Birdcage

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“We think caged birds sing, when indeed they cry.”

John Webster, The White Devil

In the real world, people don’t just drop out of the heavens and onto your deck.

It therefore took me a minute to figure out what the feather-covered bundle on my balcony was.

The sky was just getting light enough to really see by when I found her. I had a small corner apartment back then, on the third story of a brick building above a pretty, quiet street. The place had wood floors, a kitchen with fully functioning appliances, and lots of windows. Even on rainy days, it felt bright and sunny.

The apartment also had a little balcony that was too small to put a table or a grill on, but just the right size for smoking a cigarette in the rain. Not knowing quite what to do with it, I had set an Adirondack chair out there. Sometimes, I’d sit on it and read.

Anyway, when I woke up one September morning, there was what looked like a big pile of tawny feathers on my balcony. It was a blustery enough day that my apartment creaked when the wind blew, and the hall outside filled with an eerie hooting whenever someone opened the door downstairs. The feathers blew off of the top of their pile in fits and starts. A few seemed to be stuck to the sliding glass door that led onto the balcony.

As I stood in my living room, rubbing the sleep from my eyes and fumbling for the thermostat, the pile shifted, and I realized that underneath it was a young woman curled up in the fetal position, entirely naked. More of the feathers blew away, and by the time they were all gone, she had become fairly clear.

She was pretty, and smooth-skinned. Brown hair the color of an old, unpainted telephone pole protruded from her scalp in long, treelike tufts. She looked like she was asleep.

Not sure what else to do, I retrieved a blanket from my bedroom and slid the balcony door open.

“Excuse me—miss?” I took the liberty of draping the blanket over her. I wasn’t sure how she’d managed to climb naked up to a third-story balcony and fall asleep, but I was fairly certain that if I was a young woman who had done such a thing, I wouldn’t want to wake up with a man I’d never met looking at my body.

She didn’t stir. My hand came into contact with her shoulder. Her skin felt as cold as the concrete it lay upon.

She opened her eyes.

I loved those eyes.

They were the biggest I had ever seen on a person—round and wide and innocent and dark, with golden irises. When I woke her, they filled with fear.

“It’s okay,” I said, or something very much like it. “I’m not going to hurt you. I don’t know how you got up here, but you’re welcome to come inside. I can get you some clothes and something warm to drink, and we can try to figure out what happened.”

She looked at me like I was speaking Greek, so I tried my best broken Spanish.

“Ah, estes ok. Yo no te hiero. Yo quiero te ayudar.

She just blinked at me.

“Francais? Deutsch? Italiano?”

Nothing.

So I bent down, slow and gentle as I could, and took her hand. Her fingers were frigid and stiff.

“Come in and warm up,” I said.

I gestured into the living room, and she leaned on my arm and rose to her feet. The blanket hung from her shoulders like a child’s forgotten cape.

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