Saturday, May 27, 2006

Everything Goes White

METAFICTION ALERT AND READER ADVISORY: Some of the stuff that follows once happened on the way to work. Some of it did not.

Up ahead, I see something that jolts me out of my commuter’s trance. A white swan is flying just above the median, a spectacular and mysterious sight. As I drive by the landfill, the bird's broad wings beat in slow motion, and it hovers just above the ground, scarcely moving forward at all. It’s eerie. What is it doing? And why here?

I’m driving past Mount Trashmore, which has been expanding upward for years and now towers over the containment fence and shrubbery screen. Far up the hill, yellow machines smaller than toys in a sandbox move trash around, scattering gulls and pigeons into startled flight. They’re joined in the air by scraps of paper and plastic, whirled by the breeze across the fence. Some transparent kitchen wrap floats free and dances on the wind, swooping and swirling in the slipstream of the passing cars.

Now, as I draw closer, I see it’s not a swan at all. One of the landfill gulls has entangled its right leg in a white plastic bag, and it was this, waving behind, that made me think I saw the wings of a swan. The bag is actually trailing the gull like an open parachute, creating an impossible amount of drag. The gull beats its wings as hard as it can into the headwind, but it’s no good. It flops wearily to the ground.

I imagine it crushed by an oncoming car, or even worse, avoiding the traffic but remaining unable to fly or fend for itself. I stop the car and run back to the gull, which -- more dirty gray than white, really -- looks up at me with tiny, frightened eyes and tries to hop away, off-balance. It doesn’t know I’m trying to help.

It tries to fly off, but the bag quickly parachutes out again. The gull starts hobbling away from me. Suddenly, it lurches toward the road, its scrabbling legs peppering my legs with gravel. Hearing cars coming, I visualize an explosion of feathers, white fluff scattering in every direction and then settling soft as snow.

Everything goes white as I lunge for the bird.

But it’s just the plastic bag, which has flattened itself across my face, blocking my view. At the same instant I somehow manage to grab one of the gull’s frantic legs. The bird is surprisingly strong. In a total panic, it tries to throw itself into the onrushing traffic.

Blinded by the white, I hold on as best I can, but eventually the gull frees itself. But there's a sudden break in traffic. I pull the bag away from my face just in time to see the gull winging back to the landfill. Soon I can’t tell it from the others.

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