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It happened because she was edgy and bursting. It was the first day you could
really feel Spring approaching. It was that brief time in between seasons
that she could feel something new happening, and it made her anxious and
excited. It was like new air, or sweeping cobwebs. There was a light rain
outside and Madeleine wanted to throw open her two little windows to her
small apartment space and let the warm mist fill the room. But the noise
from the traffic would've been too much, and she was worried for the bird.
As it was, the hiss of the scratchy needle was barely audible. She
crouched down beside the heating vent to listen. The music was low and
tired. Something like Billie Holiday. It was Billie Holiday, but for the
two weeks she had looked, she hadn't been able to find it in any of the
record shops. She leaned against her raggedy old reading chair and stared
at the stack of books and odd art supplies next to her. Too much time
spent inside reading and dreaming, she worried.
She looked up at the small, blue-green bird
in the cage next to her bed, and then picked up a blue crayon. The bird
was quiet. Quite still and beautiful. Every once in a while she would turn
her head slightly to observe her new surroundings. She was calm. Even when
Madeleine had brought her home a week ago and taken a polaroid of her, she
had fluttered her wings, but in a gentle way. The softly blurred movement
was a moment of perfect grace, Madeleine thought, as she ran her fingers
along the edge of the picture which now hung on the wall beside the chair.
She looked like the sea. As she put down the crayon for another, it
started. She wondered how long Maggie had lived down there. How long she
had been there. She rested her head against the wall and began to slowly
peel away the old crayon's paper label. She reached for a jar of rubber
cement and twisted off the top. The music mixed with the sound of Maggie,
as if the sobs were a part of the song. Not like an instrument - not an
accompanying sound - but interior, as if growing from within the music. A
ghost. Madeleine brushed a streak of glue next to the polaroid and stuck
the green paper to the wall. "Seafoam," she whispered.
Typically, she had only gone on Wednesday afternoons. It was the one day
that they ran a bargain matinee and it only cost her $3. Besides the
price, she liked the fact that the theatre was empty then. It was an old
movie house where they played revivals and art films. Madeleine liked the
musty smell inside, and the worn crushed burgundy of the seats. She liked
the warm glow of colors that were muted by the darkness, like the old
Hopper painting that hung above her chair. Occasionally, she would bring
her little reading light and a sketch pad and work on a face from the
film. It was on a Sunday night that she had
met her. One of those odd times when she had to pay full price, because
the film she wanted to see was only a weekend run. It was Stardust
Memories, by Woody Allen. He had been one of her favorites before the
awful thing with his wife's daughter. Before the fear of age and death had
become too overwhelming for him. She had seen one or two of his newer
movies, and it made her feel embarrassed. Like finding out a close friend
has been lying to you. "Do you ever draw
birds?" Madeleine looked up from her wallet.
"I'm sorry..." "The drawing pad. You're a
painter?" "Um, I sketch."
Madeleine was startled to realize it was the
woman from her building. She had seen her in the basement laundry room
that first day she had been down there. One of the woman's laundry baskets
was overturned and used as a step, so that she could climb up onto the
washing machine and then again to nestled herself in a window above the
machines. She had pried open the dingy window frame and was quietly
feeding a few small birds through the security bars. Madeleine watched as
they hoped in and out, pecking crackers straight from her hands. It was
three days later that she first heard her through the vent and realized
she lived in 3c, directly below her. She had seen her one other time out
her window one evening. She had been exiting the building, alone.
Madeleine remembered the way that her hair had lifted softly, caught by
the wind as she walked off out of view.
"I like this one," the woman said, tearing an orange ticket from her
ticket spool. Madeleine struggled with the loose bills in her wallet.
"Although, he's kind of a creep, now."
Madeleine put her $6.50 on the booth counter
and looked up again. She noticed the woman was smiling at her. She had a
beautiful, quiet smile, that was enhanced by deep pensive brown eyes.
Madeleine wanted to tell her that she didn't really like Woody Allen
anymore either, and that she was only coming to draw the sad woman who had
played Woody Allen's first girlfriend in the film. That she hadn't seen
the woman in anything else, as if she had disappeared. And that there was
one particular scene that she adored. Just simple shots of the woman -
jumpcuts of different expressions: manic anxiety, whimsical laughter,
pain, sorrow. She wanted to tell her that this was all she had come for.
Just to sketch her in her book, to take her from the film and close the
door on Woody forever. "Yeah, I know what you
mean," she eeked out in an apologetic manner. Lame, she thought.
"Here you go." The woman nonchalantly slid
Madeleine's money back at her, with her ticket.
