I am standing at the bottom of a manufactured hole.
A light-well of a fourteen story residential building. A mid structure parenthesis. A six by thirty foot grave damp space. Whose base starts on the ceiling of the third story and rises eleven more. To a framed rectangular sky.
The floor of the hole is a littered dirt carpet dead end. Odd refuse is strewn amongst faded metal electric boxes and air conditioning units. Everything sways slightly in the oven summer heat. A post apocalyptic miniature nuclear reactor set.
On the walls around are windows. Picture frame apartments hang on all four sides. A lovely view. Of ignoring someone else. A few feet across the way.
Above, a standard gauge wire fence drapes over the mouth of the light-well. Put there to keep out pigeons. Flocks of pigeons. Societies of pigeons. Distant relations. Nuclear families.
The youngest and most vulnerable members of which. I now palm in the curve of a shovel blade. Delicately, properly distanced.
The wire roof cap is of course useless. And in fact, covered with enough feces and refuse. To provide a decent imitation adobe roof hut. Winged intruders. Smuggle through ﬂex bent corner spaces. And huddle together. Behind the air-conditioning units. Like denizens of some far north winter gulag.
I am using the shovel, amongst other tools, to pressure wash and clean the hole. It is my job.
I am in Kansas. No offense. But. Fuck me. Fertile gold death ﬁelds. And sun blushed unforgiven skies. Fifty ﬁfty horizon split.
My people are of this land. Staked their ﬂags in the ﬂat expanse the moment it was properly stole. Generations of criminals and preachers. Small pond big spenders. And wrong place short timers. Land locked geniuses and asshole almost kings. Mostly self hating god fearing souls.
At some point, my parents drove those straight roads until they curved. Beyond the cornstalk congregations. I was born far away. A self hating non god fearing soul. The son of a prodigal son, who never returned.
But I have. To clean pigeon shit. In the centripetal yard. Of a quick cash condo turnaround.
In the hole with me, are two young Kansans. One is KG. He is nineteen, gangly lanky. With a top heavy ﬂop of raven black hair. And an addiction to pyramid schemes. His American dream is to get rich. Fuck all rich. And shortly thereafter, die beach chair drunk. “There’d be nothing else left,” false bravado Texas twang. KG is our supervisor.
The other, Brian. He is a square brick built twenty-one. Sea green-eyed blond. Fearless, oversexed, and probably not long for this world. He once cold-cocked a man flat. Before he noticed the guy’s seven-inch blade in his own gut. He once got laid because he borrowed a cool car.
I am twenty seven. Just released from a nine year tour in academia. To the ladder’s lowest rung. A midnight drunk who lives in his brother’s basement. The uncle you don’t loan money to. The Kansas boys call me Bob. My name is not Bob.
On paper, our job is landscaping and de-construction. Which we are pretty good at. We’ve built sun crested verdant slopes out of mall parking lots. We’ve gutted and skinned the intestines. Of downtown mammoth factory carcasses. In a single week.
In actuality, our job is satisfying a rich man’s every whim. The sole client of the company we work for. Is one of the wealthiest landowners in the Kansas City region. He is tall with mustache. Incredibly cheap. And completely forgettable. He has a tall, naturally blond knock out wife in her early thirties. He has a raven haired, shoulder slumped daughter in her early thirties.
We move the rich man’s furniture. We repair his horse ranch fence. While his associates shotgun skeet over our heads. We hand wash his private jet.
The company we work for is run by the two best friends of the rich man’s son. The rich man is the only reason it remains in business.
But the rich man is busy. He doesn’t have time to gift gigs every day.
So sometimes our job is to play handball in a gutted window lit loft space. Or to rotate turns. Taking naps. In an upturned wheelbarrow. Or to watch the world cinema by. From behind the dark window of a storefront under construction.
But at the moment I am staring at a mother in a hole. KG, Brian and I have discovered the small pueblos of pigeons. They are camped in every possible semi-shelter. In cardboard beer cases. Under bent blinds. In the folds of petrified fossil curtains.
Under the flotsam of apartment living. Is a tangle of naked limbs.
We huddle quick. A simple plan hatched. To pile the babies in the far corner. Then, once the pressure washing is finished, smuggle them through the building in an appropriate container.
KG goes for a garbage can of sufficient quality and size. Brian and I tackle the birds. We decide on a two front attack. Wedging the birds together with shovel salad tongs.
A mother pigeon is dumb fierce. Will at least nag the hawk. As it eats her young. Will threaten to peck. Your toes. While you steal her babies. But won’t. Ever. Just. Fucking. Leave.
