This is one of the fantasies written under my WE Marden name. I was thinking about putting it out under WATTPAD and might yet, but it occurred to me I can place it here without worrying about the language causing any problems. I’m going to tweet and post a notice about it on facebook. I only ask if you like it, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE drop me a comment. It’s like going deaf after posting on LIT with it’s immediate feedback.
THE GOOD MAN,
AND THE WITCH WITH THE
HEART OF PUREST DIAMOND
Once upon a time – and yes, children, I know that it is utterly out of style to use that opening but everything that has happened had to happen once upon a time – there was a nightingale who could sing the stars down from the sky, the fish out of the sea, and the freckles off a red-headed country girl.
This nightingale looked much like any other until it opened its beak to sing and pure joy exploded out of its throbbing throat.
Its song captivated mothers walking children through parks under the watchful eyes of plainclothes undercover detectives staking out the area for muggers.
Its liquid notes of heavenly joy brought smiles to the faces of burnt out black men sitting in their undershirts on upturned packing cases around the sooty remains of package liquor stores in sections of major cities where a white face hadn’t been seen since the last riot.
Legend has it that at least one major country music star – rumored to be Willy Nelson but no one will ever know for sure – offered the nightingale a king’s ransom and five percent of the gross on all CD, record and concert proceeds to go on the road with him, but the nightingale only flew on one night, leaving the singer, his entourage, the roadies and groupies and accompanying press disconsolate for at least a week. Rumor also has it that the singer was tempted to skip his next several engagements – so depressed was he by the nightingale’s departure while the singer slept – but the IRS came by to remind the singer of his obligations and the show went on as scheduled.
The nightingale flew on because he was – after all – a wild creature and had no use for Manhattan townhouses, Ferrarri’s, front row tickets for “Cats”, standing reservations at Spago’s, or a yacht on the Mediterranean. Champagne made him sick and cocaine made his throat sore, so the lures of the rich and powerful had no claim on him.
He was only a bird, and the cliche bird brain had to come from somewhere, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one winter evening as he was enjoying the balmy breezes on the posh island of Siesta Key off Sarasota, he got it into his head to fly north and check out the scenery.
As might be expected, he ran into snow, ice, and sleet around the North Carolina border and by the time he reached the outskirts of Pittsburgh he was nearly dead with cold, exhaustion, and air polluted with a rich mix of hydrocarbons, industrial solvents, carcinogens, and enough different poisons to kill larger individuals than a medium sized nightingale.
As he fluttered to a sidewalk, ice forming on his wings, a gang of pimply teenagers began throwing rocks at him. Most missed but one hit the side of his head and he spiraled to a crash landing on the icy walk.
As the nearest of the boys began racing toward him brandishing a stolen spiked litterstick, the nightingale opened its beak to sing out a warning and a call for help. But no sounds came out. It strained to its utmost, but not a peep uttered forth. The cold and shock had taken its voice away.
As the cruel boy stood poised over the nearly frozen bird, lifting the spike to impale it against the sidewalk, a large fist swung out of the gloom alongside the juvenile delinquent’s head, sending the youth flying off the sidewalk.
His companions, who had prepared themselves to attack the interloper, took one look at his blue uniform and .38 police special in his holster and suddenly found urgent business elsewhere.
The nightingale’s savior – for it was no other than a member of Pittsburgh’s finest, kicked the fallen youth hard and muttered “Get your fucking ass off the public property, asshole, before I make you another asshole.”
At this point I should perhaps interject to those parents reading aloud to their impressionable offspring that this is probably not the best bedtime story for them to hear, but if you’ve been sucked in by the narrative, try to read silently a few lines ahead and clean up the story as we go along, okay?
Bending down, the man in blue – and this will get tedious so we’ll call him the Good Man for reasons that will soon become clear – in the old days you’d have a Prince entering the story at this point but remember that this tale takes place in the legendary US of A between the dawn of the atomic age and the turn of the century, so Princes are few and far between - bent down and poked the nearly rigid nightingale with one stubby finger.
