Pierogi Press No. 2: Donald Breckenridge, “Tendrils of The Leisure Class”

Tendrils of The Leisure Class 
for Raymond Queneau
Donald Breckenridge

“He’s full of shit…” A male chickadee appears on the window sill with a tendril in its beak, stares intently into the room for an instant and then disappears. “…when was the last time someone tried to convince you that the only way they could make love with you was when they were thinking of another woman?” I shift in my seat and stare intently at my hands. “She takes a great deal of pride in her appearance, the latest perfume, mini-skirts, always a new pair of shoes. A whore with a handful of credit cards…” A thin scar runs across my right hand, an inch below my fingers, a childhood accident. “…she takes him shopping, so she can dress him up like a doll and show him off to all her rich friends.” I clasp my hands together and crack my knuckles, punctuating her sentence. There is a small paper cut on my left index finger that I rub with my thumb. She removes a pack of cigarettes and a small green lighter from her purse. I gently press my thumbnail into the paper cut. She removes a cigarette from the pack, places the cigarette between her lips and lights it. A female chickadee sits atop a branch outside the window, a male hovers above her chattering. He carefully mounts her. They remain motionless, staring intently into the window. She exhales and places the cigarette in a small glass ashtray that sits atop the table in front of her. Yesterday’s newspaper is lying open, next to the ashtray. …A middle-aged couple committed suicide over the weekend after mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and leaving a note for the mailman, the authorities said… The male chickadee flutters his wings to keep his balance, is lifted away and promptly remounts. “She’s married too…a lawyer…can you imagine…just a bored housewife with too much money and nothing to do with her time.” Recrossing her legs, she sighs. …The couple apparently sat across from each other, each holding a gun and shot themselves to death sometime over the weekend, the authorities said… The male chickadee flutters his wings to keep his balance, is lifted away and promptly remounts. “Why should I put up with it?” she asks, hugging herself. I awoke early this morning under the table in the clothes I had worn the day before, my temples throbbing, the sink filled with vomit, having drunk more than my stomach could hold. …The couple left instructions on how to enter the house, where to find them and what family members to call. They also placed their wills, drivers’ licenses and other papers where they could easily be found… “When did you find out?” I ask, afraid my silence is becoming callous. “Yesterday. I confronted him with a message that she left on the answering machine. He made no attempt to lie and showed no sign of remorse.” She removes the cigarette from the ashtray and taps off the extending ash, “‘I’m sorry for calling you at home but I just had to hear the sound of your voice’…with this phony sex-kitten accent. What a joke.” She says as her forced laugh gives way to a dry cough. …They spread a quilt, blanket and shower curtain on the couch so the furniture would not be stained when they shot themselves… After drinking two glasses of cold water, I remove my clothes and climb into bed. With the covers pulled up to my chin, I watch the sunrise. The ceiling is covered with damp brown stains and in some places the plaster is peeling away. I fall asleep, trying to remember the previous evening. “It’s so obvious, they wanted me to find out, now I’ve got to find a place to stay, he gave me until the end of this week to move out…just like that,” she says snapping her fingers. I wake with the sun shining directly into my eyes. “I can’t understand why I stayed with him for so long.” She sighs, places the cigarette in the ashtray. “I packed my things this morning after he went to work, just the essentials, clothes and some make-up…” I get out of bed reluctantly. “…and stored them in a locker at the Port Authority. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of saying goodbye, although he’s probably celebrating with her right now,” she says, biting her lower lip as tears stream down her face. In a panic, I remove a notepad from my pocket and read out loud, “The chickadee, a permanent resident throughout all of New York State, needs no introduction; its call is its name. The tiny chickadee makes its nest with hair, grass and feathers, usually in rotten tree stumps and limbs. It feeds on wild fruit, insects, their eggs and the seeds from weeds. That’s the first page… What do you think?” I say behind a smile that a father must possess when shown his newborn for the first time. I pass her the note pad. “You didn’t tell me you were a writer,” she says while dabbing her eyes with a tissue. After cleaning the sink and mopping the kitchen floor, I make myself a cup of coffee. The pounding in my temples subsides after the second cup. I sit by the window with pen and notebook in hand, searching the sky for birds. My father once said that if a man applies himself to something and if he really believes in what he is doing, then he is sure to succeed. He also promised me that when I grew up, I wouldn’t have a pot to piss in. “I don’t know if you can call me that, it’s my first. Actually that’s the first draft of the first page. I think I’m on the right track though,” I say, with my heart in my throat. Sitting in front of the window, my anxiety mounts. The sky is empty, not a bird in sight. The wind carries a large black garbage bag up the street, it wraps itself around a young woman, pushing the baby carriage, forcing them to the ground. She struggles to her feet as the garbage bag opens like a sail, whisking them down the street and around the corner. “The Birds of Brooklyn…nice title…I think it’s a very good start…that’s the hardest part, isn’t it?” She smiles and says, “I think Hemmingway said that.” I collect yesterday’s newspaper from the floor in the hope of discovering an article about birds, even a photograph would please me. Nothing, not