Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “The Spring Birds”

“Years ago,” is what I keep thinking. Years ago back home, and years ago people I knew, and years ago how it was. “How it was,” is another one. How it was before the shootings, before the virus, before I left. How it was.

Life is quiet now. The rain speckling the window. A view of the farm fields, green through the running glass. The clock ticking in the library. There’s a library now. A wall of bookshelves and stacks of books on the floor and my writing table by the window. Years ago I wrote in my bedroom or I wrote on the bus or I wrote sitting on the tarpaper roof of our place on Broadway.

Alison and Frankie and I lived there, the apartment in Golden Hill, the place I lived in San Diego before I left.

I would write up on the roof or read. Taking a break, I would lie on my back on the hot rooftop and drape my arm across my face and listen to the traffic down on Broadway. The intersection with Humberto’s and the laundromat. The 7-Eleven and the Chinese donut place.

Was there a Chinese donut place?

I’m not sure what’s real and what I’ve made up.

But today I can smell the donuts–the sugar and the frying grease.

On warm, clear days we would bring up a party of friends and they would drink beer and smoke cigarettes and stare out across the blue skyline. Southern California. Palm trees. The Mexican church. To the west, Downtown, the Gaslamp, and the harbor. Beyond that, the sea.

Now Alison and I are on the farm in the middle of the country as the quiet of the virus settles like ash from a fire. Frankie and her boys, Willy and Johnsy, are on a plane headed here–stopping in Colorado first where there was a shooting yesterday at a grocery store. I read the headlines this morning.

There’s a quote that sticks with me from the New York Times:

“We ducked and I just started counting in between shots, and by the fourth shot I told my son, ‘We have to run,’” one customer said.

Reading that I thought, what if that was Frankie and the boys? What if it was them counting the shots? Them deciding when to run?

Time is passing like white ships sailing in the night. Years ago truly is years ago. How it was truly was; it has passed.

The rain has stopped.

The spring birds sit healing up from winter on the dark branches.

Which drip.

And drip.

Adam Gnade, author of the books Locust House, This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You, and Float Me Away Floodwaters