Gracklessweyesm (c) Stan Crocker
 
 
Music by Steve Kane

Grackles

by Ben Cunningham

     
 

I know a bad day when I see one. For example, that Sunday two months ago, when Charlotte kept jamming me in the ribs with her bony finger, not exactly my idea of foreplay. Sundays were special for us, the day we’d make love, bask in the afterglow for a few minutes, then go for our walk around the lake before going to Spanky’s for coffee and the Sunday paper.

Her snarling, hissing whisper was the second bad sign.

“Stewart! Goddamnit, don’t pretend to be asleep. And stop playing with yourself! Get up. I’m leaving. I wanted to at least tell you to your face.”

She was gone before I grumbled myself fully conscious. I sleuthed around our two-room garage apartment like a drugged detective. All the big stuff was gone, the T.V., stereo—everyfuckingthing. I really should have noticed before, but I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, with my new job and such.

I found some instant coffee so old it had turned to chunky sludge that wouldn’t dissolve in the tap water. I chewed on my coffee, slowly coming to life. I studied my apartment and it dawned on me that the apartment hadn’t, as I’d thought, grown larger over the last week or so, it had just grown emptier.

I crawled back in bed and tried fantasizing about our usual Sunday sex, but it wasn’t working. Had Charlotte really walked out? I tried to think logically: she wasn’t there, but I knew I hadn’t dreamt that she’d walked out; my bruised ribs were all the proof I needed. That, and the fact that there wasn’t anything of value left in my apartment.

Things began their downhill slide after I landed my dream job with the Parks Department as the Grackle Control Officer. The City was losing its war with the big, belligerent black birds, those aggressive shifty-eyed screechy scavengers that were taking over the entire town. It is only a matter of time, declared my supervisor at the Parks Department, before one of those crazy-assed bastards pecks the eyeballs out of some infant in a stroller. That’s when my stress level shot up higher than my blood pressure. It was up to me to save the city, though I was surprised with how little they were paying me for a job right up there with homeland security. As the only GCO, my butt and professional reputation were on the line to rid the town of this new breed of winged terrorists.

I don’t really want to get too deep into the “relationship” thing between Charlotte and me, but I think what finally did us in were all those new age books and T.V. shows she devoured as part of some stupid correspondence course she was taking from a degree mill in Arizona. While I was working my ass off every day ridding an ungrateful town of Grackles, Charlotte was hanging out at the public library reading Psychology Today and whatever touchy-feely books Oprah was recommending that week, part of her “school work,” she said. Yeah, right. She showed me a diploma that came in the mail and she made me start calling her “Doctor.” That was another thousand bucks down the drain.

Everything had to be about Charlotte. I suppose what irritated me the most was the fact that she was so goddamned self-absorbed. It became obvious that after she got that stupid piece of paper (did I mention it cost me a thousand fucking dollars!), she started treating me like crap. Plus, I don’t think she gave a rat’s ass about my new career, even though I tried to talk to her about it.

“Pretty interesting things going on behind closed doors at City Hall today,” I’d tell her in a confidential, for-her-ears-only, tone. “About Grackles,” I would add for maximum effect. I hinted my willingness to share something Top Secret with her.

“Would you please just give it a fucking rest, Stewart,” she’d say, puffing one of her noxious clove cigarettes. “You’ve got me confused with someone who actually gives a shit about, uh…Clackles.”

“Grackles, Charlotte,” I corrected through clenched teeth. “And how can you stand the stink of those god awful cigarettes?”

She glared at me through mucousy eyes on the verge of tears. “You are so fucking insensitive, Stewart. Hurtful. You know that I was born without a sense of smell.”

“Well, I’m telling you, Charlotte, they stink.”

