“He can see through the birds’ eyes,” she coughed. Her last, rattling breath escaped her and she lay still.
I leaned back and blinked several times, silent. Old Fuchsia had always been a bit of a nut. Everyone knew there was nothing remarkable about Emory Marble except for his funny name and his white hair. He was twenty-eight years old with no wife, no friends, and certainly no supernatural powers. Old Fuchsia had always been paranoid.
I stood and walked from the room to find a nurse. Old Fuchsia’s words didn’t trouble me. It wasn’t even unsettling that she had wasted her last seconds of life to tell me some mumbo-jumbo about Emory Marble. Just sad.
The doors slid open and I left the hospital. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I hadn’t been given any useful deathbed secrets. All I could do was go home, feed my dog, and fall into bed.
As I crossed Coral Avenue, a raven swooped over the road with me. I shivered. He can see through the birds’ eyes. Whatever. Ravens were creepy, that’s all. Nobody likes a big, black bird that caws and eats roadkill. Nobody except for Emory Marble, maybe.
I waved to a buddy at the newspaper stand and he flagged me down.
“How’s Fuchsia?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Strange times,” he remarked with a somber smile. “What is this city going to do without her?”
“Beats me,” I said. “I’ll see you around.” He handed me a stick of gum and waved me on my way.
“Papers, get your papers!” he shouted at passersby.
Emory Marble stood in the middle of the sidewalk in front of my apartment complex. I shuffled around him.
“That apartment,” he murmured, squinting up at a window a few stories up. “It’s about to catch fire.”
Old Fuchsia was a nut, but this guy was a whole basket. Emory hurried inside and thundered up the stairs. I noticed the chickadee perched on the empty flower box above me. I gulped. Something in my throat.
For the record, the apartment did not catch fire. I knew it wouldn’t, of course. Emory Marble was just a real piece of work. I slept fitfully.
The next day, I woke and realized it was the city’s first dawn without Old Fuchsia. Surreal. She had lived for maybe 96 years. That was my guess, anyway. Nobody in town knew how old she really was. She told everyone a different number when asked. Regardless of her age, she was the glue that had been holding us together. What’s a place to do without a neighborhood Crazy? Find a new one, I guess.
On my way to the paper stand I ran into Emory. Or rather, he ran into me. Sprinting and looking up at the sky, he slammed into me and stumbled, but he didn’t stop.
“Kids,” he stammered. “I have to keep those kids on the sidewalk.”
My case in point. There’s always got to be a Crazy. Shaking my head, I whistled along to work. I didn’t see him on my way to lunch or dinner, but, like a ghost with his wild, white hair, I crossed paths with Emory Marble again that night.
“I need your help,” he called as he jogged up to me. He clutched a ladder under one arm.
“With what?” I asked, hesitant.
“There’s a cat in a tree,” he mumbled.
I laughed nervously, looking around. A maze of concrete surrounded us. “Great, alright. Where? What do you need me for?”
Emory shuffled his feet and ran a hand through his hair. “Greenwich Park,” he said. “And I need your help because I’ll break my arm.”
I stared at him. “You’re out of your mind, pal.”
He seemed unfazed. “Please.”
I groaned. We walked the few blocks to Greenwich Park. In the daytime, it glowed with life. It was a popular spot for kids to play. Squirrels and robins patrolled in search of cookie crumbs or worms or whatever those critters ate. It was late, though, so the park was empty and lit only by faint street lamps lining the sidewalk. Emory led me down the path and stopped in front of one of the trees. Startled, I saw a small child sitting underneath it, crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, kneeling beside him.
“My kitty,” he sniffled, pointing up into the canopy. “My kitty’s stuck.” I swallowed with difficulty. I turned to tell Emory, but he was already standing on the stepladder, reaching for a low-hanging branch. He clambered up along the trunk and reached for one of the high offshoots. He grabbed a stuffed cat that was hooked on a branch there and began to ease down the tree, clutching the plush. My brows sank over my eyes.
“Catch me,” he said.
