This is the Life of a Redhead

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Three-Minute Fiction

Entered into NPR's three-minute fiction contest (round 5.) It is not really the style that wins, but I am proud of myself for entering. Some problems with the story, still. Oh well.


Some people swore that the house was haunted, but Pauline could not help but to be entertained by the pigeons that had made the roof their home. She purchased the house with the intent of waking up to the hungry cooing of the baby birds, of sweeping feathers off the front porch, and scrubbing the mess that the pigeons left behind. She wouldn’t mind the smell. She would revel in the smell. Pauline needed to be cleaning all time. She needed something to do.
            The rumor was that the pigeons were left behind by the woman who had previously owned the house. She fed birds in the park, talked to herself, flung breadcrumbs and glared at passersby who got too close. One day she won the lottery. She took the money and the birds home with her. When she passed, she could not part with the pigeons. Pauline listened for her ghost, analyzing every creek and moan of the house, but when she heard those pigeons coo she forgot all about the haunting and instead focused on cleaning.
            One afternoon Pauline found herself sitting still in the kitchen. She had woken up early that day and had already run out of things to clean. The house was immaculate, and she felt her hands tremble on the glossy table. She would press one hand to the surface, hold it down until her fingers turned white, and then scrub the prints off with her free hand, which was ready and armed with a rag reeking of turpentine. She did this for hours.
The pigeons were quiet that day. Pauline feared that they had flown off. Her hands were growing tired and the stench was making her dizzy. She had forgotten to open any windows. Pauline, in a daze, stumbled to her refrigerator. She looked inside and stared at a loaf of bread. Quickly, she ripped a chunk off the bread. Some crumbs tumbled onto the shelf. Pauline stared at them for a while, and then slowly closed the refrigerator. She took the bread and walked out to the front porch, leaving a trail of crumbs behind.
Absentmindedly, Pauline tore the bread into smaller pieces and scattered them on the porch. They started to accumulate at her feet, falling on top of one another, a small pile of breadcrumbs rising to meet the tips of her heels. Pauline waited for the pigeons. She held her breath and strained to hear the cooing. She squinted her eyes and looked for fresh feathers. There was nothing.
There was no more bread in her hands. The crumbs lay at her feet. Some had even fallen into the folds of her skirt. Pauline did not bother to brush them away. Instead, she collapsed onto the ground. Her body shook and she raised her hands to cover her eyes, pressing her palms hard into her cheeks as if it would stop her tears from coming. She waited for the birds, but they did not come.
An old Ford came from down the road. It’s engine sputtered and it kicked up dust on its way around the bend. Pauline raised her head and saw the car slow down as it reached her house. She called out to the driver, “John?”
But the car sped up and roared away. Pauline sat with the crumbs caught in her skirt, mashed against the souls of her shoes, some buried under her nails. The dust had settled and still the pigeons were absent. Pauline was alone in the house for the very first time. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

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