From the most recent Writing Party, this is "Squeak". The criteria for this two hour challenge were: a heavy load that needs moving, a person always carrying something, shoes on a wire, a picket line, and a mad scientist. To read more of the pieces from all the writers, check out www.fionnegan.com.
Quinn pulled himself out of bed. There was a squeak, and he made a mental note to buy some WD40 the next time he went out. Not that he went out much anymore. He didn’t much want to really. In fact, as he looked at the date on his alarm clock, he realized that it was now six months to the day that Tiana had left him. It felt longer, and really, when he thought about it, it had been longer. She had checked out of their relationship years ago. And after he came home in March, she only stayed a little longer, and then she had packed her things, told him she couldn’t take his dark moods and gloomy attitude any longer, and had left.
Seemed to him that every time he left his Bronx fourth floor apartment, something bad happened. So, he didn’t leave unless he absolutely had to. He remembered where he was when the Towers fell, and when the apartment building on the next block over had blown up from that gas leak, and when the little girl in the park had drowned in the fountain. So many bad things he had witnessed. And then there was everything that always happened to him: mugged, ticketed for jaywalking, even hit by a damn taxi. No, he was going to stay in here where it was safe, where he could look out at the world and not be involved, not anymore. He was done with it. And it seemed to him that the world was done with him.
He had even become a bit superstitious, though some might say he was a paranoid. His sister Rachel certainly called him that. She had visited three weeks ago. She had said she was just looking for an excuse to get herself and her son Sean out of the house, but Quinn knew she was checking on him. Rachel tried to get him to go to the zoo, Central Park, even the U.N. Building all to “enlighten Sean”. Quinn didn’t buy it though. Sean’s four. He wouldn’t be anymore enlightened by the U.N. Building than by the pancake mix he had dumped on the kitchen floor.
No, Rachel was trying to get Quinn out of the apartment, but he wasn’t leaving until he was out of Campbell’s or toilet paper, and not before.
He turned into the living room and looked around. There were several unfinished projects he could busy himself with today. There was the puzzle taking up the coffee table. There was a stack of books he had been reading, fantasy novels like “Lord of the Rings” and “The Wheel of Time”. He glanced for a moment at his elliptical and sighed. No, puzzles, reading, none of it sparked his interest. He shifted over to the window that overlooked Bucket St.
The window facing Bucket was his spot. It was where he sat everyday and looked out at the world he felt less and less a part of. He knew every detail of the cracked sidewalks and the fading paint of the buildings. He even knew the inhabitants of the block that came and went constantly. There were many families with kids of varying ages. The younger ones used to like it when he played stickball with them in the vacant lot next to Roger’s Pawn Shop. One of the older kids had just bought a Camero and had been fixing it up. Quinn wasn’t sure exactly how old the boy was, but he was closer to Quinn’s age than to the other kids on the block, probably in his early twenties. The bodega directly across from Quinn’s apartment, and thus straight out of his window, was owned by Mr. Ortiz, a fat bald Puerto Rican with a quick temper and a loud bellowing voice, which he used often to shout at his brother Miguel who was his only employee. Mrs. Norris was the little old retired librarian who sat on her porch and read constantly. Some of the books lying unread next to “Lord of the Rings” were from Mrs. Norris. She had told Quinn that if he was going to lock himself in here like some old coot, he might as well expand his knowledge Quinn had thanked her, but he was annoyed to be called an old coot. He was far from old. Didn’t even have a single grey hair on his head yet, though he had found a couple of lighter colored hairs in his beard the last time he grew it out.
The garbage cans were sitting on the curbs empty, which meant it was Wednesday. Quinn looked down the block and saw the two old guys playing dominos in front of V’s. He could never tell who won or who lost. They were just far enough down the block that he knew what they were playing but not close enough to determine what happened in their seemingly endless game. Quinn didn’t even know how to play dominos correctly. All he had ever done with them was make long intricate tracks around his room as a kid. He made a mental note to do that with Sean if Rachel decided to come visit again some time soon.
He looked down the block the other direction, and he sucked in a breath.
There she was: the girl with the yellow hair, and she was carrying her bulky gym bag that was practically the same size as she was. He had seen her nearly everyday when he used to go out running. He found her in the park with a Boys and Girls Club group always playing some sport. Judging by the pair of metal bats she was swinging at her side with her free hand, today was going to be baseball. She was so pretty. He didn’t know how many times he had missed her before he had seen her for the first time last year, but he knew how often he had seen her after. He had felt a twinge of guilt every time she smiled and waved when he would jog by. He used to feel happy like that when he and Tiana had first met. Some other girl whose name he didn’t even know shouldn’t make him feel happy with just a smile. And yet, that was how it went. He never spoke to her. He never made any attempts. It was always just a smile and a wave. It was his private moment of each day to feel okay. After he had stopped running, he wondered if she noticed he was gone.