I’ll break my arm. I felt like I was going to pass out. Emory slipped and came crashing down through the branches. He tumbled into my arms. I quickly set him down and backed away.
“Thanks, mister,” the young boy said, wiping tears from his cheeks and taking the stuffed animal in his arms.
“Keep an eye on her,” Emory told him gently. “And if those mean boys get her stuck up there again, let me know.” The kid smiled and trotted off. Emory turned to me. I stumbled back another step. My heart raced.
“Unbelievable,” I breathed. “How’d you know that thing was stuck up there?”
“I heard him,” he said. “I heard him crying.”
“No,” I said. “You couldn’t have.”
“Thank you for your help,” Emory said. He lifted the stepladder under one arm and walked away.
I don’t think I slept at all that night. Every time I drifted off I saw trees full of ravens, staring at me with glowing eyes.
Emory Marble was certifiable. Maybe I was, too. He was starting to get to me. Maybe he had heard the boy. He certainly hadn’t seen him, or the cat, unless he had run back to his apartment to grab the ladder… yeah, that was it. It had to be.
I burrowed under my covers and closed my eyes. Behind my eyelids I saw Emory Marble. I shuddered. What made his hair go white when he was still so young? Why did he have no friends?
Well, that one made sense.
Most importantly, though, how did he know everything he knew?
The next day, I scanned my surroundings for Emory Marble every time I saw a bird. Once I started looking, it was like he was everywhere. I saw him at the café eating breakfast outside. Without warning, he stood, stuffed the rest of his sandwich in his mouth, and jerked a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet. He smacked it down on the table and leapt over the fence surrounding the patio. He ran across the street and into an alley. I sped up. I didn’t want to be late to work.
During my lunch break, there he was again. He was sitting on the steps of the town hall, feeding the pigeons. I crossed to the far side of the street and hurried by. He waved, but I ignored him.
It was on the front page of the paper the following day. There had been an attempt on the mayor’s life. Some nut job had broken into his home and trashed the place to steal some stuff, and the mayor had walked in on the guy and had been attacked. Along with the story was a picture of Emory Marble.
No way, I thought. He was a weird guy, but he wasn’t a criminal. Probably.
I read on and discovered that Emory Marble wasn’t the burglar. He was the “unlikely hero”. Somehow, that was even less believable.
He had supposedly been walking when he’d heard the commotion. He’d stepped in to help and saved the mayor’s life. Fat chance. I didn’t believe a word of it. I didn’t know what, but something else was definitely going on. The mayor’s house was on the opposite side of town from Emory’s place. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that he was walking there at the exact time of the robbery.
I talked to a friend about it and he agreed. There was just no way things could’ve happened the way the paper said. It was too convenient.
We approached Emory the next afternoon and his answers were evasive, as usual.
“You have to tell us,” my buddy commanded. “We won’t let you leave until you do.”
Emory took a step back. “I…” he hesitated. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“The truth,” I demanded. “Tell us what really happened.”
“You already read about it in the paper—”
“We know you made that up!” my buddy said, giving Emory a shove. He ducked too late and stumbled to the side. He nervously ran his hands through his hair.
“I didn’t,” he whispered. “It’s what happened.”
“And if we ask the mayor?” my friend prodded.
“He’ll tell you the same,” Emory replied.
“Sure,” I snickered. Emory took another step back toward the end of the alley. My friend pushed him again, and this time he fell to the ground. He looked up at us with wide eyes.
“Whatever,” my friend muttered. He turned and strode off. I cast one last disdainful look at Emory before following.
Emory Marble was gone in the morning. His apartment was empty and the door was ajar. He had left that month’s rent in an envelope on the kitchen table and disappeared. I wish I could say I felt guilty, but I only felt dull relief.
Two days later, a friend of mine broke his arm and fractured a couple ribs in a moving accident. The widow on the corner woke up to find her windshield had been crushed by a falling tree. The basement of our office flooded and all the paper files were ruined.
The pigeons were gone. The robins no longer wandered the park for scraps. Not even the ravens remained to taunt us.
The disorder in our city became commonplace. The man with the white hair and the funny name never came back.