It was october twenty second of 1982, and Clayton had come home late. He burst in through the front door of his home in Los Feliz, his suit was a bit disheveled and his tie was wrinkled, but otherwise he looked fine. He ran his fingers through his now grey hair, chuckling to himself at how thick it was even at the age of seventy three. The simplest things amused him since he retired, he realized this every time he would smile at things he would have ignored in his youth. Those were good days.
He put down the briefcase he was holding on an oak table, an old thing that was covered in scratches and faded, but he brought it everywhere. Opening it, he took a look at the contents, a wallet, some loose change, and a bottle of pills. He took out the bottle and opened it, taking one of the chalky white tablets. He was surprised how well they worked, he hated that he needed them to survive, but he wasn't going to let his bad kidney get the better of him. A loud squawk came from the kitchen, making him smile and walk towards it. The kitchen was very large, it was painted a light shade of orange that Clayton had always thought was ugly, but never bothered with changing it. In to corner of the room was a birdcage, inside was a cockatoo.
"Hello Rose!" The old man greeted, the bird crowed and bobbed her head while he fumbled with the door. It opened with a click and Rose hurried out, climbing up Clayton's arm, he chuckled as she made her way up to his shoulder and pecked at his ear. The man then turned and made his way to the fridge, he reached inside to grab a bottle of beer. Rose flew off of him when he moved over to the counter where he had left a bottle opener to previous night. He always sang quietly to himself when preparing something, in his head today was an song an old friend had taught him.
Sunday is gloomy,
My hours are slumberless,
Dearest the shadows I live with are numberless.
He stopped singing when the bottle was open, and he went to take a drink. It was his second beer that day, but it was refreshing. The old man walked back into the livingroom, on his way, he passed the table with his briefcase. He saw the wallet poking out and reached for it. He flipped through the dollar bills and receipts until he found what he was looking for, a few old photographs. He took them with him to his arm chair. The bird was standing on one of the arm rests, pulling at a loose string. When he sat down he took another drink and the cockatoo looked at the photos in his hand, the first was of him, young and prideful, wearing a brown suit and tie, beside him was a tall black haired man who smiled faintly.
"You remember 'em? He asked the bird who only turned and preened her feathers. "I'd reckon you don't, even I was so young then, in fact, I'm not sure you knew him. A good man he was, good man." The alcohol seemed to be getting to him, because he laughed and pet the cockatoo's long head feathers.
"You know? The man was like a father, never met mine. Wish I hadn't known my mother though, an awful woman. Do you know I grew up in new york city? They say it's a lovely, hopeful place, but it's filthy and so are the people who say those things, it may have changed since i've been gone, but that's what I know." Rose waddled forward and pecked at Clayton's arm when he stopped to take a drink.
"I was born in, when, nineteen ten. God I'm old! The city was a damn hellhole, I sold papers when I was only eleven, I was lucky though, some of them kids couldn't read. Guess I was just born with that luck, learned to read early. Ha! I hate to admit it but I stole my fair share from shops, got caught once and learned never touch what wasn't mine again." The man held up his left hand to reveal a permanently bent ring finger with a gold ring around it.
"Didn't know how I got through those awful years, but one thing I know for sure, it wasn't with the help of my mother. Her name was Marian Green, she worked as a waitress when she wasn't drinking. Didn't give a damn if I came home late or at all for that matter, the only good thing I ever got from her was her hair, her bright red hair." He laughed and took another drink.
"Well, I don't have that anymore. Some other didn't care for it, they thought I was an irishman, they didn't take kindly to anyone lookin' slightly foreign. By the time I was sixteen I found a real job, I worked at a lovely theater. I did whatever job was needed, cleanin', sellin' tickets, sometimes dealin' with customers. I tell you Rose, those rich folks sure look down on the workers. Some nights they'd show movies, others they'd show plays. One day they were showin' a play, and the boss told me to take care of our actor's needs, I was mighty nervous to meet them, but it was a good payin' job." He took another drink from his bottle, Rose fluttered around the room before settling on a bookshelf.
