Amberdine lifted her leg slowly and extended it down to the floor, then lifted it again, counting the one, two, three et cetera.
"You're not as stupid as them," her brother scowled.
"I was never as smart as them. Have you ever seen a clock?"
"Dear god, what are you talking about?" He massaged his temples accordingly. Amberdine could be a royal fucking pain.
"A clock," she exclaimed, bringing the left up now. "A clock so...fine and well-dignified, little wheels in perfect alignment?"
"Can't stand for digital clocks, Jim, but it's the same as it all is anyways.
"So you take a clock in a high tower, that reverberates over the land--"
"'Reverberates over the land,' Amber?? What are you jabbering about this time."
"And you know that everyone's hearing it. It's all the result of...perfectly timed...perfectly coordinated...perfectly calculated motion."
"You're nuts. And who cares? What are you trying to do by catering to those bastards? They're greedy--"
"Ticking and tocking, smooth and motion--WHEELS, Jim! The wheel! Every effort from fire flows into a clock. It's all of it!"
"A fucking advanced sundial."
"Everything advances," said Amberdine, her face upside down as she leaned far, far back, hands on her hips, and stretched for a count of ten. "You know what I want to be? I want to be a watchsmith..."
"You could do it. It takes smarts. You've got smarts. You're better than any of them!"
"This is where I am, love."
"Alright, back to the sundial business. Advances...so what? Clocks and gears and technology...what are you getting at?"
"Show in ten, Jim."
"They just watch you for the ass of it. You know that, don't you?" His face was red. "JESUS fucking CHRIST, you're the smartest woman in the world and you're a fuckin'---a fuckin' STRIPPER!" He slammed his hand onto the table, making the makeup jump.
"I'm not a stripper. I'm a performer. I don't remove the stuff."
"You may as well! Skintight--whatever the FUCK, Amberdine, tell me what you want me to do, when you're here!"
"I guess you could be a doctor."
"I'm too old to go to school."
"Never too old to learn. You know what I saw the other day?"
"Your future, dwindling to Hell?"
"A drop of water. And guess what was in it."
"I hate you."
"Everything in the world. And it all twinkled and fell and evaporated. The world gusted into the sun. I was left there, my toe pointed, ballerina grace..."
"You see everything in a fucking silver spectrum. You think you know it all...but look outside!" He motioned to the window. There was a dead stump there, and after the brown yard, a dingy street with dim passing cars.
She had a pin in her mouth, and pulled it out to press up a wisp of hair.
"I bet you didn't see the bird on the windowsill, did you."
Jim looked again. Sure enough, a silly crow was perched there.
"A scavenger bird. What's your point. NO, let me guess." He held his palm to her in halting sarcasm. "You want to tell me that it's all okay, because it can fly, and it can leave here any ol' time. Right?"
"OR maybe you want to say that it's in a drop of water, is THAT it? I bet you have something very fucking brilliant to say all over again, Amberdine! I bet you've got LOADS of wonderful things to say about life. But you know what? Not all of us have wings, girl! Not all of us can just hop onto a windowsill and flutter away. And you...you've got all of the freedom in the..." Choking back a sob, Jim continued, leaning one arm on the table for support. "in the world.
"And I've got nothing but you."
Amberdine smiled gently, and stepped gracefully to his side, smoothing back his hair. His unshaven face was rough against her soft flesh.
"You're so silly, Jim," she sighed. "My mother only raised one fool, and it wasn't me."
He looked up at her, red-rimmed eyes with wet dark lashes. "What now."
She lifted a chain around her neck, pulling out an old key. She stepped forward and opened the top drawer.
"Here," she said, and handed him a roll of bills. There were hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds. The drawer brimmed. "All for you.
He stared at the bills in shock. "Where...?"
"Go fly free, Jim! Go fly."
"I don't want the bills, Amberdine. I don't even know what I want. I want good things for you, understand? I want you to do WELL. I don't know where you got this money...but I'm not taking it. YOU use it. Leave here. Listen, we'll go together! And you find a nice love and get a proper house, and be a real genius 'tween havin' kids and..."
"I bet you didn't even see the bird on the windowsill." She turned her back to look at the crow.
"I told you I've seen it now." He laid his head on his arms.
"It has wings, just like you. Just like me.
"I wonder why it stays here, when it can use them..."
"You tell me, Amberdine."
"Because it's a fool, Jim.
"Because it's just a bird.
"Because it can't tell time!
"But I can.
"And every second that passes, I see all the joy and beauty in the world, and I feel the death. And I know the death. And it's good, isn't it? All of it. Even that rusted car on the side of the block. You know what I want to do? I want to clean it off, and melt it down, and make something new and pretty out of it.
"Instead I'm gonna go to the show, and dance, and win colored paper, for this foolish little life I'm living."
"...come. With. Me."
"Later to you, Jim!"
The door slammed.
Jim sat still for a moment, then fell forward again, sobbing into his arms, leaving wet spots all across his sleeves.
"A BIRD!" he howled at last. "A FUCKING--FUCKING BIRD!!"
He grabbed the doorstop--a rock--and hurled it at the crow with all of his anguish.
The second it struck the bird he saw it all.
He rushed to the window and looked down, where the feathers were matted with blood.
He carried as much of the money as he could in a briefcase he found stuffed in the closet.
On the way out, he passed a leaking faucet.
He stopped to watch the drop fall...
it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Amberdine stepped back into the room.
Jim was gone. Thank goodness.
She closed the drawer and locked it again.
The window was broken.
"You and me, crow," she said, smiling sadly.
"You and me."