I got the idea for this story one day in Hajii Lane looking at a caged bird staring at the sky…
Those tall lean San Francisco houses look like rows of multicolored piano keys left unplayed, except for by an occasional shower or a gust of wind. The balconies are French with curled iron and picked tops. If somebody ever used them they would be able to hold hands from one end to the other. But this neighborhood is past its best. The only living things you see here are birds bickering on rooftops. I should know, I’m one myself. I live on second floor of a big white and olive back-to-back house. You may assume I’m a nuisance, you’re wrong, I’m just an outsider. That’s the odd thing about Julius Lawrence Street, it never became what it intended to be: cheap lodgings and noisy pubs. Instead it offers privacy and silence, solitary rooms and cold nights. It suits me. I rest my mind on flights of fancy. I can’t stay in those cages with iron bars. I enjoy my seclusion, and I only work on evenings. The others leave me in peace.
But then someone moved into the flat above me. At first I thought it was a ghost, but we met on the chimney landing one day, and I learned that his name was Harris. He told me that he was bred in captivity, which was odd because he was rather common looking. The others were curious about Harris of course, but he was like me: no audible comings and goings. He asked me a couple of times to borrow my bathroom, apparently his water was jammed or something. But mostly we met on the landing. He came back when I left. He never really spoke to me, just registered my presence with a nod of the head. On rainy days when I didn’t go to work, I heard him unlocking his door. Then there was a thump and raised voices. No one else seemed to care. But I had come here for the vacuum of silence, for the vacancy, the emptiness. At first I decided to talk to Harris about it, but then I thought better of it.
That morning was sweltering. It was summer, and the sun boiled the concrete from dawn to dusk. My flat was unusually stuffy, and I was relieved when I heard Harris leaving his flat, heading for the stairs. I waited until he was gone before I followed him. The wind was cool and refreshing, and I could move easily despite the caging heat.
Bare streets fuming with sultry cries tried to leap at me, but I was too fast. That’s the thing about piano keys, they provide excellent patches of shadows. I could almost hear the dark tone of the black shorter keys quivering melodically. Then Harris disappeared behind an abandoned flower shop and I quickened my pace. I rounded the corner and was taken aback by what I saw.
There he was, like a common thief broken into a house filled with withered roses and beheaded garden gnomes. He was standing on a carpet of black metallic dust, but he wasn’t alone. A crowd of about ten to fifteen cats stood about him tinkering with something laid on gray tables. You can imagine my shock, cats! Those selfish, lazy loners crowding my backyard! Harris was holding an iron rod that looked like something from his balcony. I leaned in for a better look. The buggers were making banners with slogans such as: ” Death to the feather-clippers” and ” Let there be no limits to the sky.” In a terracotta pot by the blackened window I could see several discarded collars, some with name tags and magnets on them. A steel bowl of water stood close by. Harris had a determined look in his eyes as he stood in the gloomed yellow sunlight thumping his iron rod rhythmically on the blinking floor.
I stepped out of my hiding place and moved back unto the deserted street. Unlit lamp posts and disengaged traffic lights were leaning conspicuously in on me. The tall San Fransisco houses seemed uncomfortable, abandoned without being remote. I felt diminished by them. My eyes fell on the rooftops, they were crowded, but not friendly. Like cakes frosted with flies. I let my eyes travel higher, and there it was. The sky. The blue was so inviting. It had no currency, no gossip. The sun cast silvery shadows on the clouds. The thin layer of city dust was carefully wiped away by yesterday’s rain. I recognized the night hiding in the future. It shed crumbled stars between my overweight stiff wings. I tried to recall exactly how Harris had done it, spreading them like fans. I felt as if I would release, open, startlingly fast, perhaps better than I had ever done before. The rising of me looked exactly like a flutter, and I kicked off and flew, into that faraway blue that had no limits.