“Poor little bastard,” the Good Man rumbled. “Why the hell ain’t you down south with the rest of the smart guys? Even for a bird brain, you must be pretty fucking dumb.”
He stood up and turned to walk away. Lying on the sidewalk, feeling the last of its strength flowing out in a liquid stream of breath sucked out by the cold, the nightingale wished for just an instant that it could break into song again, utter its death song, but its voice had been stolen away.
The Good Man knelt down and in hands better suited for making fists than carrying fragile bits of feather and bone, lifted up the shivering nightingale.
“I’m as big a fucking idiot as you are, but let’s see if you’ll live,” the Good Man said, and took the nightingale to his squad car. Wrapping the bit of feathered fluff in a scarf, the Good Man drove back to his station, spent 45 minutes filling out meaningless paperwork, and drove home.
There he found an old eyedropper and fed the now much revived nightingale a rich combination of nearly soured milk and 30-year-old Cherry Brandy.
Lifting the still voiceless nightingale to the window of his apartment overlooking a major traffic artery, the Good Man sipped the brandy and watched the never-ending light show below him.
“This is what it comes down to, Birdie, when all is said and done. I’m 43 years old, divorced, alone, in a job that I got tired of years ago, just going through the motions so I can come home to this apartment and sit in the dark with a dying bird beside me watching strangers drive by below. Hell, it doesn’t get any better than this, does it?”
The Good Man set the brandy down on the window sill and stroked the back of the nightingale with an oddly affectionate look on his face.
“Can’t even warble, can you, poor little bastard?”
He laughed, a sudden violent explosion of noise that almost frightened the nightingale into flying into the closed window.
“Hell, you can’t sing and I can’t dance. We make one fine fucking pair, don’t we? Well, us losers got to stick together.”
As the Good Man turned his gaze back to the bustling stream of strangers five stories below, the nightingale realized he was falling in love.
From that day forward the nightingale made his home in the Good Man’s apartment. The Good Man kept the bird closed in for several days but finally with a shrug let the nightingale fly free expecting never to see him again.
He could scarcely believe his eyes when the nightingale returned the next morning, wakening him with the sweetest song the man in blue had ever heard. Listening to it as he tossed and turned in his bed just before his alarm clock would go off, he dreamt that he was a child again, running across the grassy summer fields of his grandparents’ western Pennsylvania farm. It was summertime, he knew, and school was out never to re-open its ominous doors. He ran through waist high grass toward a small creek whose water was sweeter than any wine he’d ever sample again in his life, followed by his grandfather’s barking Collie, knowing that after diving in for a cool swim he’d head back for lemonade and then some of grandmother’s roast and new potatoes as only she made them. He was nine years old and his grandfather hadn’t yet stumbled and fallen into that terrible pit of agony that grownups called a stroke and his grandmother hadn’t shrunk and grown all faded and lined like a photograph that had gotten wet. It was the summertime of his life and he was happy.
His face was wet with tears when the alarm dragged him away from that summer and he didn’t realize for a moment that they were tears of joy, didn’t realize that this world was the reality and the other was the dream, didn’t think of anything except the nightingale’s song.
He opened the window and watched it sing for long, timeless moments, a childlike smile of joy on his face as he mumbled over and over again under his breath like a mantra of defiance against time and pain, “Well, I’ll be goddamned…well, I’ll be goddamned….well, I’ll be goddamned…”
Through the enchanted months of a fairytale winter, the Nightingale sang for the Good Man every evening after he came home. Together the odd pair would sit near the window in the darkness watching the traffic below. And sometimes, for the first time in years, the Good Man would realize he wasn’t lonely any more.
But, of course, all good times must come to an end, fairytales must give way to reality, and as some sage pointed out, no bit of happiness goes unpunished in this life.
