LORETTE C LUZAJIC: His hat was an intricate lattice of earth

Lorette C. Luzajic

The Bird Man

His hat was an intricate lattice of earth and sand-colored arrow cane palm leaves that kept the sun off his shoulders. He had rings in his nose and stripes lining his face. Inside the bird cage where his heart used to be, there was a chess board, diamond squares dancing backwards and emptying a ballroom of pawns and horses into the sea. His glass eyes seemed to smile as I approached, so I reached out, took a small strange key from his outstretched hand. There was a mechanical, clanking sound then, as if someone had put a coin into the slot of an old carnival game, a clattering of machinery folding in on itself. I slid the small key into my pocket, and everything disappeared in a thin plume of smoke. All that was left — a few quetzal feathers, drifting towards the floor.

Chickens, Chickens, Everywhere

As long as we’d been going there for eggs, since we were small, there were the stories. Old Agnes looked the part — pointy nose, gruff chin, jaw as silver and scruffy as her goats. She used a pitchfork to steady herself in the fields, and she always wore Wellingtons covered in chicken shit, even to church. 

Two dozen, the usual, I said, reaching back into the car for old cartons to return to her. The birds clucked around me, the red ones nosy, the white ones scurrying ahead. The old woman’s crooked fingers were as filthy as they’d been the week before. She swapped the empties for fresh eggs.

There was never anything to talk about. Agnes always asked after the boys’ and my health, and she always offered tea and fat cakes, but I never stayed and she never pressed it.

I wondered about her there, year after year, no one to help her with the garden or the animals, or the shoveling in winter. Over time, most of the neighbors started getting their milk or eggs and kale at the Superstore. One less stop. 

But my sisters and the kids still came by. The small detour en route to home made us feel closer to Dad and to childhood. Dad had always been adamant about taking as much food from your friends as possible, eating from the local earth and the hands that labored over it. He had also been very clear whose side he was on when cruel teenagers egged her house with the same eggs their families had bought there. He said Frau Koop had suffered in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine in the old country, and that’s where he would ship us if we got caught up with the mean kids.

Agnes didn’t smile when she handed over the eggs. Twenty-four nice brown ones, she said.

Her one eye shifted like a glass marble, wobbling toward the darkling sky. The other bore straight into me. “The white leghorns,” she said, “they get anxious. They have a nervous disposition. They don’t like cars and they don’t like storms. But they’re good laying birds. Worth their weight in gold.”

Daddy said nothing but a mess of hens was buried under that coop. Anyone who said otherwise had much more to hide.

Pappardelle

The pot is rattling with heat on the stovetop, and the noodles are almost perfect. You juggle a few cherry tomatoes and a sharp knife expertly until they are small crimson slivers, and the plush meaty brine of the Cerignola olives will give gravitas to summery lemon and basil. You are, after all, the pappardelle princess. The time you added braised quail you won a cooking contest and went home with the judge’s girlfriend — but that’s a long story for another time. Tonight you have one of your headaches again, but you put on the bright red V-neck blouse that gives you luscious cleavage. You’re doing your best. You have a bottle of something white and spicy chilling, too. You thought of doing a different bird braise, but a voice inside told you not to bother. It’s been a few months since she noticed anything about you, and you can’t help but think she’s gone. For all you know, she’s not coming home, tonight, or at all, but has run off, making meatballs with the ravioli queen.

Lorette C. Luzajic writes small fictions, published in Unbroken, JMWW, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, The Dillydoun Review, and more. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and four times each for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review.

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

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