The tattered seagull perched high on the bridge watched the water retreating. With the morning sun breaking at his back, he watched birds by the dozens sweep the skies as they eagerly inspected the harvest served up by the storm. Piles of wet seaweed puddled in the crevices between incongruous boulders, stones and pebbles. Larger groups of birds chased the smaller ones away claiming what the water had brought. The birds went to work culling out the mollusks and crabs from the displaced garbage. The lone gull watched as the flocks surrounded their prized collections of scup, flounder, bluefish and bass.
As the sun continued to climb into the sky and the water lapped the shore, the tattered seagull ventured off the bridge in search of his own pickings. Passing over the water he spied a large object being edged towards the shore. Unsure of what it was, he flew over it, then back again, sweeping the area to ensure safety before his approach. The seagull took his landing on a rock high up on the beach, he cocked his head to the side. He watched the water usher the object to land; the object settled for a moment before the draw of the next wave buoyed it back afloat. With each wave it came slightly further up the shore before being carried back out. Finally a sizeable wave of adequate force propelled the object beyond the rushing retreat of the water’s pull, securing it between rocks and the thicker, soft sand. Now that it was still, the seagull flew closer to inspect his find; circling twice before landing atop the soft pile.
The seagull stuck his beak into the form of this large treasure, searching for something that suited his palate. He pecked on some blue matted fur then redirected his attention to a band of twine, attracted to its natural bark material. He poked at it, tugged and pulled on it; when it refused to break free, he nibbled the soft flesh it nestled between. He raised his head, looked out across the water, let out a loud screech and took back to the sky.
Overhead the seagull stayed, sweeping in long passes as he continued his calling above. Other gulls soon approached filling the sky above as they gathered to inspect what had washed upon the shore. Swooping and cawing the white gulls continued to cry out piercing the still morning with a collective sound that deepened as they multiplied, gathering to announce this unnatural loss amongst a natural disaster as they swooped high and low, back and forth.
“Here we go, round three,” Johnny said placing the empty bottle in the middle of the circle. “Time to find out who’s legit?
“Round three?” asked Barbara.
“You a cherry?” scoffed Johnny. “Third base, in the abandoned house.”
Barbara looked across at Sabine who was playing with the candy necklace she had double wrapped around her wrist.
“Uh I have to go; I told my Mom I’d be home right after school,” Barbara said rising up out of the leaves pulling her skirt in place. She bent over, picked up her books and walked away from the group.
“Anymore of you squares need to leave? Johnny asked looking at Sabine who was now chewing the hard candy off her wrist. “We can always count on our Sabine, huh boys?”
Frank and Roger gave out a knowing laugh. They both already had a turn with her today; Frank got first, Roger took second.
“Go flog your log Johnny,” Sabine spat at him.
“Maybe you’re about to do it for me,” Johnny replied with more agreement from his friends. “You know the rules, third round, ladies’ choice. You’re the only bird, who do you fancy?”
“A real gentleman,” Sabine said perching onto her knees and bending over to handle the bottle. She turned it until it pointed directly at Johnny, looked at him and then spun it hard. It circled around several times before landing squarely back right where it started.
“Hot dam boys, my turn,” Johnny clapped his hands together and jumped to his feet. Sabine let out a sly smile as she bit through the pink candy.
Johnny pulled Sabine up by the hand. The orange maple leaf, stuck to her long poodle skirt, peeled off as she took up after him. Across the school yard they walked together, past the primary’s jungle gym towards the old abandoned house that the high school kids used for third base after school and going all the way on Saturday nights.
The house sat abandoned next to the school for as long as Sabine had attended, primary straight through to senior year. It was known that a family had lived there until the father had become disabled and lost it to the bank; then the depression hit and the bank went under. One of Sabine’s teachers had explained that it would probably sit, an eyesore, forever in some sort of legal limbo.
With the house still a hundred yards away Sabine stopped walking; through the trees of the heavily wooded property she could see movement inside its windows.
