A pause heavy with answers she didn’t have. Out the window, the sunbird had multiplied, a flock of unfriendly screams drawing her attention for a moment, circling a figure 8 above an empty cornfield. She didn’t like too many birds in one place (a little too Alfred Hitchcock). She didn’t like the number 8, how she saw it repeating on clocks and in movies, how she felt it kept her locked in rhythm. She didn’t care for the man in white linen. She wasn’t sure about him either. She meant to tell the man about love, but it came out as “fondness.”

White linen shook his head. “Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?” The man had a faint British accent now, possibly a put-on. She turned her volume all the way up.

The trip was supposed to take six hours, and it took twelve. In truth, it had also taken the three years prior and would linger on until the end of the present one. Every time the train slowed, shook, heaved to the right, and sighed, another train rolled past them. She looked at the passengers. Ponytails and fingertips, elbows and noses, all a blur but containing some stand-out piece. She quietly questioned their story. The man in white linen had moved his bags to the seat across the aisle and waited for her to turn her head so he could engage her further. She didn’t. The sunbird was alone then, still flapping and screeching, apparently irritated that his warning went unanswered, unheeded, unnecessary because she already knew. She thought about home, about going home, about how getting there would require another Donner Party-style family dinner or inane lecture on her indifference. He had bought her a ring once and tricked her into wearing it, into the implication of wearing it, into the sand trap of guilt that he only wanted because it bothered her.

White linen fell asleep for a while and she snuck away to the cafe car for a soda. On her way back, a group of Boy Scouts asked her for city directions once they got where they were going. She told them everything she knew, displayed a pop-up map she kept in her pocket, not because she wasn’t tired of talking (she was), but because she was kind and good. That’s why she was there. That’s how she got everywhere she didn’t want to be.

The train arrived. She flipped open her phone to read “I’ll be out by the car.” He had been at the station for six hours and was already annoyed. Her stomach lurched with the hopelessness of regret, her lack of courage a boiling pot overfilled, one more drop to spill exquisitely, destructively all over her pretty dress.

White linen was due off at the stop after hers. As she disembarked, he called to her - “Good luck with your fondness!”

She dismissed him with a wave over her shoulder and a “what the fuck, good luck with yours!” under her breath. On the stairs, her legs felt heavy. On the cement, the evening cool struck her right in the throat.

It was a long walk around the station building. Late night, big city. The sunbird had disappeared, back to its nest she assumed, but she still heard it crying for her; slow and constant, the audible inevitable. She listened, mentally listing all of the things she knew. She knew if she fucked him tonight she wouldn’t have to do it for another 8 hours at least, and she could get some sleep. She knew he’d demand to know if she’d been with someone else. She hadn’t, but she didn’t like telling him anything, much less the truth. She knew his cutting remarks were waiting, tucked into the corners of his ancient car, coiled snakes in the backseat with their venom ripe and dripping. She knew his mother hated her until she read her writing, and may have still hated her after that, just less because a starving artist is better than simply starving. She knew this was the end’s final beginning, doomed and dismal, a sad pirouette two partners toddle around each other for fear of the unknown. She knew she’d look back on this time and say she did it because she was kind and good, quite the little martyr, always face-down in someone else’s misery. God rest her soul.

Her steps were less deliberate now, purposefully slow, one THEN two. She tightened her arms around her body and said aloud to the sunbird, to herself, to the no one listening - “Scream it ‘till you’re blue.”

Tiffany M Storrs is the editor in chief of Roi Fainéant Press. She is a writer above most other things, but there are so many other things, and she is properly qualified for none of those titles. She loves a lot of stuff but we're not going to get into all of that now. You can find her here, on Twitter @ msladybrute, on Instagram @ lady.brute, and out back honing her wit.


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