"I walked to the backstage, it was full of sets and costumes and props, I wondered what the play was about but that would have to wait, I couldn't get fired. When I got to the dressin' rooms I knocked, coulda' sworn my hands were shakin'. That man opened the door," he held up the first photo again. "Wilson Minglewood his name was, a producer, he was tall, his hair was dark, and he was impeccably dressed, asked me what my business was and I told him I was there to take his requests." Before he continued, he looked at the next photograph, it was of him and a skinny man with, black hair flecked with white. The man was smiling, dressed in casual clothes and had his hand on Clayton's shoulders. They were at a bar, both happy and drinking.
"Ah, he was there too! Wilson took me into the room and introduced me to him, his name was Maynard McKellar. He was a jovial man, he knew I was only a worker but treated me kindly, joking and not pushing me around like most people who lived such a lavish lifestyle. I got them what they needed and made sure they knew when they were to go onstage, and even though Wilson was quiet and stoic and didn't really talk much, he must of thought I was a good employee, he tipped me twenty dollars, more than I'd make in a month. When they came back from their performance, Maynard asked me for my name, so I told 'im, then he asked for a whisky and left.
The very next day the two were back, they were showing the play all week. I got to know them a bit, Maynard came from from California, San francisco to be precise, came from a nice family, not poor but not rich. He was a natural actor and started in his twenties. Minglewood didn't talk much, but Maynard had known him since he was a boy, he lived in the apartment across from them when his family moved to New York, the man worked his way to the top patiently." Rose flew out of the living room into the kitchen, so the old man took another drink, emptying the bottle, then laughed.
"You've got the right idea miss!" He said as he followed his pet into the kitchen. Rose was standing on the rim of a basket of fruit on the counter, picking at the grapes while her owner reached back into the fridge and continued singing where he had left off.
Little white flowers will never awaken you,
Not where the black coach of sorrow has taken you.
He struggled to get the bottle open in his intoxicated haze, but when he did he picked up a bunch of grapes and the bottle before returning to his armchair, the bird followed the grapes. When he plopped back down he sighed and took a drink.
"Y'know, Maynard loved a good drink, after every show he'd ask for one, second to last night, he asked me to join 'em. I went along we drank ourselves stupid together as if we were old friends. An' on the last day old Wilson sat down with me and asked if I wanted to work for him, seems some theater employees ain't too helpful. 'Course I said yes, he an' Will took me with them to their next play, it was in Queens, it was my first time ridin' in a car." He took a drink.
"Will had a lot of workers, there was an assistant, her name was Misty Sullivan, she had brown hair, brownish skin, and was the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen. The most outspoken women too, she didn't like me and let me know about it. One the boss asked her to bring lunch for everyone, she handed me a brown bag with a live snake in it, to this day I don't know how she got it. There was Gideon, her brother, a short blond man who acted like he owned the place, often saw him stealin' unattended bags, but someone in heaven must not have taken kindly to that. One week after I joined he fell ill with the typhoid fever, died not long after." Clayton started chugging the bottle, when it was nearly empty, he looked through the photos and smiled, showing the bird one of Maynard backstage with a skinny man with greased grey hair.
"That was Steven Bruno, another actor and a close friend of Maynard. It's funny how we met, Maynard and I were at a bar orderin' drinks, once they bartender placed them in front of us, Steve took one of them, and drank the whole thing. Y' know what happened next? They got into a fist fight! May broke a rib and the skinny bastard was bleedin' out of his nose, then they two laughed about it and sat down. He was italian, came to New York when he was twenty two, word about him spread like wildfire, he had the most beautiful voice, his accent made it sound better as well." When the old man finished off his beer, he stood up again, his vision growing blurry as he wobbled into the kitchen for another beer, singing his song.
Angels have no thought of ever returning you,
Would they be angry if I thought of joining you?
He danced back to his chair to the sad song that he was singing with a jazzy beat. When he sat down it took him a moment to remember where he had left off.
"So, Steve, Misty, oh yeah! This one time we went to Hollywood to shoot a movie, a brand new thing came out, the talkies. Who knew that pictures could have voices as well as move? It was gonna' be great, the talent of Maynard McKellar, the voice of Steve Bruno. I came along as always, and it was great, I saw so many people I've only heard about from the rich folks at the theater. While on a lunch break during one of the filmin's, Maynard had a bit much to drink and got in a shouting match with director. He told 'em how he hated one of the co stars, making a scene, sayin' he refused to work with the likes of him. To piss him off a bit more, he told him that anyone was a better actor then that bastard actor." He laughed and drank.