Brian and I shuffling shovels of squirming nudes. The mothers at our heels, shouting threats. Keeping their distance. The sunlight is skipping between the fence roof and the condensation water drops that soft slap our shoulders. The crap colored electric boxes hum a melody not un-sweet.
KG returns with a top of the line temporary pigeon shelter. Borrowed from some other less rich man’s daughter. We move with purpose. Seizing a chance to pass favors to the equally less fortunate. The brothers and sisters of down.
We corral the pigeons in a corner. Camouflage them with debris, for their own sense of normalcy. Make sure no eyes are upon us. And take off. Because it is exactly twelve thirty. And twelve thirty exactly is lunch.
In this worker’s America, lunch is one of the only times you don’t have a collar on you. You thrift every minute.
We leave in Brian’s atrophied muscle car. Music blaring that probably has the same effect as microwaves. Windows down. Casting overly long inappropriate stares. Warp speed two city blocks. To a small but dense exquisite horse shoe collection of stores and restaurants.
I have waged a small crusade on the Kansas boys. To be allowed to eat here rather than fast food joints. A humble farmer’s market in the heart of downtown. Authentically stocked selections of Middle Eastern, Asian, South American cuisine.
The reason why the boys are okay with it. Is a hot dog stand. Where a guy from Ecuador. Sells dirt cheap foot longs, and over-loaded burgers.
The reason why I’m okay with it. Is the daughter. Of the owner of a Middle Eastern joint. A thick dark browed, bright eyed woman whose hips you could rest your elbows on. Her father obviously doesn’t trust or like me. I don’t blame him. I would start wars to brail her soft skin.
I flatter myself to think. That I catch a hint of smile around her eyes. When I awkwardly order. That our small moments. Aren’t simply a narrative of the ever alone.
I carry the memories of my food service crushes like those of lovers. The North country coffee shop painter. With an obsession of angular cats. How the Korean breakfast sandwich genius. Would fingertip a cherry tomato slice into place. The Puget Sound bake shop muffin lip queen.
We eat slowly. Brian tells us intimate details. Again. About the birthday of the nineteen quickies. KG explains how his most recent pyramid scheme is not actually a pyramid. The wind every now and then in the Kansas day. The jets leaving odd geometries in the sky.
The end of the half hour rises brick wall. We leave, as though abandoning our childhood homes. The boys heartily shake the hand of the Ecuadorian. Who is becoming more of a hero to them. Meat foot by foot. I catch the eye of my forbidden Middle Eastern fruit. Who glances just long enough, to ensure my ever return.
Then a hundred miles an hour two city blocks. Because that’s the only way Brian’s car knows how. To the job site of the day.
The managers of the building await our return. A trio of once jocks, and disenchanted former military men. Their jobs consist of expertly avoiding the complaints of the apartment residents. And swiping anything that isn’t chained. They stand smugly. Armed with the knowledge that the job we are there for. Was outsourced to lesser men.
We all shuffle feet in the narrow hallway. With a lilliputian door. Mid wall opposite the third floor elevators. That opens to the light-well.
The three are posing stern. The leader shakes his head ruefully. He is the shortest, a taut muscled man. Whose uniform hints of former discipline now abandoned. He leans in intimate like.
You boys didn’t finish your job. But we took care of it for you.
The others punctuate with weighted looks and sniggers. A punchline that’s been waiting a while. We’re all not sure what the hell. I tell the Kansas boys to wait.
Beyond the tiny door the fat air. The mid day sun falls heavy, exposing every line. There are whimpers wafting from the end of the hole. I approach like a colossal thing falling.
The corner pile of naked limbs is broken. A scarlet soup with slight movement. A few bodies of the mothers are spread in a semi-circle. Around their babes. Remnants of a last stand. More than a few still breath.
A fluttering from behind me. A mother, untouched, lands at my side. Squawking like a dog chew toy. Who doesn’t have it in her anymore. We look at each other. Two wives at the funeral of the same man.
I nudge her away with my boot, and reach for the shovel leaning from the morning’s labor.
I return to the pile and the countless eyes within. My shadow falls over all. Their stares suns. Stars. All at once lifting and rotating above my horizon.
I raise the shovel. And strike with my best precision. But I am an unskilled hangman. The act must be repeated. Repeatedly. For every single beast.
I scoop the bodies into the garbage bin repurposed. And lay them soft bottom. As though not to wake.
The remaining mother is now mostly silent. The sole attendant to this clumsy ceremony. The quiet makes me fill it. And I melody the only absolution that comes to mind.
Fucked pigeons. Fucked birds.