by Michael Dickes
The elevator doors drew open and Beeko came crashing in to hide behind me. Hit the button, hit the button, he said, latching his tiny fingers onto my back pockets, poking his head around my legs from side to side.
Well, good morning, Beeko, I said.
Hi Jon, the boy whispered. I got Carlos good with my squirt gun and now I’m turning invisible.
Another super secret spy mission accomplished, I take it.
Almost, he said, Hurry, Jon. Hit the button, hit the button!
Beeko’s covert activity was swiftly tailed by the unimpressive bellow of our doorman, Carlos, whose low pouch and waddle came headfirst and rattled, glasses askew, and water dripping from his grubby mustache.
Carlos shook his finger and fumed in Spanish, Ay por Dios, Beeko, te voy a estrangular, and all to the curt close of the elevator doors. Beeko giggled as we began to rise toward the 13th floor where he lived with his mother.
Arms raised in victory, Beeko soldiered the perimeter of the small space, coming about to face me, his slim frame just shy of three feet, the most beautiful little boy I had ever known said, Agent Beeko Wesley Powell, reporting for duty, sir.
Carlos was often the target of Beeko’s mischievous endeavors, at which the boy had been very successful, finding bliss in whatever turmoil could be caused in the lobby. Beeko did not ever play outside. Beeko was not allowed to go outside.
His mother maintained a safe environment in their apartment, clean as any hospital, if not too sterile for the imagination of a six-year-old boy. “I let him ride the elevators to keep him from climbing the walls and out a window,” she had once told me. Beeko was born with a rare blood disorder that weakened his immune system. His mother was obsessed with protecting him from any potential source of infection that could easily be fatal.
At ease, Agent Powell, I said. One of these days, old Carlos is going to catch up to you and then what will you do?
Stomp on his toes and punch his balls, Beeko said, laughing and proceeding to act out the scenario. The smile slowly loosened and faded until the boy’s face fell empty and quiet. He clasped his hands together at the back of his neck and shuffled his feet. Thoughts were forming at the rims of his eyes. He looked at me directly and stated, The catbirds have all flown away.
Surprised by the sedate manor in which he spoke, I asked, What do you mean?
The birds, Jon. Every morning I come down to play with Carlos and I always go to the front windows first to see the birds, but today they weren’t there.
Maybe they were sleeping, I said.
Maybe, but I don’t think so. Carlos says that catbirds always wake up early.
Oh, so you have actually had a calm conversation with the enemy?
Jon, it’s only pretend, he said with a grin, a slight tilt to his head. But, the birds are real, Jon. The birds are real.
I knelt down on one knee and put my hand to his cheek, I know, Beeko, I know. The birds will come back, I promise. They love you, like we all love you.
The elevator doors opened and Beeko ran down the hall yelling, Bye Jon. See ya later. Look out for Carlos!
I did not see Beeko the following day or the day after. In the lobby, I asked Carlos about the boy, at which he just shrugged and grumbled something in Spanish. I was leaving town on business and told the porter to let Beeko know that if I happen to see the catbirds, I will bring them all back home.
Upon my return a week later, I paid the cab fare and followed the sidewalk. I saw how the buildings stood shoulder to shoulder, like orphans made to stand along a parade route long after its passing, the cold, lifeless faces, anxious to go kicking down the side streets of Manhattan, eager to break free from each other’s side. As I walked through the front doors of our building, the lobby was still and soundless. I collected my mail from the desk clerk and asked about Beeko.
There are peculiar environs where a mere question can somehow alter the substance of time. As if just by the asking, our cells divide, all matter blurs, reality swivels and we are pulled out of our bodies to hover above as the world continues to spin in strange and slow motion. I watched as the desk clerk looked down at the ground and proceeded to tell me that Beeko had passed in his sleep.
The man in my body did not move. The desk clerk went to scatters. The room started turning. Carlos stood by the front doors, crying, speaking in Spanish, and looking for birds.
Previously published in Medium Magazine