Drink #1 - Chitter Away
She sits at the bar and waits for a bird of her own desire to start singing while sipping on an almost-too-sweet drink, orange swirling in the glass like a nefarious cloud of peaches. It’s a longer wait than usual tonight but that's OK; she sits, enveloped in the warm blanket of the familiar. To her sides are regular patrons, some of them known to her and some of them not; with some she exchanges nods, out of courtesy, but most of them wash over her and leave no mark. She’s alone but that’s fine. She knows that waiting is often done alone, especially when you’re waiting on something so personal as the crowing of a bird inside of you. Besides, the bar itself is like a second home to her, the fine grain of the wood, ash, sweat, and dead skin included, like the palm of her hand at the end of a long day walking through the City. The bartenders know her, a deep knowledge of the familiar, the routine, a kind of knowledge which allows them to shut up when they need to (which is most times) and intervene when one word of comfort is all that’s required. They know that her time of waiting varies and thus know not to jump in with inane questions like “how’s it going tonight?” or “a long one this time, huh?”
Such questions can be dangerous. In the endless mythology of the City, one of the traits that most shines through is the fickleness and dry humor of birds; they are so prone to making jokes involving irony, laced with that edge of cruelty that underlines all irony, that they might overhear a bartender launching a quip into the alcohol-laden air and decide to disappear forever from her life or, worse, suddenly appear in all their overbearing might and split the ears of all denizens of the City with their awful, addicting, mellifluous, bell-like, horrendous, powerful laughter. Avians are not easy patrons, they are not kind mentors, their machinations and advice are more like blades at the small of your back than a wind in your sails, pushing you quickly across a plank that stretches over the ocean of your life.
And yet, they are her patrons; there is nothing she could do about it. Ever since her 21st birthday, when her skin had already taken on the bronze shine characteristic of those who worked in the Orange Markets, she was a pupil of birds. In their defense, as much as they needed defense (which was not much), they allowed her to choose her own skills to excel at while being their servant. But excel she must. She was poised to take advantage of several fields by that time, her body and mind both sharpened by her difficult work as a market porter in the Orange Markets, not only moving heavy wares but also dangerous ones, crates that contained experiences that could steal your mind and your soul with a word in the right/wrong place, a verbal blade slivering in between the plates that cover your heart. She also had many hobbies, as the life of a market porter was hardly a fulfilling one by itself; the seedier areas of the City knew her and her silhouette well and, even before the flutter of wings covered her life, her name was whispered in a way that was both deeply satisfying and ultimately alienating, setting one aside from the daily bustle of society. Dialogue became harder after that, the edge of a threat or a secret known always muddying the waters between her and her fellow citizens. Not that she was some great patriot, singing the Once-Taught Anthem in the streets or the glory of some military victory or other, but, like all of us, she needed friends and, in the silence of those who work in knowing and being experts, making such friends was hard.
Drink #2 - Always Coming Home
It was in that silence that the birds had first approached. Or she had called out to them. In her, her loneliness, desire, and reserved will conspired to create a sort of outwards longing. This was a day-dreaming that was both more involved and more detached than the flights of fancy that usually came upon people in the hot afternoon, under the swelter of the inner city streets. Who knows what in the birds heard that place singing and answered back but answer back they did. A thousand screeching voices, beautiful in their serrated communality, descended upon her from all-directions, translated inside of her in those frenetic instants. She breathed deep to scream but, instead, as she inhaled the acrid scents of feather, dung, dirt, salt-water, open air, ozone, and sinew she instantly relaxed, like a swooning debutante on smelling salts. She opened her eyes and every nook, lantern, eave, window-sill, and stair had become a perch, populated by densely proximate, feathered birds.
She knew nothing, then, of birds, and thus there was no endless list of category, family, and kind that she could supply. But she knew that if she could, it would number in the hundreds. In fact, a creeping sensation started to come over her in those moments: while there were probably thousands of members crammed into that narrow alley with her, none of them were alike. They were all unique, more species of birds contained within that urban millimeter than her mind had ever even bothered to think was possible. And yet, somehow, impossibly, they were of one. They were a pack, or a murder, or a flight, or whatever you called an assembly of birds which shared some connection and looked after each other. Somehow, this motley collection of uniqueness was, at the same time, a mobile home, a moving, self-described unit of mutual defense and care. She started weeping as the thought bubbled up from inside of her: these birds were more at home than she had ever been, even when she was tucked away into her own bed, in her own room, in her own City. She was more alone than they had ever been. The sobs, brought about by the sudden dis-coloring of her entire life, brought her crashing to her knees and in that moment, the birds took her in.
