Norm talks birds on this week’s episode, before presenting Drabblecast’s production of “The Pigeon” by Michelle Knudsen. Enjoy!
Cover art by Bo Kaier
by Michelle Knudsen
The pigeon stood on the concrete ledge outside the library, bobbing its head at passerby and very clearly saying the words “egg salad.”
Robert froze on the walkway, feeling unsteady, like all the known and generally accepted rules of the universe had suddenly been revoked. Would the cracks in the sidewalk now open up under his feet and drop him into the fiery core of the earth? Would giant space octopi materialize above him and pluck him from the library walkway with long, iridescent tentacles? These were not things he usually worried about. But when pigeons could perch on concrete ledges and declare “egg salad” in broad daylight, who could say what else might be possible?
It was all the more distressing because Robert hated egg salad. He hated it with all his heart. Once, when he was little, he had gone to stay with his Aunt Frieda for a week while his mother was in the hospital, and she had given him an egg salad sandwich for lunch every single day. He had tried to explain that he did not like egg salad, but Aunt Frieda believed that children should eat what they were given and not complain, or else they could go hungry. He had gone hungry for lunch that entire week, until Mama finally came to pick him up and took him to Denny’s on the way home.
That had been a long time ago, but he still remembered the ever-worsening smell of the aging egg salad rising from one of Aunt Frieda’s white china plates as she made him sit there and look at it every afternoon—the same sandwich; she refused to throw it away—while she slowly ate her own lunch, which was usually something infinitely more appetizing, like turkey on pumpernickel, or chicken soup with noodles. Aunt Frieda was dead now, and he knew he was supposed to feel sad about that, but mostly what he felt was relief that she could never again try to make him eat that egg salad sandwich.
Robert wanted to go into the library. This was the day his book group met, and if he waited too long he would end up having to sit in the creaky chair.
The creaky chair made embarrassing noises every time you shifted position, and then all the other book group people would shoot you annoyed glances as if you had done it on purpose, even though they knew, since all of them had ended up with the creaky chair at one time or another, that it wasn’t your fault. Also, the creaky chair was all the way at the back, which meant it was as far away as you could get from where Rosemary, the discussion leader, usually sat. Robert liked to sit close to Rosemary. She was kind and wore funny T-shirts and smelled like flowers. She was the type of person who would never try to make you eat an egg salad sandwich.
Robert looked at the pigeon. The pigeon noticed him looking and said, “egg salad.” Its voice was very unpleasant. Scratchy, like bits of glass, or broken eggshells.
Just then someone poked him in the ribs. It was Phil.
“Hey, Robert. On your way to book group?”
“Yeah,” said Robert. He turned his head, but he could still see the pigeon in his peripheral vision.
“Did you read the book?” Phil went on. “I almost didn’t make it. Had to finish it on the bus on the way over.”
“Yeah,” said Robert. He was having trouble concentrating on what Phil was saying. The pigeon rather looked like Aunt Frieda, he saw now. For a second it was hard to breathe.
Phil nodded. “Well, I’m going on in. Better hurry up! You don’t want to get stuck with the creaky chair!” He laughed. Then he poked Robert good-naturedly in the ribs again and went inside. As he walked past the pigeon, it turned toward him and said, “egg salad.” Phil did not appear to notice.
All right, Robert thought. I’ll just go in. I’ll just walk right past it, like Phil did, and if it says anything to me, I’ll ignore it. That’s what I’ll do.
He started walking. The pigeon saw him coming. It said, “egg salad.”
Robert tried not to look at it. The pigeon hopped a little closer to the edge of the concrete. It said “egg salad” again. Robert pretended not to hear it. It was a bird, not a cruel old lady, and he was a grown man now. He wasn’t afraid.
“Egg salad,” said the pigeon. It was very close now.
“Be quiet,” Robert said through clenched teeth.
“Egg salad,” said the pigeon. It hopped in place. “Egg. Salad.”
“Shhh!” Robert hissed. Just another few seconds, and he’d be safe within the library walls.
As he reached the ledge, the pigeon leaned forward. It was staring at him; Robert could feel its gaze on the side of his head. He couldn’t help it. He turned to look.
“Eggggggggg saaaaaalaaaaaad,” the pigeon whispered. Then it darted forward and pecked his forehead with its sharp little beak.
“Aaaagghh!” Robert yelled. He closed his eyes and waved his arms around his head. “Shut up! Shut up! I hate egg salad! And I hate you!”
Robert opened his eyes. The other people outside the library were staring at him nervously. The pigeon was still on the concrete ledge. Robert glared at it.
“Egg salad?” it asked.
“If you say ‘egg salad’ one more time, I will smash your tiny bird head with this book,” Robert growled. It was a paperback, so it would take some effort to smash the pigeon’s head with it, but Robert was ready to take as many swings as necessary. He poked his finger into the bird’s feathery chest. “Now shut up and leave me alone.” Oh, how he wished he could have said that to Aunt Frieda. But the pigeon would have to do.
Robert felt a hand on his shoulder. The air suddenly smelled of flowers.
“I hate that bird,” said Rosemary. “Last week it wouldn’t stop saying ‘raisin bread.’ I hate raisin bread. My brother used to pick out the raisins and throw them in my hair.”
Robert looked at her. “I hate egg salad,” he said.
Rosemary smiled and took his arm. “Let’s go inside.” Together, they pulled open the clean glass doors and walked through.
The pigeon watched them go. It scratched sadly at the concrete with a long red toe. Then it turned toward a young woman who was hurrying toward the book drop.
“Corn dog,” it said.