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fiction

The White Buzzards

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1.

My preferred method of transportation was trains. But America’s railway system was inferior.

Platforming in cathedrals of glass panes and iron ribs, marble steps with lips worn to slip hazards, Europe’s trains pull in as from other worlds: sauropod bodies drifting into their own dioramas. Puffing, posing, petrifying.

American train stations were built for the impatient. Beams, unfinished floors, unyielding benches—all were meant to reinforce the interiority of travel: hours to be absorbed in the wrong choices, the dismantled fortunes, that set us moving. Places to wait, not to linger. Check the time. Pace. Whisper.

When the Floods commenced, train stations went the way of libraries, becoming other things. Coffee bars. A restaurant chain bought them up and placed grapefruit-colored wall splashes behind boxed bamboo.

Libraries, at least the public ones, evolved a new role for themselves, as more and more patrons came, not for books, but, as the Grid practiced managed shutdowns, to the use the computers, find work.

The train stations struggled to become other than what they’d been.

Maybe it was seawater stroking the tracks which, in the early Days of Inundation, still glimmered on sunny days, like this one, at low tide, reminders that too much had been lost, that scales had been tossed over to a side that made equilibrium, much less recovery, impossible. Or maybe it was the intoxication of nostalgia– “Remember? You were part of a system that built the nation…the golden spike.”

You can become addicted, even to a whisper.

2.

I sit in my car where it is “parked”. It does not run. I watch.

A pair of albino buzzards established themselves in a decommissioned tunnel. I assumed they were a couple, though I saw no nest or fledglings, just two large, off-white birds.

I consulted a guide at the library. They are rare. Freaks. The entry was brief.

During the day, they were silhouetted against the backlit, far end of the tunnel, before a gang of trees, vine drapery, a baby stroller’s broken ribbing gone everywhere. They hunched.

At night, the sound of their wings beating, as if to shake things off, seemed enormous. In the summer months, those who went to the tunnel to sleep gave it up. Kids found another shelter for getting stoned.

There had never been animals living in or around the station. Nonetheless, carcasses showed up. And big stuff: a German Shepard, pigs. Every once in a while, a buzzard walked to the mouth of the tunnel, edging the light. Pale red streaked its breast. The feathers tapering down to its claws were spattered.

3.

Somewhere our systems went from observatory to predictive. A kind of logic set in that was no better than any other phenomenon to which you could assign a rhythm, only one luckier in duration. And so it predominated. We forecast weather, currency. Objects and events—furnishing and vacations—described a lifestyle. Really, we were just riding the pulse of chance.

Coffee and danish are served in a former bank. The aluminum posts and velour-coated ropes that used to layer patrons into teller queues are repurposed for the line that seems to grow longer each week. At card tables on buttocks-contoured folding chairs, we sit and warm up, lose track of time. The talk returns to the Book of Revelations: its poison poetry of vengeance, it threat of ir-redemption. It’s both a promise to settle the score for the powerless, which now means nearly everyone, and threat of further punishment, which is not hard to take seriously.

4.

I wandered into the shuttered casino. Zealots had broken in and were holding mass on the gambling floor. On one of the craps tables they’d erected an altar. The brown ring of water stained the green felt. On an old roulette wheel, they passed around communion, a round host in each one of the numbered squares.

5.

The beast did not rise out of the sea. The sea rose out of the sea.

6.

The albino buzzards plan—or, perhaps, as instinct better describes motivation in wildlife, are drawn—to return to a flock, which lives somewhere that’s evaded maps, and thus detection.

They live now neither hidden nor entirely out in the open. Their delayed departure has about it an air of collapse. They are recognized as familiar.

Three Dots