Sipping on the smoky purple-ness of her second drink (the figs used to make it are especially excellent this season), she smiles in the sweltering heat and humidity of the bar as she remembers that moment of ultimate despair and ultimate acceptance. Today, being in the presence of the birds is not that much different than her current situation, than being in a bar. True, the patrons around here are not numbered in the hundreds but they are just as crammed as the birds had been on that fateful day and just as unique-but-similar. She felt the same kind of proximity to them; she wasn't even close to knowing every single member of her flight, even today, even after all these years, but, then again, she isn't even close to knowing every single person in this bar tonight. And every night more came and towards all of them she felt an inexplicable sense of camaraderie and kinship, just like with her birds. Connecting with her flight had helped her connect with her fellow denizens of the City as well, as if empathy is a muscle she had just needed to train. Which, of course, it is.
Drink #3 - The Narwhal's Horn
As she raises the third drink of the evening to her lips, the thick glass of the low-ball now fills with a faintly ochre beverage that smells of salt, caramel, and wood burning, while she remembers once again that afternoon in broad brushstrokes of emotions and sensations rather than in details. The slight cold of the alley as the sun began its descent towards the sea; the pangs of misery as windows bolted and doors slammed when she passed, afraid of what secrets she might reveal or claim, even here, from the denizens of an alley behind the Orange Markets; the sudden feeling of being surrounded and the ear-piercing shrieks of a thousand birds, resplendent in chromatic scales and feathers of all colors; the swelling of emotions within her, too complex to make sense of, like a rookie tasting a cocktail for the first time, pride, pain, sorrow, joy, fear, exuberance, elation, homesickness, warmth, and more all colliding within her in time with the rustle of a million feathers; the powerful realization cutting through it all that she was found and the just as powerful lurch as she came to, standing in the middle of a garden with a blue crested jay sitting on her shoulder and giving her what she can only describe as "the stink eye". That jay she would come to know as Tõlze, a name that would ring out in her head whenever he would appear by her side. He usually would at times of beginnings, when she was on the verge of something new or something new was on the verge of making itself known to her. She liked Tõlze, even though he was incredibly judgmental in his gait, stare, and overall attitude.
The birds never spoke to her. Theirs was a more internal sort of communication, meaning and intent long lost in favor of deeper sensations of belonging, presence, and acceptance. Mid-flight, this made sense; when the wind swept your wing-mate easterly, there was no need for intent or for meaning. There was only a nudging, a turning-towards, as them and you and everyone else around you gently changed course into the welcoming arms of whatever breeze blew from the center of the sky. Tõlze was like that. He did not chide, did not direct, and did not argue. He was simply a weight, a presence. With the slightest tweak of his position on her shoulder, a gesture of a wing (which might have been preening or might not) or a twitch of his once-saurian eye, he nudged her (and anyone he might like) into the right draft of wind.
Or so she tells herself, as she sips the amber cocktail, because she had followed Tõlze's advice so many times that imagining him to be wrong even in the slightest had some worrying ramifications on her current life. She laughs, risking and brushing off the stares this bought her from the other patrons of the bar, as she imagines the possibility of Tõlze ever being wrong. And not just him; ever since that fateful day in the alley, she had become such an obvious part of her flight and the flight such an obvious part of her that she really did no longer feel their influence on her life. It was just her life and being nudged to-and-fro by the birds had become a part of it, no stranger than the need to eat or breathe.
Drink #4 - Exodus
And so, as she inhales the emerald vapors of the her next drink (by now with senses lined with the sheen of inebriation, swaying slightly from side to side with the sounds of the soft-yet-loud music which played through the bar) she waits for a bird of her own desire to sing within her heart. It is not a question of if it would sing but when it would sing. This might take minutes (just around the corner) or hours or days; the flight had its own courses to thread through the world and she is just one member of it. This is a question which she often mused on (she was no longer bothered by anything about the flight; it was as it should be): are all the other members of the flight really birds? Could they not be others like her, not exactly people but also not fully avian, in metaphysical form, inhabiting a different body like hers, in a different place? She has her suspicions; at night, she is filled with endless forests, far-ranging mountains, stretching deserts, and other sights she had never seen, always pictured from the proverbial bird's eye view. Were they really dreams? Did she experience them as from afar? Did she really stay in her room, tossing and turning with the echoes of mighty gusts or gentle zephyrs, while her mind wanders endless realms with her flight, or did her body actually transform and carry itself, in somnolence, to the bright, wide, high sky outside?
