Killing all the Pigeons in Peace Park
This story originally appeared in the Winter 1994 issue of the Hiroshima Signpost.
It was published under the name Mary Catherine Koroloff.
“That’s why they all have to be gotten rid of,” Xavier says.
Amarand lays fully stretched out on the tatami, reaching his arms and legs as far out as they can reach while still attached to his body. Sunlight cuts across his belly and evicerates him in a perky way.
There’s the sound of screaming schoolkids coming up from the street. Xavier is sitting on a tenderized couch, smoking a cigarette and staring down at Amarand.
“What the hell are you trying to accomplish?” He finally says. He’s been watching Amarand trying to ooze off in all four directions for quite some time now and he is more interested in getting some positive feedback on his ideas than in seeing Amarand succeed.
“I’m meditating, you fuck.” Amarand says in a horrible, strained voice. “I have to go to work in an hour. So shut up and smoke your cigarette. I hope you get lung cancer and die.”
Amarand is a highly phobic personality. Every encounter with a fresh-faced, well-scrubbed, shining and expectant 15-year-old Japanese conversation student leaves him bathed in a film of cold sweat with deep muscular tremors that start behind his elbows and make his back twinge arhythmically.
One day, he knows, he’ll just run out of polite banter. Poof, it’ll just be gone. One day—it will probably be sunny but cool outside, and the sound of some gas-station guy yelling “hup hup hup!” to an incoming car will filter softly through the silence as he clears his throat and arranges the student’s papers with vaguely shaking fingers of uncertainty—he will have told all. Everything about his home town, his favorite color, his sexual preferences, his mother’s maiden name, his shoe size, his opinion about the global recession, his forecasts for the Super Bowl. The whole nine yards. Everything. Essentially, he’ll run out of the ball of yarn that is himself and he’ll be left holding the raveled end with a stupid look on his face.
He’ll be staring with his mouth open at some lanky pre-pube with glossy black braids and she’ll be staring back and his mouth will move just like your legs move in a dream in which you can’t run.
“So. What shall we talk about today?” He’ll ask nervously. She knows everything about him. He’s served himself up to her like a pig on a platter with an apple propped under his gleaming roasted snout. She’ll play with him. She’s the kind who plays with her food. She’ll watch him like Hollywood Squares. Then she’ll deliver the coup de grace. She’ll pull the plug.
“Everything!” she answers, brightly and malevolently, knowing that he’s been licked as dry as a cake bowl in a room full of three-year-olds. She stares at him silently and expectantly, a sweet half smile curving her mouth.
He stares across the great white smooth expanse of table, feeling his toes curl until the tendons that stretch across the bottoms of his feet cramp like fists and it becomes impossible to open them.
“Is that part of the meditation?” Xavier asks, as Amarand’s stomach muscles spasm and he is involuntarily pulled into a tight foetal position. Amarand begins sobbing quietly, muttering, “There’s nothing left. Nothing left. I’m nothing. Bleed me dry. Hang me out to cure. Potpourri in a dusty glass bowl. A husk. A pod. A pod person.”
Xavier grinds out his cigarette in an Asahi can and steals Amarand’s cigarettes. The guy obviously needs to smoke less.
There’s the sound of loud motorcycle revs coming from the street.
“I didn’t come to see you anyway,” Xavier says to Amarand. “You’re a basket case.” Xavier is a little bit peeved that just because of a simple and chronic slide towards insanity Amarand has stolen his thunder, which had previously been his by virtue of the face that on the walk over he’d almost been decapitated. The near decapitation was the result of three things in combination: a truck carrying shiny steel construction rods, a sidewalk that was not a sidewalk due to the fact that there were bikes parked three thick and the effective walking lane had become a three-inch thread, and a split-second flash of enlightement re: pigeons which had blinded him.
He’d noticed the metal rushing at him just in the nick of time, and had managed to dive into the stagnant river of bicycles, with a great noise and to the great consternation and amusement of passersby. He’d managed to detangle himself from kickstands, chains and baskets only with the greatest difficulty and discomfort.