A shout drew his attention away from the back of the yellow haired girl’s head. “You’ve driven me to this, Arturo! You’ve left me no choice!”
“Miguel, you get back in there and clean up those bottles and cans before I stick my fist straight down your throat!”
“Idol threats, brother! Big talk from a little man!”
“Don’t you talk to me like that, you stubborn burro!”
Mr. Ortiz and his brother Miguel were standing in front of the bodega shouting at one another. Miguel was dripping wet, his white shirt now orange and purple, was covered in soda and juice. Mr. Ortiz had a mop in his hand.
“You have defective cans of drink! It is not my fault!”
“It is your fault,” Mr. Ortiz spat out some Spanish words, and his brother made a girlish gasp at the obvious insult. “Now, you take this mop, and you clean up every last drop!”
“This is an outrage! This is against labor laws!”
“Which labor laws! Who are you yelling to?”
A small gathering of the neighbors and some other shop owners from the couple doors down were peeking around the edges of their places to listen in on the ordeal but staying a safe distance back.
“The people must know, Arturo! You are a monster of a boss!”
Mr. Ortiz began speaking very rapidly in Spanish. Mrs. Iniguez grabbed her two little girls and pulled them away. The owner of the pizza place next to the bodega began laughing heartily. Miguel pointed his finger in his bother’s face and rattled off words just as quickly.
“That’s it!” Miguel threw up his hands. “Enough of this! I am going on strike!”
Mr. Ortiz whooped a sharp laugh. “You cannot strike! You are my only employee, you stupid ass!”
“Hell no, we won’t go! Hell no, we won’t go” Miguel began marching up and down the sidewalk in front of the bodega.
“That is not how you strike!” Mr. Ortiz’s face was turning redder by the moment.
Miguel grabbed the mop from his hands and began brandishing it like a baton as though leading a grand parade. “Hell no, we won’t go!” he repeated loudly.
“Give me my mop back so I can clean up your mess!”
The two grown men began a game of tug-o-war with the mop. Miguel kept pushing the wet dirty end of it back into Mr. Ortiz’s face. This went on for some time. The crowd grew and shrank over the afternoon as the brothers continued to argue throughout the day. At one point, Miguel found a big piece of cardboard and wrote “ON STRIKE” in red paint on it. Mr. Ortiz made a sign as well that read “Pay No Attention to the Fool With the Sign” and stuck it in his front window.
Quinn sipped the tomato soup off his large spoon and leaned back on the couch, He took a deep breath as the afternoon breeze, warm from the sun, blew through the apartment and brought with it the aroma of fresh bread from somewhere in the neighborhood. He felt an urge to go to the kitchen and get some of his own bread. He craned his neck around and looked back at the cupboard. It was too far for the hassle, so he grabbed the remote instead.
The TV clicked on and the DVD player started up where it had been playing last. A singing puppet was dancing around the screen. Quinn smirked at it. It was the video that Sean had watched over and over again his whole time here. It was an educational show for toddlers, but it wasn’t as annoying as some of the stuff Quinn had remembered seeing on PBS. Of course, it wasn’t as wonderful as Sesame Street. Nothing could beat those Muppets.
“—and now, I shall use what I have learned to complete my dastardly science experiment! MU-HA-HA!”
The puppet was an evil scientist with wild white hair and an even wilder mustache. He was holding up a jar with water in it. Behind him was a creature he was making out of things he found outside in the yard. The whole thing was showing kids the fun there can be outside. Quinn found it silly. The flapping mouth and the flailing arms. And the monster that was coming up soon was the height of silliness.
His attention was drawn to the window by a shrill chirping. He scowled. It was loud and steady and sounded like it was right on the sill. He turned the volume up on the TV, but even the final number the mad scientist was singing didn’t drown out the high-pitched chirp. Quinn grumbled, pulled himself off the couch, and went over to his window.
Just to the right of Quinn’s window was one of the only trees on Bucket Street. It wasn’t a very large tree, but its top most branches were even with the fourth floor. And perched on one of the top branches was a small brown bird. Its head was titling back and forth and it was emitting the quick and piercing chirp. Quinn glared at the thing. “Hey,” he said at it. “That’s really annoying. Cut it out.” But the bird paused just enough to look at him and then chirped on.
He was woken up the next morning by the chirping. It was steady and seemed louder and louder with each one. It was becoming some sort of Chinese torture test to Quinn. And as he made his way from the bedroom to the window, he looked back and forth for something, anything he could throw at the damn thing.
Before he reached the sill, there was a loud yell and the bird flew away. Quinn looked down at the bodega and gave a “here we go” sort of shake of the head.
“What have you done to my sidewalk?” Mr. Ortiz was beside himself in fury. He was standing over great big red letters painted onto the pavement. Miguel, hands red and balled up on his hips, smirked haughtily at his brother. The message read “Ortiz Is Unfiar”.
“Now the whole city will know that you are a cheat and a bad boss!” Miguel said triumphantly.
