New Writing



Birdcatchers

Kristin Robertson


What happens to the birds who get stuck in the subway?
Only God and I know.
I’ve been catching birds for nearly 20 years now. 20 years of feathers in my face, of wriggling grey creatures frightened out of their simple minds. Some birds come easily, faithful like children, but others will fight like a cornered bear: all claws and flapping arms. There is nothing quite like the peaceful cooing of a dove in your hands though. Releasing them is euphoric. Before they leave there’s that brief glitch in time when a bird hears the call home before they follow it. Those who taste imprisonment learn their lessons well. I’ll never see them again.
Until about 13 years ago I had loved my job through and through. But then he found his way in. My very own big, blue whale. Well, except that it’s a big, green bird. A feral Rose-ringed Parakeet that is just as much of a menace as Melville’s beast. His unnatural warble taunts me through the tunnels. His demonic workings are evidenced by sections of damaged pipes and light fixtures. For years he has survived off the wastefulness of commuters and has hid in the many nooks of this maze. There are times where I don’t see his savage form for weeks. I always end up wondering if he met his end in the face of a train he couldn’t outrun. But then his chirps echo their way to me and my sick satisfaction is destroyed. An ordinary bird would have found their way out by now.
Mark my words well; one day his luck will run out.

A young man crosses my path too often for coincidence. Platform 2, it’s always platform 2. In the thrilling youth of his twenties, he complains about the rising train fares and spends time with many “lucky” girls. The girls are different almost every time and yet they are the same: intense eyes that teem with subtext and an all-round air of importance, no doubt created by the young man himself. He relishes the attention he gets from harvesting such high egos. Perhaps he feels he’s won the prize no other man could hold, a prize he created himself. And yet, he’s the one who cuts them loose. I’ve seen him cut at least three of them right here on the platform. He leaves their bright eyes dripping as he’s carried further away on a train ride meant for two.

It’s been a quiet week; zero calls to rescue the lost. I don’t waste this time. The deepest part of the subway is mine to explore. He must have a permanent lair in which to gather his strength. My footsteps are masked by the distant rushing of trains and the dripping of unseen leaks. My flashlight finds a syringe on the ground as I shudder at the thought of desperateness. Graffiti from years before still shouts its significance.
What was that?
The flap of wings!
No other birds would venture in this deep: it’s him. I ready my net and breathe deep to steady myself. My teeth now clutch the torch as I move forward. Both hands on the net. Don’t lose focus, not now.
He flaps again.
I’m close.
Don’t trip. Don’t let him know you are here.
My neck’s craned forward uncomfortably as my eyes search the darkness. I must be right on top of him.
Flap
“Ow”
Clunk
Leave the torch; just follow him while you can. I chase him back the way I came and stagger among the rubble. I regret the torch. Lose the torch, lose the beast. By the time I make it back to the main lights he’s probably found a whole new hideout.
I’m not much of a smoker but I become two-packs-a-day addicted when it comes to him. I look like a mad man. Doubled over like I can’t breathe and yet I puff out cheap smoke. There are red smears on my face: deep claw marks. Children stare.
Son of a bitch.
I was so damn close.

I checked that tunnel many times after that, but he’s too smart to return. I don’t see him for as long as it takes for a scratch to become a scar. I’ve had to settle for small catches. But despite my rage they were all gentle, every one. They coo my curses away and I can’t help but smile again when they leave me.
Off I go down platform 2. Children are complaining about their feet and mothers are complaining about their children. Men stare into the distance, so lost in thought their train may pass without them on it. And suddenly I’m shocked. It’s the young man again and he’s with a girl, nothing new there. But she seems different from the rest. She seems wholesome and at ease. She doesn’t stand as if the platform owes her a ‘thank you’ for being there. Her body isn’t pressed up against him in a ludicrous display of affection. They are simply holding hands and talking like old friends. He tries to put her on a pedestal, she smiles and changes the subject. She’s not buying into his tricks. As their train pulls in, I silently pray he doesn’t screw this one up. I don’t know him, but I know she’s the one he’s been looking for.

 


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