“Go fuck yourself, Stewart, would you? ”

So, okay, now that I look back, I can see there was a little trouble in paradise. There are other fish in the sea, if you know what I mean. Some women find a uniform to be an aphrodisiac, but I’m not in Grackle Control just to get laid. I take my job seriously, even though those tightwads on the City Council under-fund the program big time. I’ve had to pay out of pocket for a lot, that’s how committed I am to this war on Grackles. For example, I bought myself a badge at the Gun & Knife Show at the Coliseum. The badge comes in handy, gives me some respect on the streets. I can even shag a free cup of coffee at the 7-11 when I flash it. I picked up a few other accessories, too. Lock and load time, Grackles. The general public doesn’t realize it, but the Grackle problem is out of control. It’s not just a local problem, either. I told Charlotte that I had been thinking of organizing a Grackle Control Officer convention to coordinate control efforts nationally.

“That’s the stupidest idea I ever fucking heard of, Stewart,” said Charlotte. She was making it clearer by the day that she didn’t understand the first thing about the importance of my work. I have other ideas that I haven’t shared with her. Big ideas. She doesn’t care. Fine. Big deal. Her loss, not mine. Let’s see her keep some kid from getting his eyes pecked out.

****

I just had to get out. Stewart was beginning to scare the living hell out of me. God only knows what drew me to him in the first place. Maybe it was his mane of long hair and those delicate musician’s fingers and super clean fingernails. He played the bongos in a band, the “Wormed Pets;” you’ve probably never heard of it. The band didn’t exactly break up, it more like fizzled. Then Stewart got his stupid job with the city, scaring birds. He said—and I quote—“I’ve got full authority to use deadly force.” He showed me some cheesy looking badge he must have bought from Toys R’ Us. It was all getting pretty fucking pathetic, actually.

Let’s be honest: I outgrew him. We long ago ceased effective dialogue. I self-administered a standardized test that revealed a marked decrease in our Sedona Compatibility Quotients. His irises showed signs of disease. His cuticles didn’t look healthy. By ignoring my needs, he doomed our relationship.

I decided to leave him as soon as I graduated from the Sedona Academy of Naturopathic Psychology with my Doctor of Clientology degree, giving me the official right to use D.O.C. after my name. Clientology, as everyone in the world but Stewart knows, puts the client at the Universal Center of therapy but puts into the calculus the psychosexual needs of the therapist. Treatment is psycho-directional, of course, with an emphasis on emosexual strengthening as well. It goes without saying that marketing, for the therapist, is paramount. Stewart just didn’t get it, not any of it. Probably because he was so obsessed with those stupid blackbirds. Quackles. Whatever.

A few weeks before I left, Stewart started reading books about how to make bombs. How fucking strange is that, I want to know? I couldn’t be certain of course, but it didn’t seem normal that the city would arm bird catchers with guns (he had one, a little derringer, for Christ’s sake). I threw a fit when he brought home what looked like hand grenades. Stewart swore they were only smoke bombs, or chemical dispersants, something like that. But it was that badge he wore on his blue city-issued jumpsuit that somehow irritated me the most. It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

Frankly, he was getting nuttier by the day. Too fucking much for me to deal with (for example, not long ago he asked me if pierced nipples might turn me on!). Whose? I asked, almost afraid of the answer. “Mine,” he said, “here, take a look at this you sexy little beast.” Then, he pulled up his tee-shirt. Merciful Jesus on a tortilla, he’d actually done it! It makes me cringe just to think about it. Then he started going on and on about how he was going to be building Crackle Bombs, or whatever the hell he calls those idiotic birds.

I had to face the fact that our relationship had clabbered. Lucky for me that I met Norman when I did. Twenty minutes after he sat down at my table at Martin’s Café, I knew I was in L.O.V.E. He told me, looking at me with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, that I was without a doubt the smartest woman he’d ever met. I explained Clientology to him and finally revealed that I was a doctor. I’d hesitated because I didn’t want to intimidate him, but he seemed so perfectly secure in his own personhood that it didn’t faze him a bit. He volunteered to become my first client (without payment, of course, in accordance with the client-base-building tip in the Sedona Academy Marketing Handbook). Norman had gorgeous shoulder-length red hair and manicured nails. He oozed sex appeal.

I got away from Stewart just in time. One more wannabe yuppie Sunday with missionary sex and the cappuccino and newspaper thing would have sent me right over the edge. Stewart had this annoying habit of ranting about everything he read, especially if it had anything to do with endangered species of birds. I swore to myself that if I heard him say if it flies, it fucking dies one more time I would leave him.

