He didnít know much, but he knew one thing for certain. When the breeze came swelling, the birds fell mute, as if listening, until it passed like something benevolent, though prowling, stopping in the drawn out distance to finger the wind chimes. Just like the time he and his mother found themselves in a shop where everything hung from the walls. Where there was a shopkeeper full of bliss and dressed in dangling chains. Where there hung from the rafters an assortment of wind chimes, still as willows in the blister of summer, and he knew there was nothing he could teach them, so he ran his fingers through their music and listened, instead.
Otherwise they called him a simpleton, slow, retarded, or worse, disabled, like he was something that could be unplugged. The Good Lord spilled coffee on his schematic, the grounds keeper had once said to a delivery man, who laughed politely, but who for years saw the compound from the very same path every Tuesday, their glances passing like autumn as he strode rapidly, dropping feigned leaves of punctuality, but really too awkward to stop and talk. This is the forest we live in, it is where we make our stand.
Sometimes the night, unbearable with its mosquitoes and heat, would sit on its haunches over his bed and pant. When it was too much he would cool himself by thinking of the garden they had allowed him to plant; the flowers, the squash, the garlic, the tomatoes. He would live in his garden until sleep carried him away.
He dreamed he carried himself loose and limber. He dreamed no one turned away from him. He dreamed his garden filled his days. He dreamed no river of inequity to look across, no shore to hold his earthen feet. But most of all, he dreamed a clear tongue that spoke eloquently and at great length.
He awoke in such a heat he felt as if he were still dreaming. The windows, wide open, were full of day, and there drifted in from the lunch area what sounded like the excited whispering of angels. He crossed to the window and looked out. Everyone was gathered around looking up into one the oldest of the great eucalyptusí that grew in and around the compound. It made him think of the time the farmerís dog had treed a family of raccoons in the elm that grew near the workshop. Before the maintenance staff could get the dog away, everyone watched in horror as one of young fell to the ground. The dog was on it in an instant, and shook the young raccoon between his jaws with such ferocity, it literally tore in half, the head and front legs landing at his feet. Everyone stopped, mortified, and waited for his reaction, but he had simply picked up the remains of the animal and walked away towards his garden where he dug a hole and buried it.
He dressed then walked out into the heat of the brittle white day, still feeling as though he were dreaming. Not thinking but knowing it was much too hot for raccoons or squirrels quickened his step to the dogís ceaseless barking. Indeed, when he got closer to the tree, he found the farmerís dog had treed no raccoon, no squirrel, but a myth. He imagined it to have a rhododendron for a heart, a sea-sponge for a liver, a python wound up for a large intestine, and a small blue star for a mind. At first glance he knew the myth was older than the tree. On the next, he saw its wings tangled up among the eucalyptusí branches. Until at last he saw the frightened width of its eyes as he peered down on the wards below who were all waving and calling out to it in greeting.
The activities director was the first responsible human on the scene. She was a large woman who smoked in her car on her breaks and wore stretchable, though unbreathable polyester from head to toe. When she eyed the myth in the tree, she immediately had someone go and call the fire department. Then she had all the wards moved back away from the tree. Although they continued to wave and give salutations and bear the creature no bad intent, the myth merely looked down on them with its big, frightened owl eyes.
The fire department arrived in cloud of dust and screaming sirens. They nearly ran down the activities director who froze in their sudden swerve clutching a magic marker in one hand and a small origami swan made out of rose colored paper in the other. He saw her crush the swan in her bare hand as the big truck slammed to a stop only feet away from her. From the gleaming red cab jumped the ever ready Captain, a myth in his own right. The crew hoisted a ladder up into the tree and the intrepid Captain climbed to the top to speak with the myth. After the myth had listened to all the Captain had to say, it simply blinked its great wide eyes deliberately, slowly, as one does when one sees through astonished eyes, and remained mute. After spending most of the day in the fragrance of the eucalyptus trying to communicate with an unremembered myth over the cacophonous chatter of a roost of flocking crows, the Captain, and the fire department, gave up. Everyone knew that forgotten myths were like incontinent old men that drew occasional pity but nothing more, and, in the end, simply disappear one day. So they left it tangled in the eucalyptus and went back to their daily routines.
For two weeks the heat wave was unrelenting, and the air remained as still as the mythís tongue; and for two weeks he would come out, whenever he felt the urge, to sit beneath the tree and gaze up at the myth, waiting for it to speak. In the meantime, because of his desire to miss nothing the myth would have to say, his garden suffered. He gave it no attention, no water, but only sat on the bench below the great tree looking up at the myth. His tomatoes felt abandoned, his squash grew sad, even the flowers, normally peaceful, became enraged briefly before withering, only the garlic remained indifferent. Still the myth never spoke.
There had been others; one who fell from the sky with a broken wing, another that flew through the big sycamore in fall, and became so laden with leaves it fell like a paper yellow stone into the green of the farmerís celery field. But these myths had spoken endlessly. Without being prompted, they would simply burst into their world view and leave the remnants lying around like glass, forcing the wards to spend the future that followed walking carefully through their lives. He secretly wished they would just stay out there where the rest of the world hoarded them and caged them like rare animals in a zoo. And he wondered why this one refused to speak, even to the birds, who largely ignored the myth and would occasionally perch on it as if it were no more than a large branch.
Then one day, as he sat beneath the giant eucalyptus, rolling a thought like a mumble over his tongue, the heat wave broke. He became perfectly still. He could feel the mellow breeze from the sea returning. He first felt it in his spine, something real, then cool and electric, it pricked his skin and began to swell. As usual the birds fell mute. Then the myth lifted up its head, as if to sniff the air in the direction of the far off ocean, and began to sing; and the breeze continued to swell, and the myth continued to sing, until the main body of the breeze was directly upon him and was so full and round it could swell no more and he knew if the myth kept on singing the breeze would burst and end his dream. He closed his eyes. I am a dream beneath a eucalyptus waiting to be awakened.
He listened to the mythís song, and he knew it was a song of sorrow, of good-bye, without remorse, but lonely. And just when he was sure the breeze could not be filled with one more note, the singing suddenly stopped. He waited, the irony of his hands still covering his eyes, until he heard the wind chimes in the distance, and he didnít need to open his eyes or look up into the tree tops to know whose fingers it was that ran through them.
The birds, one by one, find their tongues, and their throats are full again. As if a tide of sound swept through them, and slowly covered the glass sand of the wind chimeís distance. In the garden of myths, the birds are silent.
© 2000 Dan McCann
Dan McCann grew up in Southern California and now lives in Northern California where he works in web site design. He has had stories and poems published in Pangolin Magazine, Elk River Review, and Magic Realism. In addition to fiction and poetry, he has also done some screen writing including an adaptation of Dante's Inferno. In the vein of the Alchemical artwork of old, he is currently at work making what he calls "philosophical diagrams" illustrating the cosmology of the Rosicrucians.