Virginia Pye, a writer of novels, short stories and poetry, has taught writing at the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, at various high schools and in her home. A past president of James River Writers, she continues to support this literary non-profit, based in Richmond, Virginia. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary magazines including, The North American Review, failbetter, The Baltimore Review, The Potomac Review and Prime Number. “What I Carry Around With Me” earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmertrain’s 2012 Very Short Fiction Contest. To see more of her writing, please visit her website.
What I Carry Around With Me
I wrote a poem this morning and went for a walk, thinking I’m the luckiest person alive to write a poem and go for a walk. Then, at the corner, I see a mother slap her toddler and I think I should do something, I should have been doing something all morning, instead of writing a poem. I should have come out sooner to try and stop this sort of thing.
“Hey,” I say
She looks up and says, “What?”
“How’s it going?”
“What’s your problem?”
“I’ve got a toddler at home, too,” I say, which is a lie. I’m not sure why I lie except I figure she’ll talk to me if we’re alike, which plainly we aren’t.
As she starts to walk away, I blurt out, “It’s not so good to hit, you know.”
Then, I kid you not, she lifts her hand, only maybe she’s adjusting the purse with the kid tugging at her and crying. I can’t believe she’s going to hit me, but in that moment of not knowing, I almost like the idea. But instead, all I do is duck down and tie my shoe, which is a lie because my shoe doesn’t need tying.
She goes and I stand and look around. When did the street get so dingy? Dirty clumps of snow litter the ground. I thought spring was here this morning, what with the birds making a racket. It’s time to go to my friend’s house.
The plan was to take the poem to Steve who’s around since losing his job because of absences and doctor visits and certifiable blindness. But now I wonder, what’s the point of reading a poem to a dying man when what he really wants is to hear the headlines and have some lunch? He wants a hopeful story about a mother hitting her toddler and how I stop her and we have a chat there on the corner. He wants to hear that the woman is changed, the kid’s going to make it, and I did some good.
I decide to keep the poem in my pocket.
This morning as I tried to push away all the weird and sad thoughts, I noticed the birds outside getting louder until they wouldn’t shut up. I sat up and stopped trying to not hear the birds. Instead, I listened and decided I liked them. I decided that I wanted to notice bird songs every morning. I wanted to rise early and then my day would go differently and I’d know what to do and say and who, in fact, to be.
On Steve’s stoop, I ring the doorbell and hear him stumble on his way from the hospital bed in the living room. He told me that the certifiable blindness hardly matters. A lie.
He swings open the door and stands in nothing but boxers, bathrobe unhitched and falling off one shoulder. His pale chest looks raw in the almost-spring air. He lifts his face into the weak sunlight like the certifiable blind person he is.
I step inside and hug Steve, feeling his spine more than a person should.
I know what I meant to ask the woman with the toddler and what I want to ask Steve now, too: what bird songs do you carry around with you? What tunes from the dawn do you know by heart? If I knew that, then maybe we could listen to each other like we do the birds, maybe then we could talk.