a conversation by jane wageman

“Are you lonely, little bird?” he asks me with his soft-feather voice.

                  “Of course,” I say. “Of course.” Dead grass. I pull it up in crackling handfuls, each blade snapping in the middle.

He pauses and gives a distant tree an awkward look.

“Oh.” A conversation between friends at the side of an empty soccer field. The wind is strong enough to fill my eyes with hair, to blow softly below the ghosts of whistles and shouts. But light enough to hear a stagnant silence.

“Little bird,” he says, and stops. He calls me that when he is uncomfortable or joking. It is a name spun from nowhere, without meaning. One day he plucked it out of the sky, and when I didn’t laugh too long, he used it again.

He starts his voice with a cough. “Little bird—” and chokes on the wind “—do you know—” But profound thoughts get stuck in his cheeks and he blows out in an anxious puff. “Are you okay?”

The grass is a dead mound by my tennis shoes. I poke it and it shifts. “Of course,” I say, and the wind takes the grass. I let out a small laugh that follows the yellow blades, drifting off in small tufts.

I am concerning him. His eyebrows pinch and his ears wobble. They do that when he’s nervous.

“No really,” he says.

And then the rest of the laugh falls out of my mouth, rises above the wind, and drifts over to the goal posts where it bounces off the metal and echoes.

There is almost no skin between his eyebrows, they have furrowed together in one hairy patch. I let my laughter plunge under the wind again, and I try to imagine a way to explain.

“Yes,” I say. “Really.”

“But you said—”

“I know, I know what I said.” I scoop the grass back into its pile.

His brows furrow again, and he looks across at the tree as if trying to extract a meaning from it.

“You said you were lonely.”

“Yes I know. I just said I knew, didn’t I?”

“But then you said—”

“I know! I know what I said!” I kick the grass and send it flying. “Sorry.”

“Little bird—”

The sky is starting to storm up, to turn a shade of navy. The clouds roll out across it, cumbersome and slow and terribly large. I look up to them moving across like a mammoth herd, up and then behind me to our bikes against the chain-link fence. A single bike-lock is snaked around both of the frames and woven into the fence. And I know that this is what makes me so inextricably sad.