She would probably never know but once, in the early hours of the day, she had woken, after a powerful dream of the ocean gales, with salt crusting all her clothes.
Drink #5 - Disembodied, the Sound of Birds
Ah. There is the beginning of a note inside her heart and the gaze with which she surveys the bar sharpens, cutting through the by-now-not-insubstantial murk of the alcohol. Her body is pleasantly slow, swimming in the mirth-bound ichor of good drinks, good music, and safe, familiar, unique, and interesting company. She is no longer sitting, instead standing by her chair and swaying to the rhythm, a tube-like phial grasped gently in her left hand, filled with a substance so clear that it is almost imperceptible. It tastes of tangy, childhood afternoons, the sun going down slowly, and streets which stretch out endlessly underneath the shimmer of the heat, a shimmer which is making itself well known inside the bar. It has a sap-colored core somewhere in the depths of its pearl-like whiteness, a small and faint nugget of verdigris which gives it a pleasant sourness.
The throng of people is even more closely/loosely bound now; they are dancing with each other, social ligaments lubricated by just as much drink as she has imbibed. She smiles. They still don't know each other but their bodies are beginning the long trek of understanding. For some, it would end in just that, a dance, an early exploration, the introductory treatise to the course read, understood, and discarded. That too has its value and will leave its mark on them. Others would delve deeper, spending the night together in mutual contemplation, sampling the beginnings of longer sentences, paragraphs, and understandings. As she sips again she sees them in her mind's eye walking through leaf-draped gardens in a few months time, in the throes of early love. A few of them would go even further, their bodies read and re-read, the word "love" uttered again and again, every day, written anew in the book which they would write together.
But only she would throw away all pretense of understanding and spread her wings without question, without hesitation, because the bird in her heart is singing now. The song this evening, melding with the malachite core of her drink, is giddy, filled with Spring-in-the-Height-of-Summer and it is calling to someone within the room. She can't see them yet but that did not matter; when you swerved on a stream spiraling up from the cliffs below, you couldn't see your friends next to you. But you swerved because they were there and you were singing and the song, without meaning and without intent, told you where to go. So too would happen here and so, she did nothing more than saunter around her seat a bit, feeling the music pleasantly present in her hips and knees and the small of her back and the drinks swishing in her stomach. Just above it is the song, unfurling with elongated cries from her esophagus, branching stochastically beneath her heart. It is almost time. The notes are taking shape, melody quickly tightening and expanding at the same time into harmony, rhythm taking a lead from her fast-beating heart, movements rising and falling with her quickening breath.
Structure emerges and the bar falls away, the overture of the piece sending arrangements through every nerve-end and repurposing them internally, turning their array of sensation towards itself. The bar re-appears, reconstructed inside herself with meticulous yet inherently inaccurate detail, containing everything that's needed to recognize it but without many of the details present. Instead of corners and angles and the number of chairs are the bodies and hearts within them swirling in an exacting dance, a part of the refrain which now soars through her, the call of the bird taking from her environs what it needed to compose. Her fellow patrons and yes, the bar-tenders too, are the chimes, lyrics, measures, tunes, timbres, and themes of the/her song and as they swirl closer in their dance, the song draws towards its crescendo.
Drink #6 - The Sun in the Night
the moon tumbled just above it was so close it was going around and around in a swirl. its argent beauty became a streak as she tumbled and suddenly lurched into place as her wings unfolded with a loud crack of pinions grasping the wind. she let out a sharp cry as the mist of the frothing waves below reached her beak and the taste of a sylvan shot raced across her tongue. nostrils flared and she drank in the night drew the cool air inside her wrapped it around the song as it collapsed and danced and shuddered inside of her as it cried out through her and she smelled her flight a thousand-thousand scents. names names on the air and between her feathers names which together spelled out home. the sun rose inside her, inside the night, mirroring, toying, dancing, learning about, sleeping with, fighting with, arguing with, sparring with the moon and she banked towards the sun, the sun in the night, the moon in the day, the home inside of her and flew awayBack to The Augmented World