Her name was – but her name really was unimportant. Call her the Witch because that’s what she was. The Good Man met her in the course of busting her ass one evening after discovering her conning suckers with a fortune telling scam in a rented storefront on his downtown beat.
She played the gypsy part, peasant blouse cut low to showcase ample breasts which didn’t hurt in attracting male customers, a colorful scarf around her dark auburn hair, large gold earrings dangling; but, she told the Good Man the second time he busted her two nights later, she really was just a working girl from Miami who had worn out her welcome with the vice cops in Florida and was looking for some virgin territory.
Even after seeing the track marks on her arms, the white powder in a compact that wasn’t makeup, and her admission that she had more vices than most people have personal problems, the Good Man couldn’t get her out of his mind, and out of his dreams.
He almost believed her laughing claim to be a real witch posing as a fake fortune teller the third time he arrested her.
“It’s true,” she said, flashing white teeth at him and playfully scratching her long fingernails along the side of his leg, making him so suddenly, painfully taut with desire that it took every ounce of willpower not to pull the patrol car into an alley and drag her into the back.
“I am a witch, and I’ve put a spell on you. Ensorceled your heart so you will never be able to get me out of your mind.”
He couldn’t resist looking down her blouse and knowing he did so, she took a deep breath that made the blood pound in his temples.
“You don’t have to be a witch to do that. You’ve got all the right equipment for it.”
The smile left her face and for just a moment the Good Man felt the unfamiliar emotion of fear.
“I have walked in dark paths, in caverns where the moon has never shone, in woods where men have never trod, my handsome man in blue. I have made bargains and covenants with things that would drive you shrieking from your nightmares. And they have given me what I most desired.”
She took his hand – he had let her ride beside him despite knowing this broke every departmental regulation on the books – and placed it against her breast. The soft, throbbing mass filled his palm and made him bit his lip to keep from giving way to his deepest desire. Then, beyond the warmth of her breast, he felt something else, a cold that grew and grew until it burned his hand, and he jerked it away.
She laughed and then reached out to stroke his hand, her touch driving the cold away.
“You felt it for a moment, did you not, my man in blue? My heart of purest white diamond. Don’t look at me that way. I’m not crazy. But, I am not human anymore the way you are. Now that I have done away with my fallible human heart, I cannot be hurt, I cannot die. Ever.”
He knew she was crazy, another street loon, but one thing she had said was true. She had bewitched him. He could not scrub her face out of his memory, could not drive the feel of her breast in his hand out of his thoughts.
Of course, they wound up at his apartment two nights later when he could not fight her any longer. As the nightingale sang his song outside the closed window, for the first time he was left out in the cold sleet as the Good Man burned and writhed under the touch of the witch.
The next night they made love again – here again, parents, you might want to consider substituting a phrase like watched television together – but this time when they finished the Good Man heard the nightingale and was overcome with guilt. While he had enjoyed the Witch, his friend had been left out on the ledge buffeted by icy rain and cold winds.
Letting him in, the Good Man watched in amusement when the Nightingale broke into an almost human note of surprise as the Witch walked into the room nude, magnificent, taking away the Good Man’s breath with her beauty.
“And what have we here, my man in blue? Do you know sorceries too, to draw animals to you?
“He’s just a friend. I saved his life and he hangs around .Sings a mean song.”
“Sing us a song, nightingale,” the Witch commanded, for she knew who and what the Nightingale was. And he knew what she was. Never had he more devoutly wished for the gift of human speech, to warn the Good Man, but his song was his only speech.
Turning, the nightingale flew out of the apartment into the night and the Good Man felt a pang of loss that he couldn’t explain.
“That’s odd, he’s never done that before.”
Slipping her arms around him, the Witch enveloped him in her earthy magic and the Good Man forgot the Nightingale, forgot all the world outside the four walls of his apartment.
