Bird on a Wire

Or The Anxiety of Departure

For Toby Cavalier

They sat on the concrete sidewall of Bulfinch roof drinking Dogfish Head and looking out on the hills and forest beneath them. Tufts of dirty blonde hair stuck out from Remy’s baseball cap, and her Leica dangled around her neck. Below, she could see a group of kids playing with the Calder statue. It was one of those mobile ones, the kind Remy couldn’t stand.

Violets spread across the field beneath the children, and the cherry blossoms around them were in prime season. She considered photographing the moment: the forest would make for a pleasant backdrop, and the steps leading up to the building added a level of artifice to the frame beyond that of the statue.

Remy pulled the viewfinder up to her eye; she had read Barthes and knew her Sontag and so couldn’t help but wonder what type of criticism one might write of the scene.

Next to her, Kyle sat, drumming his Converse against the ledge and whistling Don McLean’s Vincent.

The two had met at a party thrown by one of Kyle’s teammates during Remy’s sophomore year. She liked the look he had about him; it was one that didn’t seem to care that there were tons of people around or that he was one of the few freshmen at the party. He had gotten his first base-hit earlier that day and was so giddy with celebration that it took what Remy thought of as ages to get him to notice her.

Remy adjusted the camera’s focus and snapped the photo.

But he did, and after Catherine introduced them, Remy was all he could pay attention to.

“Any good?” Kyle asked before taking a swig.

“The picture or the beer?”

“The picture,” he said, spitting his beer out with exaggeration, “I hate IPAs.”

Remy looked again at the photo and then back out at the scene in front of her. The children were now by the pickets the landscapers had stuck in the ground the previous week. Without hesitating, Remy brought the camera up and took another photo.

“Reminiscence for posterity?” Kyle asked.

Remy laughed at what a silly caption that would make.

There was a certain melancholia to it all. 198 years of history all signified by a single white picket. The demolition of Bulfinch Hall to her meant something important had been lost in the college: a sense of pride or the importance of humanism, maybe.

“No, just for myself.”

The night they met the two of them had left the party early, and Kyle demonstrated to Remy his tour guiding skills. He was drunk, which made him funnier, and Remy followed along, rapt with mock amazement.

“To your left, you’ll see a pond, which houses all 47 of the college’s species of duck.”

He was wearing a crew neck sweater and khaki shorts that tapered off before the knee. Unassumingly cute in a guy-you-met-at-school sort of way. Just Kyle, no design.

“Up ahead we have Bulfinch Hall. The dome at the top was added onto the roof four years after the college’s inception to commemorate the founders and the first graduating class. The fern weather vane was installed after the fire of 1918 and is meant to symbolize the process of growth and nurture. Since then, the building has worn many hats, including that of dining hall, gymnasium, and, most recently, home to our English Literature and Film departments.”

He did a mock bow, and Remy clapped enthusiastically.

Laying the camera down on her lap, Remy watched as Kyle reached for the bottle again. He had grown more reserved in the two years since that night. The crew neck sweater and khaki shorts had turned into a denim jacket and rolled up corduroys. He still played on the team, but spent less time around the guys now than he used to. A few months back he changed his economics major to a history one, citing something about models predicated on faith. Remy wasn’t sure, really.

Kyle’s calloused fingers pressed against the glass bottle, and Remy thought of the hours she spent watching him struggle with the guitar. To put work into something just because. She knew it wasn’t a question of if he’d get the hang of it, but when.

As she watched him, Kyle shifted his weight on the ledge, and Remy caught in his eyes a hint of what might’ve been sorrow — nostalgia for what would be the memory of the girl who had left him for Charlottesville.

The night they got together they stayed in Bulfinch until dawn. Through the windows of the atrium they gazed out into the stars and forest, and Remy took comfort in the fact that their fingers were intertwined. It was a promise of sorts, one that said their expectations were shared and that they need not say them. Tucked away like red wings in a glass nest, they kissed and talked, and Remy was unsure of which she liked doing more. It was with Kyle there in Bulfinch that night that Remy first felt as though the world had a place for her.

Kyle’s whistling had stopped. In the flowers of the cherry blossoms and the stairs of Bulfinch Hall, Remy saw the question that his eyes refused to ask. From behind him, the sun lit the sky the color of a cauterized wound. The California boy was lost in New England’s climate, searching for a reprieve Remy didn’t know she could provide. Ignoring the hope and worry in Kyle’s eyes, Remy wondered if she was the reason he had changed.

As the children began to leave the field, she looked around at the space she and Kyle shared.

It relieved her that the college was scheduled to break ground on the site right after graduation. When she asked about the demolition, she was told that the infrastructure is too old to make meaningful renovations. In place of the building, the college planned to build a new engineering center, to hold twice the capacity and be eco-friendly. On some level, Remy was glad Bulfinch was going like this. If she didn’t have to see it gone it would always be there. In fact, the building would leave when she would, and there was something about that notion Remy found fitting. Birds of a feather, she supposed.

Kyle took the final swig of his beer and placed the bottle on the ledge, displacing the cap and knocking it off the roof as he did so.

“Heads or tails?” Kyle asked as Remy’s eyes followed the bit of metal sailing to the ground.

Remy thought of the impact the cap would make upon landing and wondered if she had made any impact of her own during her four years — on Kyle, on anything. The bottle cap hit the ground before she could answer him, and deep down where she kept her trepidation and angst, Remy realized she hadn’t.