“Someone is there,” Sabine said.
“Hey who’s in there?” Johnny called out anxious with desire to take his turn on third base.
“Be quiet,” Sabine said walking in closer. She climbed over a large tree that had fallen on its side and sat down. Johnny sat next to her as she tried to discern who was in the house but from the distance and the broken windows she could only conclude there were two people inside.
“Maybe someone is finally taking over the place,” Sabine proposed.
“No one can live there,” Johnny said. “It’s a dump, animal droppings and rubbers all over the place.”
Sabine watched the house a moment more then got up and turned to leave.
“Hey where are you going?” Johnny asked.
“Well we can’t go in there and I have to get home to take care of my brother,” Sabine answered.
“Hey!” Johnny whined. “It’s my turn. You need to take care of me first; you can do it right here.” Sabine stopped, closed her eyes and turned to face Johnny.
Johnny stood up, unbuckled his pants then sat back down on the fallen tree. Sabine angled herself next to him so that she could handle him in her right hand. She clasped her fist around him and began stroking gently until she sensed a response; she then tightened her grip and pulled on him rhythmically. He was small and easily excited; Sabine knew she’d be home in plenty of time for her brother, before Constance left him alone to go to work.
“Is that you Sabine?” Constance called out from her bedroom.
The back door swung shut quick as Sabine walked through the kitchen into the living room; she dropped her books on the table as she passed. She didn’t acknowledge Constance’s question, focused on her brother playing with the wooden trains on the floor. She knelt down next to him; he was lying flat on his stomach with his left check resting on the floor and his right eye shut. He liked to look at his trains this way. Sabine once had asked him why he was lying with his face on the floor; he had patted the floor and had said, ‘come see’. Sabine had smiled when she saw what he did from the low vantage point. The simple toy trains became life sized from this perspective and she understood how he spent hours suspended in make believe. Dylan jumped at the touch of Sabine’s hand on his wild black hair; lost in play he hadn’t heard the sounds of her arrival.
“Bine,” he squealed jumping to his knees and throwing his tiny body on her. Sabine sat back crossing her legs Indian style and taking him into her lap. Dylan nestled close, wedging his bare feet under her legs.
“Ooooh your feet are so cold!” Sabine yelped. “Where are your slippers?”
“I don’t know,” Dylan replied.
“You know you are supposed to wear your slippers,” Sabine instructed.
“Momma didn’t tell me,” Dylan replied.
“You don’t want to catch a chill,” Sabine continued. “Over to the couch and under that blanket, I will get your slippers.”
Dylan hung onto his sister coiling his arms tighter around her neck. “You smell good,” he said. “Crisp, like Fall.”
Sabine stood up easily off the floor with Dylan still wrapped around her neck. He held on with his arms and sat propped on her hip. She put him on the couch, took the red crocheted blanket from the chair and circled it around him, tucking the fringed edges under his cold feet.
“Sit here,” Sabine said leaving her brother in search of his robe and slippers. She knew they’d be upstairs next to his bed. Constance was supposed to make sure he had them on when he got out of bed but he probably ate his breakfast and was alone for hours before she even stirred. On the way up the stairs Sabine felt the breeze of fresh air; she turned back around towards the kitchen’s back room. The window above the sink was wide open, Sabine sighed, slid it closed and turned down the hallway to Constance’s room.
“There you are,” Constance said as Sabine lay down on her bed. “I’m so glad you are home.” Constance walked over to the bed and sat down next to her daughter. She put her hand to her ponytail and twirled the length of her golden strands through her fingers. “Such beautiful hair you have. How was school?”
“It was school,” Sabine replied. Sabine looked at her mother, her blonde hair and blue eyes looked even more striking against the bright pink lipstick she seemed to be trying out. “That’s a pretty color,” she said.