Of course, the nightingale came back after a time. He still loved the Good Man and hoped that in some way he might protect him against the evil he felt from the Witch. Night after night as the Good Man lay back in the darkness of his bedroom in the aftermath of his sweaty joinings with the Witch, listening to the rain outside the window or the howling wind, the Nightingale perched on the window and sang its heart out.
Tears often came to the Good Man’s eyes, accompanied by memories and feelings he had thought long gone. In other nearby units a couple who had not slept in the same bed in the three years since their two-year-old daughter had slipped in the bathtub and drowned clung to each other and forgave each other for her death; a 55-year-old accountant who had stolen $300,000 from his company quietly returned it and then quit his job and joined the priesthood; a woman who had been conducting duel love affairs without either lover or her husband knowing anything divorced her husband and married one of her lovers; and a 47-year-old man who had been molesting young boys since the age of 14 and knew he would until the day he died, walked into his bathroom, turned the hot water on, and slit both wrists, standing over the sink until loss of blood made him fall forward and hit his head on the porcelain. He died before rescuers arrived to find him lying in a pool of his own blood, smiling.
As he listened to the nightingale’s songs, the Good Man would sometimes turn in the bed to stare at the shadow shrouded form of the Witch, who usually sat smoking a cigarette. She would smile at him, her eyes bright and undimmed by moisture, and say quietly, “Nice song, isn’t it?” At those moments the fear he had felt when holding her breast came over him again.
But her spell was too strong and soon he found himself spying for her to discover where fraud and bunco detectives would be working, helping her to run her games and even providing protection on an occasion or two when she needed muscle in the event a male victim might get violent.
He knew it was wrong, but somehow it didn’t seem so when they were together and he couldn’t stop himself in any event.
You don’t have to be a mental giant to foresee the end of this scenario. In time the Good Man’s activities became known to Internal Affairs and one evening they sprung a trap on him.
Arrested by men who had worked with him for years, walking the gauntlet to the station under the scornful eyes of men who had been if not friends then casual allies, he felt as if he had tumbled headfirst into his worst nightmare.
But it wasn’t the worst nightmare. That came only when he entered an interrogation room and found the Witch waiting for him with two Internal Affairs detectives.
“Yes, sir,” she told the senior officer, “he propositioned me after arresting me three times. Told me I’d have to put out or he’d get friends to cut my face up. What could I do? I’m just a working girl and he was a cop. I went to bed with him.”
The rest of what was said came and went as if the volume on a television was being turned up and down. They took her away and booked him. Because of his record and a decent savings account, he made bail. They had told him to stay away from her, but he went to her apartment like a shot and found her there waiting for him.
There were so many things he wanted to say to her, but all that came out was, “Why?”
She laughed and said, “Why not? I told you nothing can kill me. But I still need to eat, I need uppers and downers and cool white snow. A cop is a good meal ticket, for as long as it lasts.”
“That’s all I was?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. You weren’t even the best cop I ever had. You’re a fat, boring, little middle aged man who sits in the dark watching traffic and listening to a dumb bird. You really thought I ever cared for you?”
The nightingale found the Good Man slumped in his chair in his apartment overlooking the crowded street below. As it flew to his chair it saw the ugly gaping hole in the back of his head where his police special bullet had blown his brains out to litter the floor behind him.
The Witch left Pittsburgh, but the nightingale caught up with her in Louisville. It sat on one of the double beds as she walked in after taking a shower. She glanced at it, then at the motel door swinging open and realized she had forgotten to lock it. But when you’re very old, and can’t die, you get careless sometimes.
“I don’t believe it, you dumb bird. You followed me all this way because of that fat, stupid cop? Give me a break, he’s better off underground than rotting in that little room listening to you warble in the darkness.”
She looked around as if fearful that the nightingale had brought a feathered posse, then realized that it wasn’t that type of creature.
