by Puneet Dutt
A hollow-eyed bird hops around in the pools of sticky blood, and pecks at the slack-jawed man. Stabbing its beak repeatedly into the flesh, he calls over more birds, to nibble at the bits of hair and skin and tendons. Everyone peers crook-necked, straining to see, staring, some look away, but no one wants to get involved. No one dares to interrupt.
A skeletal bird digs its foot into his ear, and pulls out an eardrum. The man’s eyes roll to the back of his head. The whites are glaring and bright. He breathes. Shudders occasionally. One leg is draped over the other like a curtain. Through his nose are plastic pipes hooked to the back of his ears. In his hand is a shopping bag. In it, is a dress. Pink frills and lace and tulle. As he shakes, so shakes the frosted dress of promise. Something or someone was meant to wear it, to receive it. It was meant to cause a smile. Now it’s getting splattered in blood.
A security guard strolls over. Bends down to read his breath with his fingers. He nods, and lifts his left jacket pocket, speaks into the talkie attached. He kneels down and begins to pick at his nails. A man with wild hair and black toenails shuffles over. Someone comfort him. Tell him, it’s going to be okay. No one does it.
Several people come over to snap pictures. Upload them online. #brinklegislation. Couples walk hand in hand and walk past. Couples kiss. Children skip. The janitor tidies around the body, what little he can, before he’s left with an even bigger mess. A young man with a soccer ball pops his bubble gum. The bleeding man with the bird shudders again. He’s beginning to look peaceful, as if he had always belonged to the ground. It’s so natural that people walk by talking on their cell phones. A woman with three children stands and watches.
First come the firemen. They walk slowly. With careful, measured steps. They have nothing to help this man with. They also stand and wait. The EMT’s slip in quietly without a sound. They too walk slowly, saunter. They are told to bring a stretcher. He is scooped up. The birds squawk and fuss, but they must be careful not touch the birds or shoo them, or else, there will be complaints.
The glittering ads continue to sell coffee, breasts and flesh. Each sold separately with warranties. Cheap shirts and bikinis, $16.99. Lotto, get rich quick. The hot dog vendor stamps his foot and haggles the t-shirt man for a bandanna. An old Chinese man with a Jamaican accent talks about how he never had enough to eat for 14 years, 14 years since I was a likkle boay, never had nuthin’ to eat. A frizzy haired blonde girl weeps into her phone about the hungry kids with bloated bellies. A homeless man opens his palms to her, but she walks right past. We can pay to live in a cloud now, for a monthly fee. Pay to ignore the things from everyday. Would you like to never see a certain type of person again, or smell a certain type of smell, ever again? Certainly. Not everyone can afford it. It gets pricey.
The janitor is angry that he has to clean the blood. It smells, and he’s off of his shift now, but it happened while he was on his shift, so now he’s got to clean it. The birds with bloody beaks coo and cock their necks. They watch and wait for the next one. No one can stop them. The stocks are doing well. Breakfast television tomorrow. Youth is rampant. Boobs. Buy.
The birds drag the sick and the old quickly to the other side. People look away. These days no one can touch them, they’re allowed to consume ‘anyone on the brink’. New legislation. Reparations to nature.
The janitor can’t afford the monthly fee. He works to clean what’s left over. One day, he dreams he can live in a cloud, too.