“But the fact that I survived, that means something, doesn’t it?” Xavier asks Miranda, who has finally gotten home after picking over the foods at the 100 yen shop. She’s carrying a bag full of instant ramen (shrimp flavor), crunchy snacks in various tempting and subtle seaweed flavors, some strange looking beer and some C-1000 Lemon Water. Miranda is carefully sorting the sad-looking assortment of food into neat stacks on the shelf.
“I may be poor,” she mumbles darkly, “But I have my pride.”
“The fact that I survived means that I’m right about the pigeon thing,” Xavier concludes.
“What pigeon thing?” Miranda asks.
“One legged pigeons! One eyed pigeons! They beat up on the weak. It’s disgusting and depressing. Have you ever been sitting eating a sandwich in Peace Park and you have all these pigeons come up and surround you, the miserable rats. And of course there’s always the pathetic one. The pathetic one, he’s the big problem. He’s got a wing dragging on the ground or something and you have to sit there and try to choke down your tuna-fish sandwich while you watch the filthy bastards hound that poor cripple.”
“Of course, he keeps trying to get at the food. He’s always scrawny and starved-looking, so what do you do? You sucker. You try to throw some food to him because you’re a nice person. A good person. But does he ever get a crumb for your trouble? Does one speck of processed white bread ever pass through the deformed beak of that most abject of all birds, the cripple of Flock Number 666? Never. Not once. Disposable, that’s what he is.”
Xavier’s voice becomes soft and he affects a hunched back as he slinks through the room, his voice sinister.
“The healthy ones slide in, shoulder him out, run him off, kick him in the teeth. Don’t tell me that pigeons don’t have teeth. I’ve seen the consequences. Nazis, Octoberists, Mouseketeers, Red Bolshevics, McCarthyites. They just slide right in, those big fat greedy slobs, and they just help themselves to even the littlest crumb.”
There’s a prolonged wail from the tatami room. Miranda goes over, slides the shoji, and goes into the room. Xavier can hear her talking to Amarand in low tones, convincing him not to jump.
“It’s my personal opinion …” Xavier yells into the next room, while he stealthily opens the cupboard and silently filches a bag of Generic Puffed Soy Crisps with nary a crinkle of cellophane, “… that the healthy pigeons maim the weak ones as decoys. Actually maim them. They really tough pigeons, they corner the poor pigeon retard and smack his glasses off and give him a good working over. They make him into a decoy.”
He opens the bag of Soy Crisps and peers through the half-open shoji screen. There’s the sound of a sweet-potato cart coming from the street, a high piercing whistle. Amarand is stretched out on the floor again, hyperventilating. Miranda is searching through the shoebox full of medicine, looking for the Ny-Quil Liquicaps and mumbling aloud to herslef about a good job—head night cashier at the Grand Avenue AM PM in Peoria, Illinois!—but no, you wanted adventure, you wanted the mysteries of the orient …
“You know,” Xavier says, stuffing his mouth and shouting through the mess, “… sympathy decoy! A decoy to get suckers like me to spend hours trying to get a goddamn saltine crumb down his gullet while the Nazis have a shindig at his expense. I was fuming last time. Really fuming! I was so mad I got up and started kicking those damn birds. And which one does my foot connect with? The debilitate. I was prostrate with agony for days after. I really was.”
Miranda pushes past him and goes to the sink and fills a glass of water. “Geishas he wanted. Ultraman, High Productivity and Low Unemployment. Social Democracy. Phooey. I say the damn crippled bird was Hitler in his past life. He’s getting his Karmic retribution or something like that.” She goes back into the tatami room.
“And you know what else really gets my goat? My Japanese students think they’re DOVES for God’s sake. DOVES, I said! They are NOT doves! Doves are pretty and white and they go coo-coo. They’re gentle and lovely to be around. You’d never catch a dove stepping over another dove to get at a dirty piece of Pocky that some stinking kid who needs his diaper changed has a mind to throw at him.”
