9.

            Robert waited for Shirley to return. He was wondering where she could have possibly gone on this muggy Saturday afternoon. He sifted through the closet putting his clothes from his trip in the laundry. Then he sat at the edge of the bed rubbing his temples and undoing the top buttons of his shirt. He pulled off his socks with his toes and laid back on the mountain of pillows that Shirley created every morning in various ways.

            Putting a pillow over his eyes he listened to the two red cardinals outside having a chirping war and he thought he could distinguish the sound of meaning behind all the high pitched tones. It seemed to him that the bigger of the cardinals was letting the smaller know that he was entitled to more crumbs because of the pecking order. But in hasty response, the smaller of the birds pointed out that it was he that needed more because he was still growing and would one day outgrow the larger one and have the control. It was in the larger one’s interest to serve the smaller so that that he would remember him when he was big and mighty.      

The chirping (seemed to) continue in this circularity and Robert tuned them out.  Laying amongst the pillows Robert tried to unwind from his trip. The pikake flowers outside spilled in through the air coming in through the window and slowly the heavy mess of the world faded.

            Rolling over on his side, Robert felt something jabbing into his side. Reaching down in his pocket, he pulled out a tiny porcelain dove that he’d bought at the airport for Shirley that day. Turning it over in his hands, he wondered why he’d bought it. He held the little dove in his palm until he fell asleep and it slipped out onto the floor and under the bed.

            Robert dreamed he was observing himself sleep in the room. He sat in a chair and watched his body breathe in and out. He moved around the bed and watched his form greedily sleeping, regaining his strength. He then went out the window and sat on the branch perch with the two red cardinals. They were still bickering about the pecking order and treated Robert with little interest although they knew he was there on the branch. Robert thought he was a bird too. He flew off that branch and onto the roof of the house where he saw the sun sinking slowly into the western sky. Completely undeniable. Cocking his head to the left with his eye on the sun, he decided he wanted to follow the sun. Surging forward, off of the roof, he flew towards the bright orb, happy.

He woke and sat up from his dream, and went into the kitchen and poured himself some iced tea that was in the refrigerator.  As he shut the fridge door, Shirley fell onto the shaggy white bath mat from thin air. Her body landed like a teardrop lands on a flat surface—one tiny little plop followed by many ripples. She stood up, felt her naked body, looked in the mirror, realized all was right, and put on her bathrobe to go and join Robert out in the kitchen.  All that remained were three small dots of blood on the white shag mat from where she'd cut her leg shaving.

            He was pleased to see her. They embraced and kissed. Robert drank the hibiscus tea and smacked his lips together. Down the hallway to the bedroom. Jane was nowhere to be seen although Shirley was sure she must still be around somewhere. 

            Robert and Shirley lay down in bed together with the pillows about, holding one another. They were peaceful and quiet. The stars had come up over W. Bay and a little sliver of moon could be seen rising over the mountains in the distance. The African tulip branches bent in the light winds and everything sighed in relief as the heat of the day died away and the brilliant sky could be tasted everywhere. Normal was the evening, quiet was the night, and as the lovers embraced, they exhaled simultaneous long, deep breaths that passed them both into their dreaming state. There was only one red cardinal quiet in the tree, the other flown away.