A likely story

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A light rain is falling outside the offices of the National Chamber of Converse, where the current occupant of the position known only to the Secret Service as POTUS has convened a special meeting with his cabinet of curiosities. A pair of common or English sparrows is busy mating on a high ledge. The male hops on and off at three-second intervals, unseen by anybody but the omniscient narrator.

I know you won’t be surprised to hear that the streets below host an obstreperation of demonstrators. They wave signs printed in yesterday’s newspapers’ Franklin Gothic, sable, with exclamation points rampant dexter. “NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN!” they trumpet, and “NO REST FOR THE WEARY!” The briefer messages seem to be the most popular: “NO OUTLET!” “NO SHIT!” And of course, “NO WAY!”

A flat-chested man in a suit of clothes is trying to push his way through to the entrance, without success. It’s as if he isn’t even there.

The usual small knot of counter-demonstrators tries to make up for its lack of numbers with an unconvincing show of outrage. Their problem is, they don’t actually believe in outrage. Let your hypothetical camera zoom in for a close-up of a telegenically tall, clean-shaven woman chanting into a megaphone, “Chill. Chill. Chill. Chill. Chill,” as her comrades brandish their crudely lettered signs: “Hold Everything.” “Beg to Differ.” “Word.” “Consider the Source.”

“Consider the lilies of the field,” says an argumentative cop. He’s been spending the past week investigating a pedophilia case, and frankly, he’s feeling a little testy. What’s the use of all their new high-tech, non-lethal riot-control gear if they never get a chance to use it? Homeland Security is more interested in radical sheiks than radical chic. “What is it with you people, anyway?” he wants to know.

For her part, the female sparrow is beginning to think she wouldn’t mind a quiet life out in the country somewhere – or failing that, at least a crumb from a crumpet. Unbeknownst to her, her erstwhile paramour has just managed to fly straight into a window, and is lying dazed on the sidewalk. The clean-shaven woman notices him and stops her chant, bending down for a closer look.

“What is it?” “What’s wrong?” The other counter-demonstrators stop brandishing for a moment and crowd in. She lifts the sparrow in cupped hands and, seeing its nictitating membranes raise their curtains, begins to sing to it. She has a classically trained soprano voice; it carries clear across the street to where the flat-chested man stands stock-still, listening to a lullaby he hasn’t heard in thirty years, ever since his youngest sibling graduated from the high chair with flying colors.

The moon’s the north wind’s cookie, the babe is in the forest green and all that. In a few minutes, the sparrow will recover well enough to fly away, fly away, oh glory! – even mate with a few more partners before the blood clot in his brain finally finishes him off. No one will be around when that happens, but fortunately his heavenly father keeps an eye out for just that sort of thing. Or so they say.

The cops will receive contradictory orders on whether to try out their new, fresh-ground black pepper spray. The demonstration will turn ugly and begin looking for someplace to take a leak. A man holding his pants up with a strip of cured hide from a large herbivore will take a turn at the megaphone while the clean-shaven woman lets the flat-chested man buy her a double latté at a nearby coffee shop. They will sit at the counter, where she will use several napkins and a black felt marker to outline her theory about how negative growth is the engine of the gift economy.

She is, after all, a counter-demonstrator.

Tomorrow: Her outline.

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