Title: Birds, TogetherAuthor: mokushi-saikiRating: GWordcount: 1,519
We hadn't known each other long before we had created our own little bubble of space, minimizing the world to a population of two (and a half, if one counted my ever-present company of the fictional sort, for I showed my books a greater devotion than I ever would show any living being. Words are far more faithful lovers). His name wasn’t Sherlock Holmes or Arthur (Rex) or Edmond Dantés; He didn’t hold a candle to Mr. Holmes’ brilliance, Giacomo Casanova’s sensual romance or Il Principe’s ruthlessness (fear or love? I wanted to ask him which he valued more, but I didn’t think he’d answer me). He was hammered together with bits stolen from each of them. His name was William – “Billy” to everyone but me
– and on one of the earliest days of our acquaintance, he took me to see a lighthouse.
“Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked me. His grey eyes drifted, as if he had asked the wind instead, but his voice was leveled for my ears. I swept my eyes across the scene before me, my gaze drifting down the steep drop of the cliffs, observing their exposed faces—granite, ferrous rock, tinted red, salt-rimed—eternally set in steadfast, stoic repose. Across the expanse of the river, a lighthouse perched, its light winking at us through the rainy dawn.
“I’d like to,” I replied, as I adjusted my scarf against the wind. A wild grin stole onto his face. For a moment, I thought it was the sun.
“Well, when I die, I’d like to come back as a tree on this bank,” he gestured grandly at the stately pines framing our lookout point. “You could be that lighthouse over there; that way, we can always look at each other, your face towards mine.” The wind snatched at his hood, baring short blonde hair to the elements. Gazing at his bright features, I thought that he was mistaken.
“I’d much rather be a bird,” I told him quietly. Our eyes tracked the jesting gulls as they drifted through the rain and squabbled for stable perches on the bridge below.
“You’d fly off and leave me to rust, then? He spoke half in jest. He failed to conceal … I wasn’t sure what it was, but it struck a chord and lingered. My hand brushed past his as I pointed across the river.
“See the gulls? They fly freely. They land where they wish. They converse and argue and are uncannily intelligent. I’d go where I wanted to; I don’t think I’d leave. If I were a gull, I’d fly to where you were and talk to you. I wouldn’t be grounded with nothing but my single bright eye to look in your direction. Don’t you think that’s better? Being a lighthouse seems lonely.” I shrugged. “You’d make a better lighthouse, anyway.” He gazed thoughtfully at me, long enough to make me want to turn away from his guileless scrutiny. When at last his eyes had loosed my features from the captivity of his gaze, I turned to face the river below us. After that, we fell silent.
We spent the rest of the day wandering, stealing under park shelters to avoid the intermittent rain. In the gaps of silence that stretched between our grunts of assent or aborted attempts at conversation, I read of the boy Wart and his sorcerer-tutor, Merlyn, as they twisted as fish through moats, sat, jessed and hooded as merlins through hawk mews, marched as ants marching through monotonous nests. The written word managed to ensnare me again, but not entirely; whenever I caught a glimpse of the lighthouse across the river, I glanced up at William in time to see a soft grin being chased round the edges of his mouth.
I knew that most people didn’t suddenly decide to run headlong from “acquaintances” to “close companions” within a matter of a few short weeks (certainly I didn’t; I chose my friends carefully and kept careful distance all the same), but there wasn’t much about he and I that I could comfortably class under the blanket term for “most people.”
“’Most people’ are insufferably boring,” he intoned dramatically, when I informed him of my observations. “You, Alex, are not boring, so don’t start now.” I liked his flair for the rude and dramatic. It’s as if he could say everything I held myself back from. Barring that, he loosed my tongue and allowed it free reign (though, I suppose, this wasn’t the best of things). “I mean, I don’t get it – you’re too smart for boring. You’re far too interesting for most of the company you keep. You’ve probably read every book in existence –”
“—That’s impossible, considering the rate at which books are published today—”
“—Shut up, don’t interrupt me. As I was saying, you’re well read, you’re smart, you’ve got this odd sense of humor, don’t protest, you know you do and I love it; why are you so, just, so… Why don’t you let everyone else see what I see? Those funny, weird things about you, those clever things, why –” At that point, I suddenly realized that he was the only person I had that I felt comfortable showing these things to. Being myself, letting loose odd references to literature and bludgeoning conversation with bad gallows humor. I was comfortable enough around him to never feel the pressure of unfilled silences. I realized that if someone else had taken me to that lighthouse, any ex of mine, anyone from my Literature class or my Advanced Studio class, I’d never have said any of those things about trees or gulls or loneliness.
Abruptly, I cut him off, saying, “You’re not everyone else. Don’t start now.” His teeth clacked shut.
At the end of the week, I found a note affixed to my copy of The Once and Future King.
Come and be a bird with me. –W.
My pulse hammered as I flew, leaving the book behind.
I found him perched on a high limb of a pine tree, peering at our lighthouse through a pair of binoculars. In the glittering dusk, its white stripes were cloaked in painted shadows.
“If you fall, you won’t be exempt from gravity the way a bird is,” I remarked in lieu of a greeting.
“Get up here!” He yelled down. His exhilaration twisted in my blood.
“I’m not a fan of broken limbs, thanks.”
“A bird, afraid of heights?” he scoffed playfully. “Hurry, before I drag you up.” I sighed for the drama of it, and then belied my histrionic gusts as I grasped a branch and hauled myself up. As I neared his position in the tree, I grabbed his shoulder for support.
“Honestly, the things you make me –” I froze. Feeling my tension, William turned to look at me. His face, his finely honed face was inches from mine. To say that I panicked a bit in that moment might have been a slight understatement.
“We’re in a tree,” I said, rather dumbly.
“Good deduction there, Sherlock, keep going,” he replied, without a hint of mockery in his voice.
“Or, rather, I’m up here, with you, why am I here? I don’t do this with anyone, I – I’ve known you for a little over three weeks and we’ve been – lighthouses and reincarnation and birds and I – don’t know what this is. This carefree – I’ve never…” I didn’t really know what to say. I was in a tree with someone I’ve known for a shorter time than any other person I could categorize as friend, but he knows the way I look at words. He knows that I don’t like filling the necessary (if prickly) silences. He knows that silence isn’t background noise, not to me, not when I’m with him.
Patiently, he says to me, “You call me William, not Billy,” as if this is supposed to make all of the sense in the world.
I watched the corner of his mouth, chapped from the wind; the perfect arch of his cheekbone; the proud jut of his chin; the flutter of his eyelashes, pale as snowflakes, translucent as fogged glass.
William, not Billy. Silence, not noise. Birds and lighthouses and trees. Perhaps, it does make sense, after all.
“You left your book behind,” he observed pointedly. That dog-eared, heavily annotated, beloved book – I hadn’t spared a single thought for it.
“But you’re here. You saw my note, then.”
“And left the book behind,” he said again.
“Yes, I did.” Our hands shifted, mine to mold to his jaw, his to steady my shoulders. “I’ve known you three weeks,” I said softly into the pine needles.
“Problem?” He was grinning now, just a bit of a tug at the corners of his full lips.
“Not a one. Come fly with me.” Time could run, for all I cared. In that moment, it wasn’t three weeks of time that compelled me. The lighthouse shone in our direction as I chased the grin on his lips with my own.