a single bird. There are plenty of politicians, there are pages of empty living rooms and lots of pretty models. One model in particular catches my eye. Her face is framed in the photograph, she has a vibrant smile and is glancing at a small article in the upper left hand corner of the page. Enchanted, I follow her eyes. “We should celebrate,” I say, unable to contain my happiness. “That’s a great idea…” while crushing the cigarette in the ashtray she continues, “…no point dwelling in the past…she’ll probably get tired of him in a few weeks and drop him like a hot rock. Then he’ll wonder where I’ve gone. Then he’ll realize what he had.” She drops the cigarette butt in the ashtray and smiles. I place the newspaper on the table and begin pacing the room. The pounding in my temples has returned. I consider the warm confines of my bed. The prospect is tempting. Lying in bed with the blankets pulled up to my chin, my head resting comfortably on two soft pillows, eyes closed, the world forgotten and quietly lost in my dreams. Lying in bed listening to the married couple on the floor below. I hear their bed creak. They embrace. Exchanging themselves, as their daily domestic routine begins. The sun shines down upon the crumpled sheets tangled around their ankles. Lying in bed listening to the insurance agent on my right as he prepares for work. Whistling refrains from popular Broadway musicals while skillfully tightening the tie around his neck and carefully polishing his shoes. My bed seems more like an accusation, an empty nest in spring. “Don’t you have anything to drink?” she says, recrossing her legs. “Water, I drank the rest of the coffee this morning.” Our eyes lock. “Water…I’d like something a little stronger…it’s past noon, isn’t it?” she asks with mock concern. My next resort is the pet store on Willoughby Avenue. I know the owner. After I had spent hours staring intently into the front window with pen and notepad in hand, he invited me inside. Although the birds are tropical and enclosed in tiny cages, their brilliant colors can hold my attention all afternoon long. I would never dream of buying a bird, even if I could afford one. I’ll go to the Bronx Zoo tomorrow, it’s free on Wednesdays. The Museum of Natural History is the most melancholy place in the world, with its glass-encased tombs of stuffed birds covered with dust. My last resort is the library, although I’ve exhausted their resources, having filled countless pages with notes. They may have gotten in new books and forgotten to call. I sit at my desk reviewing my notes while planning my next move. When the pet store opens at noon, I’ll go mingle with the lunch crowd, then stop by the library and ask the librarian if they’ve gotten in anything new. I wake up in the late afternoon. “Why don’t you go to the store on the corner and get us something to drink?” She removes a crisp twenty dollar bill from her purse and places it on the table. “I’m almost out of cigarettes too, do you mind?” While slipping my arms through the sleeves in my coat I reply, “Not at all, not at all, please make yourself at home. I’ll be back in two minutes.” Locking the door behind me, I quickly descend the four flights of stairs, three at a time. I smile and exchange pleasantries with the landlord, who is sweeping the stoop, “Don’t lock the door, I’ll be right back,” and run up the street. “I thought you were at work,” I hear him shout as I round the corner. When I return he’s sitting on the stoop, with the broom in his hands. “Where’s the fire?” he asks, eyeing the brown bag tucked under my arm. I smile, quickly pass by and climb the stairs slowly, collecting myself. I quit my job four months ago in order to devote all my time to my true calling. I discovered the road that lay ahead was filled with traps and pitfalls. A regimented schedule is irrelevant to my idle hands. I would spend weeks at my desk sleeping while trying to study migration charts, feeding habits, mating rituals and listening to bird calls on the tapes that I borrowed from the library. The winter gradually gave way and spring had found me sound asleep. A puddle of drool had formed on the desk. “Well, that was fast…were you afraid I was going to run away?” she says with a broad smile. I’m astounded by the people around me who seem so content with their daily lives. I watch with envy, the ease they recline in as life takes days away from them. “Well, I didn’t want to keep you waiting. They were out of Rhinegold so I bought Piels.” “Piels is fine, you didn’t forget the cigarettes, did you?” I place the cigarettes on the table. The sun shines down upon the cellophane wrapper that glows, like an advertisement torn out of a weekly magazine. I remove two cold cans of beer from the bag, “Would you like a glass?” I stand in front of the mirror examining my clothes for any traces of vomit that may have splashed on them. The jacket is wrinkled and the pants shine around the knees. Sending them to the dry cleaners is a luxury. I treat myself once every two months. When I’ve achieved my goals, published and translated into dozens of languages – when my books are seminal guides to ornithologists everywhere, I’ll wear a new suit every day of the week, if it pleases me. Having passed the inspection, I write today’s date in the dust on the mirror. “Yes, if it’s clean,” she replies. “But of course,” I say with a flourish, imitating the head waiter of a prestigious restaurant, while carefully pouring her beer. “That will be all, thank you,” she says, taking the glass from my outstretched hand. Her warm fingers linger over mine. Infinitesimal bubbles slowly rise from the bottom of the glass, forming long trails that spiral toward her open mouth as she drinks. I retrieve my coat from the floor. All of the buttons have fallen off. The coat will make it through another week. The keys jingle in the left front pocket as I slide my arms in the sleeves. I place my hand on the doorknob, turn it to my right and pull the door open. She places the empty glass on the table, recrosses her legs and says, “It’s strange, the way things fall into place sometimes.”