"Just to prove a point he ran off stage to where I was sitting quietly, tryin' not to be seen, then grabbed my hand and dragged me in front of them. I was terrified, but that drunk friend of mine shoved a script into my hands and told me to read, didn't know what to do, so I did as he said. Seems someone must have told Minglewood, because he walked in looking angry as the devil. He grabbed McKellar by the collar and punched him right in the belly. I was terrified when he looked up at me, but I'll always remember what he said. 'I never told you to stop reading." The old man began laughing uncontrollably, starling Rose who flew up onto the windowsill.
"Clayton." She squawked. She had been taught to say his name, but she only tended to speak when she was concerned.
"Aw, be quiet, I'm still talkin' here birdy. I kept readin' while everyone stared, but when I was done he helped Maynard up and told me to take him outside and wait with him. I was scared somthin' fierce, we sat outside for hours, I only went back inside to grab a cigar for my friend. When we were called back in, I was expectin' to get fired, but instead Willson handed me a script and told me, 'We need Maynard to work with us, and it seems he's right that'… that… oh I forget his name. Anyway he told me that I would be playing so and so's part. I couldn't believe my ears, and neither could Misty when Will told her." Clayton stopped for a whole minute to drink and watch his bird as she ate a few grapes, but when he started up again, the old man sounded so happy.
"Usually I'd stay at a cheap motel, but this time Wilson had us stay at Maynard's house since we were so close, it was amazing. He had so many spare rooms, never knew why he needed a house so big when he had no wife of kids, but I wasn't going to complain. It was nice having such a large room. Once I started actin' the next day, word got out about a redheaded city boy performin' in a Hollywood talkie. People from the papers started comin' around to ask questions, it was a strange thing. I used to be sellin' the papers, now I would be in 'em.
By the time the filmin' was done, Will decided to take his actors out for drinks, never thought of him as a man who drank, boy was I wrong. In our celebration, I learned four things about him. One, he likes whisky on the rocks. Two, he envied charlie chaplin's acting skill. Three, the best way to disorient an angry policeman is to kiss him and run. Four, he could be loud. Among the four of us, I would never have suspected that he would be the worst at handling his drinks, perhaps that is why he tended to stay sober. Steve and I carried him home while he babbled about how he thought the film would be a great success, before passing out halfway through a sentence." Clayton held up his bottle. "To Will!" He shouted before taking a drink.
"Drunk Wilson was right, it was quite a success, everyone with was quick to snatch up tickets. Maynard, Steve and I turned a rather large profit, Misty too, bein' the assistant to the producer and all. Guess' the crowds liked me, because I kept gettin' called back for roles, I soon took out a mortgage on a nice house near Maynard's and I took a liking to this life. Misty and I started gettin' along after awhile, I learned more about her. She grew up workin in her father's deli before meetin' Will durin' a film, she joined the same way I did. Once she and I got along, I could only think about how lovely she was.
Life was great, we kept makin films, I got to work with Maynard a lot, and I never had to worry about my next meal. Willson invited us over for a drink one day at his house, we say he had a pair of cockatoos, Jay and Dawn he called 'em. They were good birds, and Dawn was sittin' on an egg. Misty and I talked that night, I told her that I thought her pretty and turns out she felt the same 'bout me." Clayton sighed and took a drink. "In two years, we were married. Will gave us his parrot's chick as a weddin' gift, that's you!" He pointed at the bird, which startled her.
"You know, In those good times we forgot how old Will was, he got pretty frail and his hair always looked dirty. He started to get a cough, at first we thought it was nothin' but he started walkin' slow and sayin' his legs were hurtin, pretty soon his legs stopped workin' all too well. Nowadays, doctors have fancy needles that could stop that from happinin' to anyone else, but ol' Will didn't live to see it. He told us that he'd never die from the polio, and he didn't, but that was because he left one night. We never saw him again, but he left a note, just said he was makin' sure he kept his promise. We got a letter a few days after that some poor fool found him in a lake, at his funeral I almost laughed, he did keep his promise, he was too proud to let that awful thing take him." Clayton felt tears trying to creep out of his eyes, he was fine with that, you was the only one there, and you wasn't going to tell anyone. He chugged his drink, then got up to get another, singing as he went along.