So, naturally, I jumped at Norman’s offer for me to move into his double-wide so he could help me get my Clientology practice up and running. He vowed—with impressive emotion for a male, I must say in all fairness—that he would be my Nathaniel Brandon, whatever the hell that meant.

Bottom line was that I was glad to be rid of Stewart and thrilled to have finally found my intellectual equal in Norman.

***

Life’s been pretty interesting since Charlotte left. For one thing, I converted my garage apartment into a giant Grackle trap. I can trap enough Grackles right in my own place to meet my quotas, and then some. For another thing, I’ve found a way to become completely self-sufficient, living off the Grackles that I trap and eat. My favorite thing to do is to pick off the Grackle advance patrols that swoop into the apartment to reconnoiter. Their main weakness is that they think they are so damned smart. In fact, with the exception of a foray out the other night to look in on Charlotte and that creep she’s with, I haven’t been out of the apartment in days. I’m being very careful, and very patient. There is a lot of Zen in my work. The trap is being readied, and even though I’ve picked off a few Grackles for food, I’m certain the main force of Grackles still outside has not gotten wise to my ultimate plan. The nasty little bastards are in for the surprise of their useless lives.

Everything is almost ready. I thought about building a bomb from some plans from the internet, but it was far too complicated. To do a proper job I’d have to use something nuclear. I’m not crazy. Making even a small atomic device is not only impractical and expensive, it could cause collateral damage beyond what I think the City Council would deem acceptable.

A week or so ago I made an amazing discovery that has made me all but invisible to Grackles: wrapping my entire body in aluminum foil works as a perfect camouflage. The Grackles totally ignore me. I don’t think they’re being coy, either--the aluminum foil really works. I could get rich if I knew how to apply for a patent. I’ve opened every window and both doors in the apartment. I’ve tossed Fritos and Cracker Jacks around everywhere. I’ve attracted a few non-Grackles, of course, but the combative indigos run off most of the runt interlopers.

I’m so well disguised now that I doubt if my own mother would recognize me. Charlotte sure as hell didn’t. I went spying on her the other night. I crept up to El Creepo’s trailer and peaked through the window. Anyone who saw me would have seen only a great reflective aluminum lump with slits for eye-holes and two red and white swirled plastic drinking straws protruding from my nostrils through the foil so I could breathe (I’d begun breathing through the straws to filter out all the usual diseases that the putrid little pests are notorious for spreading).

Charlotte was standing over El Creepo on his bed, with what looked like an electric knife in her hand. When they saw me, the guy started screaming hysterically, which was worth the price of admission, but it got better. Charlotte actually peed her pants, which must have shorted-out the electric knife. She almost electrocuted herself standing in that puddle of pee. Her stringy brown hair frizzed straight up and smoldered. She gaped idiotically in my direction with her familiar deer in the headlights look. If she had been paying more attention, she might have guessed my identity from the black construction paper Grackle emblem that I had taped to the front of my aluminum suit.

****

He’s certifiable. You should have seen him at my window the other night. He damned near scared Norman and me to death. I reported him to the police, but they didn’t seem particularly interested. In fact, I should have reported them to their superiors for their sarcastic attitudes.

“Bird guy, yes ma’m. Covered in tin foil, uh hmm. Quackles…yes ma’m, maybe you mean ducks…?” Then his dumb ass partner pipes up, “No, Bobby, I think the little lady might be talking about Grackles. Could that be it, ma’m? Grackles?”

Condescending assholes. These fucking city employees are all up on the Grackle deal. They’re in it together. Union creeps. Big political machine, covering for Stewart the fucking bird killer. I sensed these two cops were lovers. This was nothing more than a little lover’s joke to them. Well, I just wasn’t in the mood to play. “I’m a fucking doctor, you idiots!” At least the fuckwads made a note of that before they left.

