Adam Quirk

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Couples Therapy: YMCA

What is our couple up to today?

As they swim, concentrating on form and breathing rather than speed, they begin to sink. Strong swimmers both, they immediately sense that something is wrong with the water in this pool. Indeed, they were sinking deep down into the murky depths of their neighborhood YMCA’s Senior Fitness and Youth Classes pool. In the weeks past, the Lap Pool at their Y was closed for renovation, so our couple was forced into the temporary lanes of this pool. 

As fate would have it, elderly skin fluids, bandaids and urine, plus children’s diarrhea residuum had coalesced with the excessive chlorine to cause a spontaneous whirlpool in the deep end of Temporary Lap Lane #2, just past the exit ladder in the deep end. Oblivious, our young couple had become the victims of what is known in YMCA circles as a “hair hole” due to the bits of hair usually seen floating in their centers. Little is known, and even less said about the phenomenon. But all YMCA lifeguards know the remedy. The teenage girl on duty looked up from her purple plastic phone just in time to see our couple’s legs sticking straight up out of the water like four glistening turds spinning their way down a toilet bowl.

She sprang into action, dropping her phone carelessly onto the “No Running” letters stenciled carefully below her chair. She pried a smallish metal tin from underneath her chair, and as she ran towards our couple, reached in and pulled out a two-inch round disk of chalk-like substance. When she reached the couple, only the tips of their toes were still above the water. She tossed the white disk into the water just beside their toes, and stood back. Within a second, the water level in the pool had dropped by a foot. In another ten, it was all gone.

Our couple remained, wheezing and stunned, on the hair-and-bandage-spotted bottom of the deep end of the pool. They climbed out slowly, slipped clumsily on the slimy tile floor on their way back to the locker room, showered separately, and walked hand in hand towards their home. They spoke very little. The lap pool would open back up next week. They decided to wait for that.

Filed under short story long reads fiction couples therapy

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A Story About Squirrels, a Mockingbird, and an Austrian Oboist

He wears his beard as a long, loose bib. His hat is short and Austrian-looking, like the rest of him. He carries a large wooden oboe slung across his back.

He appeared suddenly in the corner of my expansive semi-forested back yard, as oboists occasionally do. In the time since he arrived, a dozen or so tree squirrels have gathered at his feet, and are currently seated indian-style awaiting…something.

He takes out a comb, removes his hat, and traces an s-curve across the top of his head, front to back. His subjects are patient, and more are arriving every minute. They come in pairs and alone, bounding in from every direction including up.

Placing the comb in his pants (the front part, he has no pockets), he dons his hat and begins to breathe deeply from his stomach, warming up for something. As he breathes, he swings his oboe over to his front side and rests it on his barrel of a chest. The squirrels begin to mutter, or make mutter-like squirrel sounds, in anticipation of…something.

As the Austrian oboist raises the reed of his giant instrument lipsward, an angry mockingbird swoops down into the squirrel audience, screaming in rage. He pecks a young female right on the forehead, and it tumbles backward into the paws of her lover. Or it could be her father or brother. Who could possibly know?

The mockingbird knows what is about to transpire, and his pride depends on being the best musician in the yard. He has spent his entire life practicing songs. He knows over 1,000 different melodies, most of which he composed himself, some of which he lifted from that fucking cardinal named “Generator” that all the ladies seem to like. But even with the cover songs, he makes them his own. He’ll add a sparrow chirp to the end of a long run of cardinal cheeps, and end with a brand new worbble-worrble guttural thing that makes it completely his own. A true master of remix and a genius of composition, the mockingbird.

But the mockingbird is also a jealous dick, as the kids say. He can’t bear to be outdone in his own yard, especially by some bearded fop in a silly little hat. He swoops back down and plucks another squirrel in the tail, screeching a terrible hawkish tantrum as he dives. The squirrels are completely enraged, or scared, or confused, it’s impossible to say. They are most definitely agitated in some way. 

This continues for some time. The mockingbird continues his pattern of screaming, diving, pecking, and retreating thirty-two times. On the thirty-third, just as he reaches the bottom of the dive, just after he pokes a relatively calm and somehow unaware squirrel in the back of the ear, the Austrian oboist knocks him out of the air with his oboe. A baseball announcer would say the batter just dug out a sinker and drove it into left.

The mockingbird flies beak over flashy white tailfeathers, back, back, back over the seething hoard of squirrels. They cock their heads cutely to watch their tormenter land gently in the crabgrass in front of the hackberry tree.

The mockingbird, stunned and broken, props himself up with his beak and begins stumbling away into the Vinca vines. But before he enters the miniature jungle of vines that would hide him while he nurses his wounds, he turns to face the crowd, smiling. 

At first I can’t be sure - it’s hard to deduce a smile from a beak - but then he starts laughing. And it is no defeated laugh, as you might expect from such a defeated bird. No, it’s the laugh of the Austrian oboist’s daughter Amanda, which the mockingbird had heard some weeks ago in town as she was playing with friends at the market.

The broken bird is gleefully giggling in Amanda’s voice, flapping his non-broken left wing in rhythm with the laughs, as the Austrian oboist watches in absolute horror. The mockingbird rises up onto a twig, and with a final piercing cackle, tumbles backwards into the jungle of vines behind him.

The squirrels fall silent. Slowly, singularly and then in pairs, they turn back towards the stunned woodwindist in search of reason, and some sort of path forward, out of this terribly uncomfortable situation. 

The oboist takes off his cap, wipes the downy feathers from his instrument of death, and begins to softly blow the familiar-to-most-but-not-squirrels melody of Taps. The squirrels react appropriately, however, despite having never heard the tune. Taps is one of those compositions that resonates its intention without context. And so the squirrels bow their fuzzy little heads towards the yard, and either pray or pretend to. One cannot know.

Filed under short story stories writing

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