SmokeLong Quarterly

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Bird, White and Running

Story by Paula Cappa (Read author interview) March 27, 2012

art by Ashley Inguanta

On a night when the moon hung dull with shadows, Renner left me. He was a man full of audible breathing sweet as fresh cotton, so I always knew he was near, even from across the room. Renner was not what you’d call handsome: plain features, blunt Dutch-boy hair, a jaw too wide. Nature had damaged his left eye with defective nerves and optic disk. The iris, a pale blue, had a cloud over it, like a single bird, white and poised for running: stick legs, beak pointed up, oval body with wings folded into ragged edges. He claimed life wasn’t so bad with monocular vision. He said he could still chase women.

We met at a doughnut shop in town: me, a woman of twenty-six, semi-employed as a news photographer eating a jelly doughnut, fearful of the drip on my chin; him a man of thirty, employed as a supermarket manager, cheerfully eating an old-fashioned. On the floor of the doughnut shop, I had dropped my contact lens. Losing things was my life’s narrative: money, men, jobs, even friendships. After I fingernail-raked the carpet for twenty minutes—and at Wit’s End Corner as Renner had quipped—he found it instantly. “My search light,” he called his right eye, which he boasted was superior for reading the smallest print on medication bottles and for shooting, first-rate, at the rifle range.

Renner had began his career as a market bag-packer, then loading dock assistant, then moved to stacking produce until the supervisor noticed Renner mixed up the red apples with the green, jumbled the yellow peppers with the orange. Dauntless, Renner asked to be front-end supervisor over the cash registers and customer lines. His enthusiasm alone promised success. So, on his first day “up front” he celebrated by giving every cashier a dashing smile and king-sized Hershey’s chocolate bar. Five years later he was promoted to store manager.

That night Renner said good-bye, I watched the moon’s ebbing light stretch across the dark sky. Unable to pull my eyes off a scene perfect for a dramatic photo, I was half tempted to pull out my camera. Instead I played with the silver chain at my neck: Renner’s Sunday morning gift to me. He said he bought me this gold chain because I was such a gleam of sunshine in the world. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the sales clerk had sold him silver. I figured silver could be just as gleaming as gold. Of course, I didn’t see myself as gleaming by any means. More gloaming, I remained heavy in appearance with a mop of blond hair, clumsy at conversation, and usually hid behind my camera lens at social events. But Renner, he found my mighty appetite amusing, admired my photos of wrinkly men sitting in the park as “mysterious composition,” and even my crooked smile inspired his affection.

I adored it when we sat up half the night and discussed movie plots, laughed over the art of twirling spaghetti on spoon versus no spoon, and agreed on the bane of overprotective mothers—what hope that I wasn’t the only one with a mom who taught fear instead of courage.

The best was when Renner read to me the poetry of John Milton, “Celestial Light” in Paradise Lost: What in me is dark… illumine, he chanted. What is low… raise and support. How amazing to see worldly things invisible to mortal sight. I lay back with eyes shuttered into that darkness and floated on Renner’s velvet voice, the words like gobbled fruit.

Renner didn’t notice the moon that night in February. Both his eyelids were cast down, the wind like a tempest flowing free between us. He gave me his little speech as we sat on a cold park bench, sipping coffee.

“Is there someone else?” I managed to ask with my heart thudding.

He looked at me with that one stunning blue eye in the dreary moonlight. “I wish I could say no.”

“Geez, really? You’ve been seeing someone else? Who is she?”

He shrugged, that white bird clouding his eye like a sentinel. “Her name is Chloe.”

Now that was a sexy name—not like mine, Margaret, stiff with too many r’s. I imagined Chloe’s flirty eyelashes, perfect teeth, and slim hips. I had to huff.

“Why, Renner? I thought everything was so good between us. Are you in love with her?” My pulse quickened. We never really talked about love. No promises were made.

“I don’t know.”

What was that, kindness? Of course he knew if he were in love or not.

“Love isn’t everything,” he added.

“It isn’t? Then why are you choosing her?”

As the moon climbed the sky, as his eyes rose to the light, something slid out of the dark. I saw it, unsure of what it was exactly, something—like a small spark.

“Chloe—she’s like Milton. Do you know what I’m saying?”

An eddy of clean air swept in and I thought, blind like Milton? Renner never used the word blind about himself or anyone. “Oh. So you mean, Chloe is like you?”

“Not exactly. Chloe’s eyes receive no light at all, ever.”

Birds, white and running.

I thought of Chloe in total darkness with only Renner to share his half light.

With almost a child’s face, Renner leaned over and, like a blessing, he kissed me on each eyelid. When he walked out of the park, I found a Hershey’s chocolate bar in my coat pocket. My big crooked smile would have made him laugh outright.

The night was still young. I took out my camera, refocused my eye to examine form and shape, then color, contrast, balance. I suddenly saw too much negative space and not enough texture. Moving forward, zooming in, finding a deeper foreground, optimizing the elements with one click, I shot the moonlight illuminating all that was no longer lost in the darkness.

About the Author

Paula Cappa has written for various community newspapers in New York and Connecticut. Her published fiction is with Every Day Fiction. Past fiction credits include Human Writes Literary Journal, The Record Review and Mystery Time Anthology. She has completed two novels that are making rounds at literary agents.

About the Artist

Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. Her work has most recently appeared in Atticus Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and the anthology The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest chapbook of poems, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field honors a human connection with the natural world.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Five

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