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The Pigeon Man Sings by Mark Blickley // Artwork by Amy Bassin
Dark Truth, C'aran d'Ache drawing on vintage book pages,
10" x 14"
Dark Truth is an excerpt from Amy Bassin's multi-media series that advocates against child abuse within the Catholic church, 'Altared Truths.'
The Pigeon Man Sings: Image
It’s freezing outside. I’d say my fingers feel like icicles, but the truth is, I can’t feel them at all, they’re so numb. I’ve tried to toss the popcorn with my gloves on but it doesn’t work. You can’t aim. It always falls to the ground in a clump and that means the stronger and greedier pigeons crowd out the weaker ones.
My name’s Wendell Mandanay and though I’ve lived in this neighborhood for nearly seventy years, most folks know me as the Pigeon Man. Kids sometimes taunt me. They shout ‘Pigeon Man! Pigeon Man!’ like it was something I should be ashamed of. But I don’t think they mean any harm. They’re just bored, that’s all, though I do get upset when they throw stones at the birds.
I’ve been feeding pigeons for eighteen years. I try not to miss a day. Sometimes my shoulder acts up, starts really hurting, and it’s too painful to even put my coat on. That’s when the pigeons miss a meal. These kinds of days seem to be more frequent lately, and I feel bad for the birds.
My shoulder problems come from forty years of carrying a mail sack for this city. I’m not complaining. I enjoyed being a mailman when I handed folks a letter that made them smile. Some days my letters made them cry. When I was a younger letter carrier that used to bother me, but as I got older, I realised bad news traveling through the mail is kind of like the weather— sometimes you can predict it but you can never change it.
Three months ago, I moved into the Senior Citizen Housing the city opened last year. It’s okay. The rent’s real cheap and it is closer to the park. Up until now I’ve ignored all the group activities the Seniors’ Commission have organized. Mostly they’ve been bingo games and chartered buses to the casinos at Atlantic City.
I’m not a gambling man. Heck, I’d never have bet I’d live as long as I have. And what were the odds that me, Wendell Mandanay, twelve years older than my wife, Anna, would outlive her by eighteen years? Do you know that after dozens of years of living with that woman the thing I miss most about her is her smile?
Lately, the days seem to be getting darker quicker and I’m not so sure it’s because of winter. That’s why I’ve decided to tell a secret I’ve kept for nearly twenty years. The day after I buried my wife, I stopped eating. I didn’t plan to stop feeding myself; it just happened. I enjoyed the taste of certain foods and had earned considerable praise for my cooking skills, but now the only taste I desired was beer. And plenty of it. All I had to do was pick up the phone and thirty minutes later there’d be a case of it outside my door.
When Anna was alive, we enjoyed taking walks and entertaining in our home. But these days I keep close company with the television set. I’d spend most of the time laying on the couch, sipping beer and listening to the TV. The television talked at me day and night. Sometimes I’d awaken in the morning or the afternoon or at night and to my surprise recall the exact content of programmes overheard in my sleep.
The neighbors grew concerned. Every couple of days it seemed someone would knock on my door. I’d rouse myself from the couch, place the beer bottles on the floor beneath the coffee table and quietly answer the door.
“Good afternoon, Wendell.”
“It is a fine afternoon.”
“How are things going, Wendell?”
“I’d say about three hundred and sixty degrees.”
“Is there anything I can get you, Wendell?”
“As a matter of fact, there is.”
“What is it, Wendell? What do you need?”
“I could use a smile. Whenever I answer a knock, I never see one. Everybody always looks so upset, so nervous.”
“That’s because we’re worried about you, Wendell.”
“But it’s all the unhappy faces at my door that makes me worry.”
“If I can be of any assistance, Wendell, you know where to find me.”
“Thank you. But to find you would mean that I lost you and I hope our friendship never comes to that. Good afternoon.”
I just wanted to be left alone. When Anna died not only did I lose my appetite, but I stopped cleaning up our apartment. And then I stopped cleaning myself. About a month or so after my wife’s funeral I was watching a nature show on Public Television. It was all about pigeons. I was sleepy, a little groggy, and didn’t pay much attention. Not too much sunk in. Or so I thought.
When I woke up the next morning (or a few hours later) and went to the fridge for a beer, I kept hearing the narrator’s voice in my head. He was telling me things like: Pigeons usually mate for life, rearing squabs, season after season, often for ten years or longer.
All pigeons naturally love to bathe and to keep their feathers clean and shining.
Pigeons do not overeat.
Mated pigeons are generally more productive if the male is decidedly older than the female.
I thought it was strange remembering that program because I always hated pigeons. To me, they were nothing more than flying rats. And let me tell you, they made my life miserable when I was a mailman.
I quickly forgot about the birds when I discovered I was down to my last three bottles of beer. When I phoned the corner liquor store, they refused to deliver. I owed them money from the last bill.
This meant I had to go out to get it. And going outside was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to get cleaned and dressed, yet I didn’t want people to see me like that. So I compromised by taking a shave and hiding the rest of myself under a hat and an overcoat Anna had dry-cleaned for me. It was still in its plastic bag.
After pouring two bottles of beer down my throat, I closed the door behind me. On the way to the liquor store, I saw a huge flock of pigeons. Some wretch had dumped bags of garbage in front of my building and the birds were having a feast.
They were all gobbling up that garbage except for this one bird. He had his back to the food and looked like he was tucked real tight inside his feathers. I walked around to face him.
I wasn’t in front of him for more than two seconds when he lifted his beak and stared up at my face. I got such a chill at his eyes, and this was in the middle of August! I tried to walk away but couldn’t. The pigeon wouldn’t let me go.
That’s when I realized the bird wasn’t eating because he’d lost his mate. So I kneeled down, a bit unsteady from the beer I’d just drunk and the heavy overcoat, and gave him a pep talk. I told him to stop feeling sorry for himself, to stop punishing himself because his wife would hate to see him like that. I whispered that his wife had a husband she could respect and it was unfair to her memory if he became a bird that couldn’t be respected.
And don’t you know, the pigeon starts bobbing his head like he’s agreeing with me. So I stood up and hurried over to the grocery store for some birdseed. When I returned, he was gone. The other birds were still pecking at the garbage, but my pigeon had disappeared.
Being out in the fresh air must’ve made me hungry. That night I cooked myself a big supper. The next day I began to feed the pigeons, just in case my bird was part of a hungry flock.
The Pigeon Man Sings: Text
New York interdisciplinary artist Amy Bassin and writer Mark Blickley work together on text-based art collaborations and experimental videos. Their work has appeared in many national and international publications as well as two books, Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground' (Moria Books, Chicago) and Dream Streams (Clare Songbird Publishing House, New York). Their videos, Speaking In Bootongue and Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death represented the United States in the 2020 year-long world tour of Time Is Love: Universal Feelings: Myths & Conjunctions, organized by the esteemed Togolese-French curator, Kisito Assangni.
The Pigeon Man Sings: Text
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