Norman, incidentally, was out of my life as of that night. What a wimp. I was getting tired of him anyway. Okay, there’s no doubt he was a little on the edge when Stewart made his grand appearance. Norman and I had been discussing castration, inspired by an article in the Sedona Academy of Naturopathic Psychology Newsletter that said that the only way men can be controlled is by the threat of castration. We were just doing a little role-playing, an experiment, that’s all, but Norman just freaked out. I was merely demonstrating the principle to Norman. I only planned to go far enough to test the theory. And just when Norman was really getting into the experiment, beginning to whine and sweat a little, Stewart popped up bigger’n Dallas in the window and ruined everything. Not that I can’t understand Norman being in a certain state as I held the electric knife an inch or so from his cajones, but he just simply lost it. I think the sight of Stewart outside the window covered in tin foil with that picture of a black bird on his chest was just one thing too much for Norman. It didn’t surprise me, really. I had previously diagnosed Norman as suffering from Life Tension Syndrome (LTS is a gold mine for therapists; it takes years of work to bring it under control, if ever). Norman got so hysterical that he couldn’t even unplug the goddamn electric knife as I stood there getting my involuntary electro-shock treatment. No matter, my little experiment gave me a great idea about employing a little more electricity in my practice. Bottom line is that it became clear that I needed someone with metaphorically bigger balls than Norman, someone more secure with his boy-man-personhood.

I wish Stewart would chill out a little on this bird business. Actually, he looked kind of cute in that tin foil outfit. The more I think about it, the more I think he might be salvageable.

***

Today’s the big day. The place is filled with Grackles. Charlotte came by last night and talked to me through the window, blowing that nasty clove smoke toward me, but I was filtering through my straws so it wasn’t so bad. She thinks I need a good meal. Little does she know.

The reason I’m whispering now is that there must be a few hundred Grackles in my place right now.

I’m squatting on the floor in the kitchen by the stove. I’ve ingested so many of these birds in the past few days I’m sure I smell like one of their own. They won’t perch on me though; they don’t like the feel of aluminum between their little talons.

I’ve attached strings to the sticks holding up the windows. I’ve got strings connected to the two doors. All the strings come through a hole in the front of my suit and are tied to my nipple rings. This must be how soldiers in great wars feel before the big battle.

The pilot flames are all off in the gas stove and the jets are wide open. I can’t hear the hissing of gas over the cacophony of Grackles but even through my filtering straws I can smell the sickly sweet stuff they use to give natural gas an aroma. I yank with one nipple and the windows slam shut. Another hard yank and the doors close, but my nipple ring was torn out. I stifled a scream for fear the Grackles would scatter—there are thousands in here now.

I dare not move. I breathe ever so softly through the straws in my nostrils, trying to control the flow of adrenaline so the Grackles won’t smell the human scent. This town’s about to see the most dramatic Grackle reduction in history.

Charlotte’s coming in the front door. As she promised the other night, she’s here to discuss—what did she call it?—“exploration into future relational potentialities.”

“Hey, Bird Man! Lover Baby, you’re first lady of Crankles is back!” (He loves it when I tease him like this. God, the old place is a mess. What’s with all the Fritos everywhere? It’ll take me a month to clean up. I shouldn’t have left him alone so long.)

***

I’ve been waiting for Charlotte to arrive. She is a creature of certain habits, just like a Grackle. They can only be what they are.

“Charlotte, you’re just in time for the big party. Close the door and come into the kitchen and don’t scare the fucking birds.”

“What’s with all the whispering, Stewart? God, you’re not still in that get-up, are you? And all these Fritos and shit on the floor, Stewart. Jesus. And what do you mean, don’t scare the birds? What birds?”

****

The Grackles I’m after are part of the family of birds called Icteridae. I’ve got them this time. Maybe now, finally, Charlotte will realize how important my job is. Here she comes, heading straight for the Bic Lighter on the ledge above the sink, one of those nasty clove cigarettes already dangling in her mouth. Creature of habit. Maybe she really can’t smell the gas…

A few more seconds. I am nothing short of a military genius. This is working out better than I thought.

“That smoking’s going to kill you, Charlotte.”

She looked at me and gave me one of those condescending little smiles just before she flicked the Bic.

“World without end, Charlotte…”

Amen

 

 
 
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