“So, why did you come, birdbrain? To sing me a song so I’ll break down and cry in guilt. Sorrrreeeee. Your songs don’t mean shit to someone who has no heart to be broken.”
Now, outside of people who’ve seen one too many showings of that famous Alfred Hitchcock flick, very few people are afraid of birds. Vultures maybe if you’re dying of thirst in the middle of the desert. But nightingales, no. And that was the Witch’s big mistake.
Launching itself at her like a small feathered missile, the nightingale buried his beak in her right eye before the Witch could raise a hand to defend herself or cast a spell or whack at him with the hairbrush she carried in her right hand.
Reacting in shock and surprise more than pain – because she no longer felt much pain as human beings know the feeling – she flailed at the small creature which backed off and then flew in under a swipe to tear again at the injured eye.
The Witch tried to run but fell, her towel tripping up her feet. As she rolled to try to get to her feet, the nightingale was on her again slashing with its surprisingly razor sharp beak at her other eye.
In moments the Witch’s face was a mask of blood flowing from two lacerated bloody, pulpy pits under her eyelashes. Now blinded she could only set her back against a wall and flail impotently at her flying tormenter.
Finally the attacks ceased. She slowly raised her hands away from her eyes, trying to hear the nightingale. She smiled through the blood flowing down her face.
“Feel better, you crazy little bastard? Okay, but I’ve got a shock for you, asshole. You can’t hurt me. You pecked my eyes out, but they’ll grow back. They always do. And when they do, trust me, Birdie, I’ll come looking for you. The world is too small to hide from me.”
She felt no fear when she heard the first notes rising from that small throat. Hovering in the air a few feet from the Witch, the nightingale gathered its strength and determination and sang its sorrow, its anger, its pain.
Now, as I said earlier, when the nightingale was good, he was very, very good. And he had never sung like this before. The hair on the head of a state trooper in a cruiser a half mile away rose straight up as he fought to keep his car on the road. Every clock in a nearby House of Time stopped at the exact same instant. Four miles away a woman in labor whom ultrasound had shown to have only one embryo delivered two babies, Ten miles away a wandering Buddhist monk who had fled personal troubles in China found transcendence beside a dirt road leading into a dairy farm and left behind only his faintly perfumed clothes lying in the dust. Fifty miles away the leading candidate for his party’s presidential nomination two years hence started calling newspapers to announce his retirement from politics.
In the motel room the Witch felt a terrible sharp pain like nothing she had ever experienced or imagined. Doubling over in agony, she fell to her knees and wanted to vomit, but could not. Within her she felt a seismic trembling and then a pain so pure and brilliant that it felt as if she were being turned inside out, all her nerve endings exposed to the air.
She heard and felt the cracking sound from within her breast and knew. Knew what the nightingale had done. Knew in a sudden rush of eternity all the pain and sorrow that she had casually cast about as she made her way through life. Knew it and felt it and knew the nightingale’s revenge.
The nightingale flew out of the room, leaving the sobbing figure behind it making the terrible, gut-wrenching noises of a woman who must cry to relieve the pain of a broken heart, but who – no longer having eyes – could not shed tears.
For you see, what the nightingale knew and the Witch did not was that even a heart of the purest, hardest diamond can be shattered. All you need is the right singer, the right song, and the right note. There is no heart that cannot be broken.
And that’s pretty much the end of the story. The way I hear it, the Witch’s eyes did eventually grow back, but crying didn’t relieve the pain. Some say she eventually opened up a mission in Calcutta, others that she works with street people in New York.
The nightingale disappeared. Some say he hangs out now at a farm in western Pennsylvania that was once loved by a friend of his, entertaining the children who live there. Others say he was sucked up into the engine of a jumbo jet outside Washington D.C. He was only a bird, after all.
One thing that everybody who’s in the know does agree on. Witches – who pretty much do what they want, to whomever they want – have given nightingales a wide berth ever since this story got out. They’re only evil. They’re not stupid.