Alice17 July 2018
It was almost summer and it was lighter for longer these days. The dying heat of the day wafted off the asphalt, bringing the evening down to a temperature where one could comfortably go without shoes. Nicholas didn’t have the luxury of a balcony, so instead he sat on his windowsill with his suit pants loosely rolled above his hairy ankles, dangling his sockless feet over the last of the evening traffic below.
Alice was beside him as usual. They sat together like this every evening, watching men dressed exactly like Nicholas pour out of the subway. She was always there, perched on the windowsill when he returned to his apartment. He didn’t know whether she did anything else with her day other than watch the world unfold from her place on the sill. He never asked. He knew she didn’t smoke but offered her a cigarette anyway, only for her to decline his gesture with an exasperated blink.
Nicholas drew on his cigarette with a small sigh. He was aware of how musky a day of work made him smell, and he hoped that Alice didn’t mind too much. She had never once complained, but he couldn’t help but be a little self-conscious about it. He shielded his eyes, sore from a day of squinting into the harsh light of a computer monitor, against the setting sun. He placed his other hand gently around her small body. It was during these peaceful evenings together that Nicholas realised he was falling in love with Alice. In the comfortable warmness of the summer night, when the dying sunlight reflected brilliantly off her grey feathers, the fact that she was a pigeon seemed inconsequential.
Before he met Alice, Nicholas had no one. His dinners were lonely and silent, except for the endless chatter of evening television and the monotonous whirring of his microwavemeal-for-one cooking. His apartment was neat, but only due to the fact that Nicholas did not spend enough time at home to make it look lived in. The only thing on his bedroom wall was a slightly torn calendar, with a red pen he used to cross through each box, counting down to nothing in particular.
Nicholas’ job in finance provided him with a stable income and nothing more. It had always seemed like a natural career path for Nicholas, his father had worked in the same field. Sometimes he would stare at himself in the mirror, and the older he got, the more it seemed as though it was his father staring back.
Nicholas used to feed the pigeons on his lunch breaks. It started as a way to get rid of the stale bread in his kitchen without feeling guilty about wasted food. But he began to do it so frequently that there wasn’t enough time for the bread to become stale in the first place, and suddenly he was feeding the birds bread that was as fresh as his own sandwiches. Soon, a part of his heart depended on the activity that allowed him to avoid the uncomfortable crowds of people at his company’s cafeteria, and the routine kept him sane.
Nicholas would often target the weakest looking pigeons in his bread-throwing, the ones with missing legs, grizzled beaks and no eyes. It was here that a certain pigeon caught his eye—the smallest of the flock, with a broken wing hanging limp at her side. Alice.
Without so much as a second thought, he picked her up in one gentle motion and boarded the subway home. Holding the remarkably calm bird in one hand and his briefcase in the other, he stood amongst excited schoolchildren and perplexed tourists. As he swayed with the train, the small bird shut her eyes. He checked his watch. He was going to be late back to the office. But for the first time in his working life, he didn’t mind at all.
With Alice here, it seemed cruel to shut the window so Nicholas never did. Having the window open made his apartment feel three times bigger. The sounds and smells of the street poured in, filling the once stale air with the noise of life.
Company gave him an excuse to pull out his mother’s old, handwritten recipe books. The microwave meals in his fridge were gradually replaced with fresh meats, vegetables and spices—he bookmarked the meals that Alice appeared to like the most. As he cooked, he talked to her. Telling her about his workday, his hopes, his fears. She always listened, bopping her head as if nodding in agreement.
Nicholas would often light the candle on the centre of the small dining room table that was now pushed up against the windowsill. As he did every evening, he set down Alice’s plate of salmon in front of her and smiled as she began to peck at it. Looking at her, framed by the window and backlit by the glow of the streetlight, she seemed like a work of art.
As they ate, he talked more and they continued to bond. He could feel them becoming closer every evening. A unified entity, a couple. Nicholas and Alice.
Nicholas worked amongst replicas of the same person, all typing in unison. Fluorescent squares in the ceiling lighting illuminated every identical cubicle. Today, Nicholas was frantically checking if the financial report he had asked his boss for three weeks ago had made its way to his desk. It hadn’t. Nicholas had already asked twice and was far too self-conscious to ask for a third time. Nicholas just sat there and made excuses for him in his own head—maybe he’s forgotten, he’s probably very busy at the moment, surely it will be here soon. He looked and watched his boss showing a co-worker pictures from his recent holiday on his phone. Surely it will be here soon.
At work, he often found himself staring out the window to watch the pigeons preen themselves on the powerlines outside. Each day he hoped desperately that Alice might fly past, and the fleeting glimpse of beauty would prong reprieve during his weary workdays. But she never did.
To take a break, Nicholas made his way to the watercooler which stood isolated in the corner of the sterile room. To his dismay, standing in front were two colleagues, laughing at a joke they had both heard before. Even though Nicholas wore the same suit, had the same haircut and owned the same brand of shoes, he always felt unwelcome in his co-workers’ presence.
Self-consciously Nicholas poured icy water into the plastic cup, ignoring the liquid that he had spilled over the sides and was now dripping down his arm. Then he stood, with a fake smile plastered onto his tired face and tried to join their conversation.
These holidays I’m going to England to see the extended family.
Oh, that’ll be fun. I’m going to Paris with the wife.
Of course, the city of romance! That’s where I took Rosie on our honeymoon.
Truly. I can’t wait to see the Mona Lisa. Pauline is very interested in art.
Say something, Nicholas. You’ve been here too long to just leave and they’ll think you’re odd if you just keep standing here.
My dad is buried in Paris.
An uncomfortable pause.
The last slither of the sun wobbled over the horizon before slipping away completely, pulling a curtain of darkness over the city. There was too much light pollution to be able to see any stars, but the pair remained on the windowsill anyway, too content to call it a night just yet.
He gently stroked her wing with one hand, petting her in the direction of her feathers. She shut her eyes, leaning her small head into his palm.
Alice, I love you. And, I—
Nicholas blew a long trail of smoke from his lips as he spoke,
Mostly, mostly I love how I feel like you’re listening to me when I talk. I love that you care. I can’t emphasise that enough. I’ve never felt comfortable talking to people, ya know? It just… it just doesn’t feel like they’re really listening to what you have to say. Just like, they’re waiting for their turn to speak.
As usual, Alice said nothing.