The Egret Murders

by Dan Sanders

An egret is a tall, thin bird with beautifully stark white feathers It has a long, elegant neck that curves like an S from its chest out to its short sharp beak. That S neck is like a snake. The egret wades in shallow water, tall, stiff as can be, it can dart its neck into the water like a thing set on a trigger. They are nervous birds, afraid to move and afraid of movement. They’re beautiful and precise and soft to the touch. If you’re slow and careful you can get close but it takes a while, it takes practice. They live behind my house, make horrible noise and I hate them.

I meet Rich for coffee on Saturdays. He’s in his fifties, wears a fedora with a floral print band and today he is wearing a purple t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He gets a coffee and three bagels and eats them loudly, staring straight ahead. Rich has three books with him usually and I’ve never seen any evidence that he can read but he carries three books with him at all times. They rotate out, so it seems like he’s reading quite a lot, but I’ve never seen him read, he never references the books later, he never suggests that I should read one book over another, that something was good or bad, asks me if I’ve read any good books lately, or mentions that X movie wasn’t as good as the book version. He just eats and stares straight ahead and then I sit down across from him and we talk until I’ve had enough coffee.

He has a rose tattoo on his left bicep, both are large. He’s a strong man. He says he was in the Navy but I have no way of knowing that. He’s about 50 and that doesn’t line up with any of the wars we’ve been in. Too young for Vietnam, too old for the middle east. He never references any wars, or any boats, the water, fish, or any real thought about maritime life. Only “I was in the Navy!” As a way to add validity to something he’d been yelling about. He talks through his food, he eats quickly and loudly and doesn’t stop talking. It’s possible he only talks to me, on Saturdays and then no one else at all ever. I’ve never seen him talk to anyone else. Even the waitress just knows what he eats and brings it to his table, she moves like a delicate, frightened thing, tries to stay out of his line of sight and just sort of stabs the plate onto the table before he turns around. He likes dogs. He will get distracted when they walk by the coffee shop window, but who doesn’t like dogs?

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“I can’t believe all this weather we’re having!” He says it through a bagel, and gestures out to the sunny afternoon light. I don’t know what he means, we always have weather. There is only ever weather, there isn’t more or less weather, or some and all. I have a hard time with talking. I just listen and get confused and then go home and look at the birds and think about poisoning them. I think people are supposed to have more constructive diversions than that, but I can’t think of something I’d rather do. Maybe I should get something to stare at, like a TV to make me normal or a house plant to generate self loathing or a cat to do both. Something. I should get something to worry over instead of finding out what Egrets are allergic to and feeding them that thing.

“Fucking weather like this all the time, right?” I don’t know. “You think they’d do something about all the things they’re doing and then we’d really be fucked, you know?” I don’t know. “And then, I mean, I just can’t fucking believe it sometimes. It’s like nobody sees it but us!” Him. “And we’re just supposed to sit here and take it and take it and take it!” He’s yelling. He winds up yelling every saturday. He slams his big fist down on his books and the waitress tells him to calm down. We played checkers once but he slammed his fist on the board and sent the pieces scattering and he laughed like he was being tickled, uncontrollably, in fits, doubled over.

He wears sandals, the backless kind and flops around in them slowly. He moves slow and deliberate, hunched over forward holding his books almost behind him for counter weight. I don’t know where he lives. He’s impossibly clean, so I don’t think he lives outside. He has money. I will never know. I make it a point to never know. When we are done, I’ve had three cups of coffee and he’s had five. I’ve said eleven words, all included in some variation of “I know what you mean”, all used for lying. He’s talked constantly but has said nothing at all.

Our relationship started because he sat down across from me and ate at me. That’s all. He just started it. We’re friends. He’s grotesque. His nose is most of his face. He’s covered over in scars and knots and bumps like he was a boxer, his ears are different sizes and one has a chunk out of it like a stray dog. His teeth are perfect white and it hurts my head to think about. How could you sustain that much damage to your face and not put one tooth out of place. I thought at first they were dentures, but you should see him power through bagels. His eyebrows are offset like he’s constantly skeptical, but one is just in the wrong place, thicker than the other, and shoots up at an angle. He’s a horrible miracle. In all the possible configurations of our genetics, at some point someone had to look like this, it just wound up being him. At least he had enough good fortune to be crazy. If he were sane it’d be harder for him to look that way.

“How did you get those scars?” I asked him, on the way home.

“Fucking criminals, man, Jesus Christ himself. Criminals or christmas, right? You know. Come on!” Angry again. We’re walking past a bus stop as the bus pulls up and Rich gets on without saying anything to me. The doors close and he’s gone until next Saturday. Incredible. I stare at him not looking at me as he walks through the bus yelling, and then I stare at the back of the Rich container as it takes him to wherever will be Rich’s new environment.

Rich is my fish tank.

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