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Bitter Birds by Bucket Siler

Lock your bicycle in the alleyway where the restaurants empty their trash. Food truck exhaust mixed with garbage smell and the pavement is damp for some reason—not rain, it never rains here—and you sit on the curb and wait.

What are you waiting for? That’s the question. It’s a strong feeling, though. For weeks, you’ve been chain-drinking cups of skullcap tea, playing chase-the-string with your neighbor’s cat, taking sunset walks (“so clichéd!” says the person who has never taken a walk at sunset), your hoodie on with the hood up no matter how hot it gets, phone on silent, cordial nod to the postman, etc., and still the feeling persists, like there’s something else you should be doing, something that’s about to happen, something you’re missing, something like that.

Then, at the end of the alleyway, an old woman driving a shitty old car packed to the windows with plastic bags slowly reverses until she collides, rather gracefully, really, into a sporty red car idling at the curb. A dumbstruck teenage boy steps out. He looks at you (the only witness, and suddenly the moment feels charged with meaning), looks at his bumper, looks at you again with wide, confused eyes, gets back into the car, drives away. And from the bowels of your backpack, you whip out a notebook and furiously scribble homeless woman with rat’s tail, pimply teenage boy, fender bender because Wow. It was quite a dramatic incident for someone who hasn’t left their house in two days (that’s you), and you might want to write a poem about it later.

Meanwhile, half a block away, there’s an arts festival with a hundred people you know—like, personally know; it’s a small town—milling around near a music stage, a vegan taco cart, a vintage clothing booth, a woman in a leather crop-top selling herbal elixirs, whatever that is, and you stand up and venture to the information booth where a man—once bearded, now shaven, once matched with you on Tinder, now planning to leave town—says,


You open your mouth to respond, but he’s already moved on. He’s telling you how he is. Like, spiritually. Like, where he’s at, in the bigger scheme of things. He’s trying to dance like no one’s watching, you know? Be grateful for the little things. Embrace himself for who he really is without judgment. And while he talks, you reach into your backpack for a Ziploc bag that contains half an apple you brought from home, and you munch and munch and munch and wait—there it is again, that waiting feeling—until suddenly he pauses, whips his head around to look at the stage, and says,

“Bitter birds.”

And you say, “What?”

And he says, “Bitter Birds. The band. They’re playing,” and you’re standing there, looking at the back of his head, like a dream you once had of chasing someone who never turned around, a faceless demon with black hair covering every side of his head, and then you’re walking away, and somewhere behind you he’s shouting, “Hey! Where are you going?” and just like that the feeling is gone.


Bucket's writing has appeared in Storm Cellar, The Offing, Atticus Review, Bracken, The Smart Set, and others. She holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop, and has been a Vermont Studio Center Fellow and the recipient of a Fulcrum Fund Award. She lives in New Mexico, where she organizes Santa Fe Zine Fest.

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