At first she had liked the bird, when it was just a gentle chirping sound wafting into her open window as she woke up in the morning. But now, it is hanging out on the balcony at all hours of the day. And where birds go, bird poop follows. From the corner of her eye, Martha can see a feathered one flitting about on the now-empty-for-winter planters hooked over the balcony wall. She wants to stay focussed on the work in front of her so she turns a bit in her chair and faces away from the window.
Martha has not yet figured out that trying to be perfect is no way to avoid shame. That perfectionism is not attainable. That it means she will never feel good enough. That it will not please the people she so desperately wants to please. That, in fact, it is a big fucking irritant to them.
So, while Martha sits inside in her dust-free apartment at her dust-free table under her dust-free chandelier, she cannot stop tapping her slippered-foot on her shiny floor. It could be the pile of papers she brought home from work—the pile that she knows she will never be able to get through unless she stays up all night and even then she is not sure she can do it. Or she might be feeling her nerves because she is eating while she works and some crumbs from her gluten-free crackers have sifted through the papers in front of her and she cannot seem to get ahold of them all. Or it might be that damn bird—though she cannot tell if it is just one or a group of them taking turns.
Martha has always maintained a pristine balcony, year round. Her now long-departed grandmother was her role model in these things. Though her grandmother had never had a balcony—the point of pride in her home had been her living room. Nothing, not a doily or an ornament, had ever been out of place. When Martha was a child she was not even allowed in the room, which was only for the best company, and she spent a lot of time admiring it while standing in the hallway in front of the dog gate that blocked the entrance, though there was no dog. Now, when Martha cleans and organizes the balcony, she can not help but picture her grandmother beaming at her with pride. No one but Martha, and the birds, has stepped out onto the balcony since she moved in six years ago.
After a few minutes Martha’s foot is tapping out of control and she can feel sweat beading her forehead. She stands and walks to the window. The bird seems to be gone and her heart rate slows until there, on the edge of the furled patio umbrella, she sees the small grey streak.
‘Something Is Out of Place’ first appeared in Fewer Than 500; January, 2019.
IMAGE: Atsuko Tanaka Untitled, 1956. Watercolor and felt-tip pen on paper, 42 7/8 x 30 3/8″ (108.9 x 77.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.