"But won't you --"
The woman smiled softly and nodded. "Go
ahead, I'll see you around. You can get me another time."
"Oh. Thanks ..." Madeleine smiled. She
gathered her things. "Maggie."
"Thank you, Maggie."
The lines were simple, as Madeleine let her
hand go. She was half-conscious of what she was doing, caught somewhere
between the last sounds of Maggie and her fading song, and the tapping of
the rain which had started to fall hard on her window. It was the bird who
brought her out of it. She had pecked the tiny silver bell, hanging from
the top of her cage. The bird tilted her head to look down at Madeleine on
the floor. Madeleine stared for a moment, smiling, and then turned back to
the wall to finish her sketch: a ribbon around the bird's neck drifted
across the wall into words: HELLO, SAD MAGGIE.
She didn't take the elevator, because she
wasn't sure if it would bother the bird. By the second set of stairs her
hands were beginning to tremble. The rain clattered off of the metal
dumpsters outside, and filled the stairwell with echoes. "You okay,
honey?" The bird hopped from one perch to the next, calmly inspecting the
passing walls and handrails. As she entered the hallway and stepped up to
the door, a horrific thought occurred to her: "Hello, Maggie? I know i've
only seen you around a couple of times, and well, there's this vent in my
place, you see...anyways, I hear you crying and I...I just wanted to give
you this bird?" Yeah, right. Shit. She began to freeze up. "Don't. Don't
freeze up," she thought. She looked down at the bird. She turned back to
the stairs, and just as she was about to retreat, it happened. The bird
cheeped. A little one. She froze. She looked back down at the bird. The
bird was staring up at her. Another. Madeleine couldn't move.
The apartment door opened. Maggie peered out. "Bird?"
The bird began to sing. Maggie stepped out
into the hall. "Oh, sweetheart. You're
lovely. Yes." she said, as the bird continued. She turned to Madeleine.
"Hi." Madeleine smiled. Her face was red. She
wasn't sure if she could move. She raised her arm tentatively to present
Maggie with the cage. The bird sprung up against the front of the cage
door to greet Maggie. Maggie leaned in an ran her finger against the bars
near the bird. "Um. I bought her for you."
Maggie looked up at Madeleine. She was quiet.
"Oh," she said. She smiled softly, looked serious for a moment and then
her eyes started to become wet. She took the
cage from Madeleine's slightly trembling hands. She continue to stare at
Madeleine. "Can you come in?" Madeleine tried
to relax into a smile. "Yeah. Sure."
The first thing Madeleine noticed, once
inside, were all of the plants. Not the amount of them - although there
were a few - but how green they were. She had never seen such lush house
plants in the city before. Or, anywhere for that matter. They surrounded
the two small window spaces. "How do you keep
your plants so green?" Before she could get
an answer, she felt a soft hand touch her neck. She turned and Maggie
leaned in and kissed her. "Thank you." Maggie
whispered. Madeleine looked into her eyes, as
Maggie reached up and brushed Madeleine's hair lovingly from her forehead.
She kissed her again. "I talk to them,"
Maggie said. Madeleine smiled. "There was
something I've been wanting to tell you," Madeleine said, feeling Maggie's
hands still brushing against her waist. She looked over at the bird, who
was still leaning tight against the cage door, staring up at the two
women. "Well. This is kind of stupid but ...
the first time when I ... well ...," She paused, serious. "When I came to
the theatre I wanted to tell you ... I really don't like Woody Allen
anymore, I think he's gross. I just really liked that film. Yeah. There."
She exhaled and laughed awkwardly. Maggie
laughed. She kissed Madeleine's forhead. "I
sketched the woman in it." Madeleine continued shyly.
Maggie nodded, smiling.
Madeleine looked around the apartment and
then back at Maggie. "The first girlfriend,"
Maggie nodded, knowingly. "Jumpcuts," she said quietly.
Madeleine smiled. "I used to think you were a
ghost." "How do you know I'm not," Maggie
grinned. "Well. I guess I don't." She paused
and looked over at the bird. "But, the bird sees you, too."
"That lovely bird's probably seen lots of
ghosts." Madeleine was quiet. She looked down
at the ground. She looked back up at Maggie, her head tilted slightly like
the bird. "Are you?" Maggie paused. She
sighed. "I'm not sure," she said softly. Her look became distant.
Madeleine took a deep breath and step towards Maggie, squeezing her hand
lightly. Closing her eyes, she leaned in and kissed Maggie just below her
ear. "I don't mind," she said.