Constance got up and walked over to the mirror; she closed her eyes and puckered her lips kissing her reflection; when she opened her eyes she widened them, blinking three times. “What do you think about the shadow?” she said looking over at Sabine with a raised eye soliciting a compliment. “The peach color really makes my eyes pop; do you agree?”
“Yes mom, you look beautiful,” Sabine satisfied her request while admiring the truth of her mother’s delicate and perfectly proportioned features. “Did Dylan eat?”
“No,” Constance answered securing the backing of her earring into place. “I asked him, he said he wasn’t hungry.”
“That doesn’t matter mom,” Sabine scolded. “You know we have to make sure he eats. You know what the doctor said.”
“Oh the doctor says so many things,” Constance trilled. “How are we to know which is important and which is not?”
“It is all important.”
“It’s important that he is happy Sabine. He was enjoying playing with his trains and he didn’t want to eat. Who am I to force him to eat when he doesn’t want to?”
“You are his mother,” Sabine retorted. “He needs to eat. And he needs to keep his robe and slippers on. He was so cold. And the window was left open. It’s Fall, you know the wind brings on his cough.”
“I took such a hot shower for my neck, too much stress from work; I needed the air to cool me down a bit,” Constance replied rubbing her neck and walking from her bedroom into the living room in search of her jacket. As she passed Dylan still sitting on the couch waiting for his sister she leaned into him and nibbled him on the ear. Dylan squirmed and giggled, delighted with the touch of his mother.
“He looks good to me,” Constance said smiling back at her son.
Sabine followed her mother through the house, sitting down next to her brother on the couch. He squirmed into her lap; Constance came over and fixed the blanket he was wearing so that it covered both him and his sister and tucked the two of them in together. She gave Dylan’s ear another nibble and kissed Sabine on her forehead.
“You of course are such a wonderful daughter because you are my daughter,” Constance said with a loving smile, she snatched her keys from the bowl and opened the front door. “I will see my two angels in the morning. Sleep sweet, my sweet babies.”
There was so much filth on that floor, after only an hour of cleaning Brigid needed to walk across town to the closest river to rinse off the muck that had accumulated. There was no sense continuing to sweep with these bristles; she’d be smearing dirt and animal droppings across the surface. There was so much work to do before she lost the light and she needed it decent enough to rest their heads. Between her husband’s drunken antics and her four unruly white ducks, the shelter at the church simply could not contain them. Brigid shook her head chuckling at the mental picture of the six of them homeless and misplaced.
She rested her chin on the round point of the broom’s handle and looked around. She was hoping to notice some small improvement; there wasn’t any. She forced herself to block out the sensible reality of making this house livable lest the ambers of motivation that she was desperately attempting to fan would extinguish. ‘At least it’s very small,’ she thought. Brigid never knew anyone to have lived in this house; it had sat unoccupied, owned by the bank since her and her husband first arrived in town over twenty-five years ago. She had heard the stories of the family of five that built it and lived here. Seeing the inside for the first time today, she tried to visualize what two adults and three small children would look like in here. It certainly had to be a full house and she couldn’t arrange any logical floor plan that could possibly accommodate the family’s basic needs.
Brigid remembered when she first had heard the story of this family and how she had thought how nice it would be for her and Gus to have three sons. Her young imagination dreamt that her husband would teach the boys to fish and there’d be two daughters for them as well. Her daughters would weave alongside her and their family would multiply production of both fish and hand woven wicker baskets to sell. Brigid was excited and hopeful for a prosperous and happy future in their new town back then. But that was a long time ago and not what fortune had bestowed upon them. Her dreams of a large family and secure future dwindled as the years went past.
She leaned the broom into the wall and walked out through the front door, turning to close it behind her. The door remained fixed only by the top hinge; Brigid adjusted it to stand straight, closing off the triangular gap between the floor and the door’s side. She didn’t need to return to find unwelcomed guests inside undoing her little progress. Brigid walked down the small front porch placing each step purposefully as to not send her foot through one of the many soft spots of the rotted planks. Once on the solid dirt she lifted her view meeting the careful watch of her four white ducks waiting on her attentively; Brigid greeted them with a smile.
