“For You, Birdie”
by: Karen Schauber
We were dirt poor back then. We used to imagine being anywhere else but Poêlée Bayou; a low down nowhere town, with nowhere people, and nowhere jobs, where everything went around just the way it came, day after day, year after year. Abeline did us proud when she up and left. Got herself knocked up by that Earl fella, had a big win of cash or something, and then the two of them plain vamoosed. Left our bend along the Mississippi and slipped into the shadows.
I sure did miss Abeline; joined at the hip, we were. We used to swim the lazy river, cooling; pool our change for a frosty Coke. Times we would sit out on the front porch, pinch my Ma’s Pall Malls, when she was out cleaning. Our feet hoisted up on the rail, drawing long slow puffs, flipping through Ma’s Sear’s Catalogue, fancying this and that. The smoke curling and meandering into places we’d never go. I near stopped dreaming after she left.
She had that certain something, Abeline. She’d be looking way ahead, past you, even though you knew there was nothing there to see. She’d pay notice to anyone seemed important. You’d watch her size em up, her eyes growing big and round, imagining herself in that person’s shoes, like she was trying on their whole life in her mind or something.
Like when she found Earl.
Abeline fancied him and all. You could tell by her gaze; she would get all serious. Earl wore those blue buttoned-down shirts all crisp, no wrinkles, and he carried an attaché. She could pick ’em, Abeline. She chatted him up and was first to take his order before any of us other girls.
Sometimes Earl would come in and have shrimp po’boy with a tall pitcher of sweet tea, and then other times, he’d order fried catfish with turnip greens and potato salad. He’d make it interesting. She’d noticed when he called for pepper vinegar hot sauce, and the next time he came in, she brought it to him before he asked. Abeline was smart like that. She paid attention.
When he complained “I don’t like jalapeno peppers in my cornbread”, she’d bring it back in the kitchen and pick them out herself. We waited on tables together at the Diner that whole year during Junior High. After our shift, out back, Abeline would twirl in her wintergreen cotton dress, her flowy blonde hair making waves. She knew what might could.
When we heard she up and died, it took us for a shock. We never imagined anything could put her down or get in the way of where she was heading. I saw her picture on the tv; she’d changed. Something disappeared in me right then and there. Her blond curls ratty and thin, and heavy black and blue welts under her eyes. She wasn’t looking ahead anymore.
They said she was on the run with Earl, one step ahead of the Sheriff. Until she wasn’t. That big wad of cash, the one they won, “it was thievery”, they said. Sharpshooter took her down. Earl was let go. Said it was all her idea, Abeline’s that is. He forked over some of the loot. But they never did find the rest of the haul.
One day I got a letter in the mail with a key in it—no name—but it said “For you, Birdie”; that’s what she used to call me, on account of my long skinny legs, after the Spoonbills on the river. No instructions. I knew it had to be from her. She sent me on a goose chase. I went to the financial institutions over in Lafayette, up to the one in Plaquemine, and a few years later up as far as Tallulah. And that’s when I found it; all of it. She kept me busy for a while, Abeline.
Kept me looking ahead.
Karen Schauber’s work appears in 50 international literary magazines, journals, and anthologies, including Bending Genres, Cease Cows, Cabinet of Heed, Ekphrastic Review, Fiction Southeast, New Flash Fiction Review, and Spelk. She curates ‘Vancouver Flash Fiction’, an online flash fiction Resource Hub at https://www.facebook.com/VancouverFlashFiction