“I’ve never seen a dirty kid who needs his diaper changed in Japan,” Miranda says. She sees the opened bag of Soy Crisps. Her eyes widen, and her lips pull back from her teeth.
“You lousy rotten PEDERAST!” She hisses, snatching them out of his hands. “God, how I hate you!” She picks up a cleaver. “You think I’m made of money, you dirty mooch? You think I LIKE eating these damn things? Have you got a hundred yen or are you Right with God and ready to go to your own personal Nirvana?”
“Don’t you see! That’s what’s so dangerous!” Xavier says. “To confuse something vile and ugly, like a low and foul pigeon, with a gentle, tender dove … it gets to the root of all the evil in the world! Every instance of evil! The deception in the Garden of Eden! Oh no, that’s not a pigeon offering you that apple, Eve my dear! That’s a dove! A lovely pure white dove who wants only the best for you!”
“Snake,” Miranda waves the cleaver threateningly.
“Subtle semantic difference, you may say. Perhaps a pigeon IS a member of the dove family, some distant and unwelcome relative generally shunned at family picnics.” Xavier digs into his pocket and slaps down a hundred-yen coin onto the metal drainboard. “But when people start confusing the two—innocently enough, but still, a confusion—the whole symbol becomes muddy. And when the symbols become muddy, can the idea behind the symbol … can the idea of peace itself remain unsullied? You’ve got people confusing pigeons with doves! Pigeons are the most unpeaceful creatures I’ve ever seen, and that’s my whole point! They’ve taken over Peace Park, and they’ve convinced everybody that they’re doves. The wolves are at the door, and they’re all in pigeons’ clothing.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Miranda growls, snatching up the hundred-yen piece.
Xavier is staring thoughtfully into space. The sound of terribly rusted bicycle brakes screeches from the street.
“Personally, I favor Corn-Nuts tainted with strychnine,” he says.
“Think of the mess you’ll have then. Dead pigeons everywhere. People will get pissed off. You need something that will kill them slowly. So that they fly off and die someplace quiet.”
“Sure. You find me the poison that predisposes pigeons to fly off to the great secret pigeon graveyard and that’s what I’ll use. Meanwhile, it’s strychnine for me.”
“Have you thought about the fact that while you’re killing all the Nazi pigeons and settling the score you’re also killing the poor birds that you felt so sorry for?”
“Better to die on your feet than live on your knees,” Xavier says gravely. “It’s like euthanasia. You think their life is any bowl of cherries? It’s only punishment for the strong, healthy ones who enjoy their lives and want to go right on living. For the others, it’s deliverance. I’m sure they’d want to die when they found out what the pigeon gestapo was doing under the auspices of doveness.”
“Sort of a self-sacrifice thing, to atone for the sins of simply being a pigeon?” Miranda’s voice when employed by sarcasm becomes nasal and whiny. “And why the hell pigeons, anyway? Why have they been singled out for your wrath? Why not cockroaches? Human beings? Mormons?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Xavier says.
“Youth in Asia,” Amarand moans from the other room. He’s up and walking, pacing the floor. “Euthanasia. Youth in Asia. Euthanasia.”
“Will you SHUT UP?” Xavier screams at him. “Don’t you have to go to work or something?”
There is a moan and a thump as Amarand sinks back down to the tatami.
The sound of breaking glass and the screech of a cat come up from the street.
“So. What do you think?”
“I think it’s all just the stupidest thing I ever heard,” Miranda leans forward and stares at him. Her voice is hissing and angry. “Pigeons are just pigeons. Who the hell cares that they’re not doves? Doves are just doves. Pigeons are just pigeons.”
“To me, they’re just pigeons,” Miranda says.
Silence comes up from the street.
“Hey, Am …” Miranda says quietly as she squeezes past the shoji and into the tatami room. “You really do have to get to work, you know …”
Miranda’s feet stop on the tatami. It’s very quiet. Xavier grabs the bag of Soy Crisps again and tries to look into the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of something horrible. Youth in Asia. Euthanasia. But all he can see is the wind fluttering the white curtains and a heavy stripe of sunlight in a vague birdlike shape.