“Good afternoon my children,” she sang to them walking away from the house. The four ducks fell in line following behind her towards the road. With broom in hand and ducks in tow Brigid walked, she crossed past the school and made her way through the couple hundred yards of woods that led to a small river. She knelt and placed the bristles in the running water. One of the ducks wedged his hard, orange beak under her palm and nudged his head firmly upwards into her hand.
“There’s a lot of work to be done my pretty boy,” Brigid said looking at him. She gently cradled the resting weight of his beak in the cup of her hand. Another duck, pressed closely to his side quacked in search of Brigid’s attention. “Yes Conor you are beautiful too,” she said allocating a touch for him on top of his strong back. A third duck came quickly to her left; he poked his beak hard into her side causing Brigid to startle and tumble off balance. She placed her hands in the wet muck of the bank to right herself. The third duck, again, quaked and threw his head staunchly towards the sky.
“Aiodhan!” Brigid yelped. “Come now. We have to rinse this broom and get back to the house. There is hapes to clean without me getting manky too.” Brigid stood up, the ducks didn’t move; they remained crowding for her attention, pressing into one another.
“Fiona,” Brigid called out to the fourth duck that was away from the others preening herself in the water. “Come take your brothers,” she called over. “Shoo,” Brigid said waving her hands towards the three who were restricting her movements. Fiona waddled over quacking at her brothers and moving them along. The duck to her left, Aiodhan, however, didn’t take easily to being bossed around; he quacked back at his sister refusing to move. Fiona quacked louder in response, stood taller and flapped her wings, finally her brother moved from Brigid’s side.
“Okay, enough of that you two,” Brigid sighed. “There will be plenty of time for everyone once again; we have to get a crack on. You won’t like being homeless in the dark, aye?”
Brigid looked down at the broom, she looked through the woods down the long path that led to the abandoned house; she determined she couldn’t be walking back and forth to the river to clean out the broom. She had hardly erased enough dirt from the house to call it decent; there’d be far too many and too frequent trips. She needed a bucket; she would find something suitable outside one of the stores in town in their discard pile; if not she’d have to take some money to buy something.
Brigid put her focus back to the broom and rubbed the bristles together, washing the dirt into the river; she lifted it from the water and wrung out the drip. She put the handle over her shoulder and walked out of the woods, back towards town to scavenge for a bucket.
Brigid walking through town with her ducks had always been a curious sight and she had become immune to so many staring eyes. The people of this town too had grown both accustomed and tired of the lady with ducks for children. When the ducks were small Brigid was still a young woman; everyone thought it cute and wanted to stop and say hi to the four baby ducklings following the pretty girl with the strange accent. As the ducks and Brigid grew older, the look turned to pity from all the gossip about the poor woman who could never carry a child of her own to term. Now it seemed they had turned impatient with her; she was too old for quirkiness to be considered dear and for her strange traditions to be interesting. She was an older woman now and it was collectively judged time for her to conform to their ways and let go of her childhood home. But Brigid’s heart did not belong here, it would always belong home to the traditions and ways of her family; it was all she had left.
Brigid’s pace quickened as she spied a wooden barrel in Howard’s Hardware’s pile of rubbish. Fionn and Conor were quick to her side, eager to inspect; they poked their beaks at its broken circular edge and quacked.
“Aye I can see its banjacked,” she answered. Up close she saw the top of the container was split reducing its utility but it was deep enough that it would serve Brigid’s purposes sufficiently. Brigid lifted it, judging its weight; it was heavy, she worried if she’d be able to carry it home once it was ladened with water. Brigid took the barrel to her hip and set off back to the river. This would do, she thought; she was strong, she would manage.
Fionn flapped his wings and waddled off behind Brigid with Conor quickly at his side. Fiona quacked to draw Aiodhan’s attention to the moving group; with a hurried step he abandoned his wanderings and joined the family.