Birdsongs and Tiny Roars

by Shaun Terry


Charlie’s eyes looked alert and dead at the same time. Her eyes systematically scanned over Hugo for any indication of his feelings, but instead, she ended up staring at the crooked bottom row of Hugo’s teeth. He might drool.

Her chest heaved and oil began to accumulate on the surface of her skin. Her hair looked like a small, shiny black cloud, and her movements came in unexpected bursts and waves, establishing no sort of rhythm.

She had once imagined Hugo to be a charming, handsome, gentle, spiritual man with philosophical thoughts and a delivery like a slow, old, empathic woman. There was no more illusion. Hugo wasn’t these things; at least, he wasn’t always all of them. Two ways to dehumanize someone…

Hugo stared at the pale, cracked wall. He wondered who had lived there before him. The thing is that no one ever understands anyone else. Most people don’t understand themselves. Maybe no one does.

Hugo noticed the low drumming inside of him, and his sudden awareness of his anxiety made him feel anxious for the fact that he felt anxious. He looked at her face. She’s just standing there, staring directly at me. She’s so mad at me. Why is she mad? Does she even know?

Why isn’t he saying anything? Charlie’s face formed contorted words as her lips stayed tight around her teeth, “Are you gonna say something?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I dunno. You could apologize. You could explain yourself. Anything would be better than you just standing there with your mouth open, looking at the wall.” Charlie tilted her body unnecessarily, as though she were having to look around something that wasn’t there in order to inspect Hugo’s point on the wall. But there really wasn’t anything there. She already knew that, though.

Hugo’s lips pressed together, forming a long horizontal line while the rest of his face remained still and he looked briefly at the floor before looking back at Charlie. “I’m sorry that we’re here, doing this. I’m sorry that I upset you. I have no idea what I did, though. I want to figure this out, but I don’t understand what’s happening and I wish you would tell me.”

That wasn’t what she wanted to hear. I said the wrong thing.

Charlie’s foot moved toward Hugo at an angle, but her body didn’t. Her foot slid back beneath her. Her neck and shoulders shimmied, causing her head to bobble in a snakelike motion and her arms to dust off her sides. She expelled air in the same way that a dying character in a movie might expel air, softly, “Huhh…”

“I want someone to love me, I want someone to like me. I want them to choose to be with me because they don’t want to be with someone else. I don’t want to be someone’s safe choice. I don’t want them to choose me out of practicality or hope for a good life for themselves. I want to feel like I matter to someone.

“It’s fine if you and I are different. In a lot of ways, I appreciate that. But maybe it means that things won’t work out. Maybe you’ll meet some guy who’ll want everything to be just the way that you want it. Maybe he’ll make you feel safe. I’d be disappointed, I’d be sad. It’d he hard for me. But for you, you’ve got a lot going on, so maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal. I don’t want this to end, but it’s your choice at this point.”

Sunlight shone in at a steep angle, and the leaves of the trees made kaleidoscopic patterns through one of the room’s windows that stood a little too high off the ground. Why so high? Hugo often wondered. The yard formed a little hill, and a big ash tree had stood there for a few decades now. Birds, squirrels, and chipmunks fought over real estate in the monumental plant, as the high-pitched birdsongs competed with tiny roars from the rodents.