Gloomy is sunday,
With shadows I spent it all,
My heart and I have decided to end it all.
Soon there'll be candles and prayers that are said, I know,
Let them not weep, let them know that I'm glad to go.
He took and drink and hobbled back to the chair, Rose greeting him by saying his name.
"Bad luck just wouldn't stop comin' after that. Germany started attackin' other countries, trying to commit genocide, the evil bastards. Awful things were happinin' to those people over there, soon it happened to us to. America got into it after the president tried stayin' out of it, and every man feared for his life. Maynard asked me to come to his house one day, when I went there he poured us some champagne and showed me his draft letter, he wanted to celebrate before he went off to fight. He was a good man, and how could I let a good man go off to war alone? I joined as well, if he had to go, I did too. We shipped off two weeks later, at least I knew Misty would be okay, she became producer after William died, so she and Steve would still be able to work.
Let me tell you Rose, war is awful. So many young men runnin' off to their graves when they can do so much more that shoot bullets 'till one kills 'em. Maynard and I were shipped off to poland, the things I saw there were unspeakable. I always know that men were capable of truly awful things, but this was much worse, the things these men did was unforgivable. I was a good enough shot so they had me an' Maynard fightin' with some powerful guns. I tell you, if people spent half as much time makin' medicine as they do makin' weapons, I think William would been fine. We did some good things an' some bad things while we were there, saved some people and killed some others, there were some we tried to save but ended up gettin' killed.
One day we got unlucky, I took a bullet in the stomach and we couldn't see anyone who could help us. Some enemy soldiers found us, they were either nazi or italian troops, I don't remember now. Either way they wanted us dead. McKellar picked up his gun and charged 'em, they weren't expectin' that. He took out most of 'em, there were only eight at the start, he killed six, two got away, but one of the ones he got shot 'im in the left leg. He and I sat together after, we thought we were dead, so all we did was talk. We talked all 'bout the little things we missed so much, you, my wife, our homes, coffee that wasn't full o' weevils, a town where we didn't have to fear what was around every corner. We missed work, actin' was our passion. We missed our favorite bar where they always knew our orders right when we walked in, whisky on the rocks for Maynard and a simple beer for me. We missed Steven's humor lightening the mood of even the saddest days, cigars, I even missed my worthless mother. We sang our favorite songs, forgetting most of the lyrics, that was when I learned Gloomy Sunday. We reminisced about the good times we had, actin', dancin', singin', I even missed workin' at the theater.
We must 'ave lost a lot of blood, 'cause pretty soon we were laughin' and jokin'. Must've been quite a sight for the guys that saved us, they were british troops, nice men, they didn't have to save us but they did. They took us with 'em to their base an' had a few nurses to treat us. The bullet got my right kidney, they didn't think I'd live much longer. Hah! I outlived them all! I was alright, but worryin' about McKellar, pretty soon they wheeled him out, smilin' and flirtin' with the nurse, ignorin' the bloody stump where his left leg used t' be. They sent us home with purple hearts seein' how we couldn't fight no more. Maynard had to walk with a crutch, but he didn't seem to upset, I'll never forget what he told me." The old man cleared his throat and talked in a strange voice.
"Clay, I can sing, I can dance, I can hear, walk, talk and live my life jus' fine. I got my arms and a head on my shoulders. I don't give a damn if I lose one leg, at least I have both my kidneys." He then laughed, Rose flew onto his lap and sat down. "When we got back I almost ran to my house, and the first thing I thought when I got inside and saw my wife at seven in the morin', hair unbrushed and wearin' old pajamas, was that she had never looked more lovely. We lived a good nine more years together before our bad luck came back. Maynard and I kept actin' I was a bit slower gettin' better, but lucky for McKellar that he could still sing like an angel. You were growin', soon ya learned how to say my name." Rose squaked.
"Right. But after all those years Misty felt a bit sickly, she said her stomach hurt. I didn't think much of it at first but the hurt didn't go away, so we brought 'er into the hospital and let the doctors get a look at her. I thought it must've been some undercooked chicken she ate, maybe some other bad food, but the doctor came out lookin' real sorry for her, and I knew somethin' was wrong. She had to stay at that place, she had somethin' wrong with her kidneys. I was so very worried, couldn't eat for days. The doctors were tryin' yet she only got sicker. I brought flowers to her everyday and I took you with me to cheer her up, and lookin' back she wasn't as sad as I was.