“You stupid ass!” Mr. Ortiz exploded. “Not only have you ruined my sidewalk, but you ruined it with poor spelling!”
Miguel opened his mouth and then closed it. He looked at the pavement.
Mr. Ortiz thundered on, “Unfair is spelled U-N-F-A-I-R no I-A-R! you worthless ass!”
They began shouting at one another in Spanish and Quinn laughed at them. He glanced around the neighborhood. Plenty of neighbors were enjoying the show as well. Mrs. Norris gave him a wave from her porch, and he waved in return. He heard a crack of wood and guessed that the boys were playing stickball in the vacant lot. He wished he could go join them and suddenly sad, decided to fill his stomach with some breakfast.
That night, Quinn dreamed he was running. His feet fell one in front of the other in perfect rhythm as he sprinted through the city. Each step felt like a warm embrace. Each kick of his leg felt like he was plunging into cool water. It was a sensation of pure joy. He didn’t know where he was running to, but it didn’t matter. He was practically possessed by the run. He felt pulled and pushed at the same time and he thought of nothing but the continued motion of his legs and feet and –
The chirping snapped him back to his bedroom. He exhaled and stared up at the ceiling. The dream drifted away, and the more he dwelled upon it, the less he remembered, until all that remained was the longing.
“Come here,” Quinn cooed at the bird. “Tastes good. Mm-mmm.” He put some of the sunflower seeds in his mouth and licked his lips. “Oh yes, these are the best seeds I’ve ever tasted.”
Out on the branch, the bird tilted its head back and forth looking at the strange man eating sunflower seeds from a bowl.
Quinn set the bowl on the sill and sprinkled a few of the seeds around the dish. He pushed himself away and backed into the room and beside the couch and waited. He locked his eyes upon the bowl and he waited for his nemesis to appear. In his lap, he had a tennis ball, a few magazines, and stale loaf of bread.
He waited with side eyes.
The chirping had ceased.
And then it appeared. The little brown bird hopped next to the bowl and surveyed it with the tilting of its head back and forth. It eyed the meal, and finally, it pecked at a seed.
Quinn launched the tennis ball at the thing. The bowl of seeds exploded as the ball hit it, and the bird, instead of flying out into the sky, zipped directly into the room. Quinn screamed and began whipping the magazines as hard as he could. “BAAAH! You little – AAAA!” The loaf of bread smashed over the top of the TV sending the small dying plant, several pictures of Rachel and Sean, and the DVD case for the mad puppet scientist into the air. The bird ricocheted all over the room. Quinn threw himself forward with the final magazine and fell face first onto the floor near the elliptical. “Damn you! Damn you effing bird!” He screamed.
On the floor, he grabbed for anything in his reach: the remote, the DVD case, and finally, his running shoes, dusty from disuse. He threw the shoes as hard as he could and they chased after the bird as it flew straight out the window.
Quinn’s breath came in gasps. He was sweating, and there were tears in his eyes, tears of frustration, tears of anger and hate and loathing. He lied there until his heart was resting and his face was no longer as warm, but the anger was still there. He wondered where his shoes were, but then realized he didn’t care.
He flicked the last sunflower seed away with his finger and looked down at the street. Miguel was still there, but he was leaning, his head drooping, against the front window of the bodega. He had nodded off in the hot afternoon sun, and now that it was settling behind the buildings, he had fallen asleep. Mr. Ortiz came waddling out of the store with a garden hose. He aimed it at his younger brother for a moment, but then pointed it at the sidewalk and began spraying away the red letters. Mrs. Norris’s porch chair was empty and the dominos were packed away for the night. Quinn heard one of the mothers calling to her kids for dinner. And dangling from the telephone wire that ran from the pole to the apartment building, Quinn’s shoes swayed in the summer wind. He looked at them and he thought about his dream, and he thought about the yellow haired girl and the park, and he thought about his bad luck, and he sighed sadly and pushed away from the window.
He made his way to the window with no energy left for this battle. The living room was still a mess from yesterday’s assault. He was admitting defeat. He would just have to learn how to deal with this tiny monster.
And then he saw it.
The little brown thing was standing on his windowsill looking at him with something dangling from its beak. Quinn didn’t move any closer, but he could see what it was. It was a piece of shoelace. It was a piece of his shoelace.
The little thing tilted its head back and forth and then set the lace on the sill. It looked at Quinn and chirped one last time. And then it flew away.
Quinn sat at the window for a long while. He held the lace between his fingers and stared up at the blue and white sky. He looked down as Miguel lifted crates of soda off a pallet that had been dropped off before sunrise in front of the bodega. He watched Mrs. Norris walk down to the old men playing dominos and sit with them. And he saw the yellow haired girl carrying her big bag walking toward the park. He drew in a long breath, held it, and then let it slide out. He turned and headed out of his apartment. As he glided down the hall to the elevator, his wheelchair squeaked, and he remembered he needed to get some WD40.