I step outside for smoke, but there’s only steam rising from spilt coffee and a rough sketch of breath still hanging around from old conversations. While I was furloughed from work, I learned to read such traces, so I know that there was a man – 56 years old, 5’ 9” – with brown shoes and a voice that squeaked like a windmill in need of oil. He works in retail, selling stationery and craft supplies in an out-of-town mall, and once, when he was a child of 7 or 8, a heron flew in through his bedroom window and stood at the foot of his bed. Years later he got a tattoo of a heron on his right forearm, though a lot of people he meets assume it’s a stork or a crane. A bird is a bird is a bird. Looking closer, I see that he was talking to a taller woman whose head was shaved like an egg. She plays piano on cruise ships, though there has been no work for a year or more. She, too, was once visited by the same heron, and has an identical tattoo, though her more ornithologically aware circle of friends and acquaintances generally identify the King of the Birds. They both gave up smoking on the same day in 1997, but the steam from the coffee tells me that neither of them knew any of this about the other, and they only spoke of problems finding parking spaces in a city of this size. Away to the west, a finger of smoke tickles the sky, sketching the outline of a bird.


Oz Hardwick

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