Tributaries, The New Nature: “Pigeonblood”

By Shaun Turner

Bette wrung the white cotton tees out into her big iron wash bucket then pinned them to the line with a set of rusty clothespins as she watched the bloody pigeon land hard at one of the wash lines. The nearly-dying pigeon hung to her rope and she couldn’t bear to leave it. Why a pigeon, this far away from a big city? And why was its eye missing?

It landed with a soft thunk—–the bloody pigeon– —and Bette felt the tension; it waved the thin sisal rope she strung between her single-wide mobile home and the sugar maple—–the only tree on the acre of land she rented from her elderly great-aunt.

Two dresses fell from the line. Bette cursed under her breath quiet. She was used to hard work: been taking in the laundry for a few folks from Grogan First Baptist then news spread by word of mouth. Now, every family in the community, it seemed, sent her their laundry. She had two more loads to dry, and one left to hang, and the morning was half-over at 10:40. And then to rewash the dresses.

When she was a kid, the whole community was farms and churches. Now, new trailers and small houses lined the highway.

She watched the bloody pigeon with rapt attention. The bird lacked an eye: one a dark hole while the other stared suspicious. Its torn down wing left a jagged red gap against its gray chest. Maybe a neighborhood cat had grabbed hold. Maybe the pigeon fought it off.

Bette leaned her back against the sugar maple, sap and bits of bark tickling the nape of her neck, almost a break. She hadn’’t always wanted to be a laundress. But her parents were in their forties when she was born. They started getting sick when she was a senior in high school. And so she stayed until all she had was bills to pa–y—a house foreclosed on. She knew she could housekeep, launder.

Bette watched the bloody pigeon tremble with breath, kept her sight fixed on the pigeon until the its one good eye closed shut. She felt like she was going crazy. Fabric slapped together in the wind.

Bette leaned into the wind and let its force pull her hair up around her ears and into her face. Between the strands of black she could barely see the pigeon’s red blood shining under the sun.

A bubble rose in her chest, like hope or a soft scream. Her body felt like the dozens of shirts on her line, now fighting and tangled. Bette pulled her hair back and wished she could climb up the sugar maple like a kid, up and higher until her trailer and the lines of wash looked like a ship at sea. Higher until she could see past the rows of trailers on her aunt’s old farmland. Higher like she and the bird had almost switched places—–she’d have the sky. She’d open her good eye and then, screaming, spread her bloody wings.

Shaun Turner serves as fiction editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection, and co-editor at Fire Poetry Journal. He is the author of ‘The Lawless River: Stories’ (Red Bird Chapbooks). His writing has been selected as a finalist in Best Small Fictions 2018, and can found in New South, Appalachian Heritage, and FRiGG Magazine, among others. Shaun earned his MFA at West Virginia University.