There was one night I got a call from the hospital, when I picked up they told me to come quick, Misty wasn't doin' well. I drove as fast as I could to get there to find her layin' down with a bunch of doctors arguin' over what t' do. I sat down with her, she asked me about work and how you were doin' just like any other day, she looked so happy to see me. She told me that there was nothin' medicine could do for her anymore, so I just sat there and held her hand 'till she left. I tell you Rose, in the movies it looks like people are just sleepin' when their dead, but you can tell, you can tell when the life's left someone. Even then, she looked so sweet, smilin' at death, braver than any o' the men I fought with." The old man wiped away a tear and took another sip of his drink, it was still half full, yet he started singing for a moment anyway.
Death is no dream 'cause in death I'm caressin' you,
With the last breath of my soul I'll be blessin' you,
"The next day at work I told 'em all what happened to her, we decided to skip work that day. Maynard sat with me for awhile, we didn't speak for a few minutes, but he broke the silence when he told me that I should go to the doctor's myself. He knew that I have bad kidneys and didn't want the same thing to happen' to me. I took 'is advice and went in, they told me that I would be fine if I jus' took some pills and went in every once an awhile. I still feel awful, if she 'ad gone in sooner maybe she wouldn't have died. We all went back to work the day after to start workin' on a new movie, it was supposed to be a good one, turns out it was gon' be in color. I was glad to start actin' again, needed somthin' to take my mind off my wife." He took a sip of beer and looked through the photographs he hed left on the arm of the chair, there was one of him and Misty at their wedding, Misty had on a white dress that flowed behind her, Clayton wore a classic black tux with a white rose pinned over his heart.
The next was of Steven and Maynard, they were acting out a scene where Steve was dancing with a woman that the man didn't recognize, and Maynard sat on a barrel, singing and playing the fiddle with his one leg hanging down.
"Maynard started to make plans like Misty used to, did a good job. We got some good gigs around that time, the economy was gettin' better an' more people could afford to see our shows. Movies got bigger so we got to it, people liked westerns back then so we did a lot o' 'em.
We was filmin' one once out in Kanab, Utah, hell of a hot place, Steven played the main guy, a cowboy. Ended up fallin' for the lady playin' his wife, Katie, funny how a part plays tricks on ya'. The two ran out and eloped the minute they could, Katie took 'is last name, and started actin'. The man always knew what he wanted, so did the lady, they were perfect. Pretty soon they went up to New York for a gig, leavin' jus' me and McKellar. Soon they decided to stay in the city for some reason and got a house up there. He lived there for many years 'afore he 'n Kate passed, same disease, what are the chances? Now it was jus' you, me, and Maynard, we started hangin' out more, it was as if we were brothers. On sundays while them religious folk went to church, we walk to our favorite diner and brought you with us. You remember those days? The waitresses loved you, thought it was cute how you could copy words." As if in response, Rose lifted her feathery crest and squawked out Clayton's name. The old man laughed and pet her wing.
"Good ol' times!" he shouted, he stopped when he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. This pain had been bad for a few days, he thought it was just his kidney acting up again, so he didn't think much of it. "One day we was walkin' to that diner for breakfast an' there were people celebratin' in the streets, newsies were paradin' around, makin' good money sellin' their story. War had finally ended. We celebrated too, Maynard could dance pretty good for a man with one leg. We talked 'bout our time in the war, we wondered if any o' the boys survived, but didn't have no way of findin' 'em. Was funny, McKellar was talkin 'bout it as if we was still fightin'. 'Always had a good mem'ry that one, well, till he was older. Started forgettin' things, often thought I was Will, called 'most every young man at work by my name at some point"
Clayton pet his bird's head, leaning back into his chair, he sighed.
"He was old Rose, started losin' his mind, after a few years, he just wasn't the same. By then I was, what, sixty somethin'? He was Seventy two!" The man shouted, startling his bird, the pain in his stomach was getting worse, he took a swig of beer and ignored it.
"Thought i my as well retire, I talked Maynard into it too, it took 'im awhile to remember that he was old." He chuckled. "Funny thing, he kept forgettin' he lost a leg, sometimes he fell or panicked when he saw his leg wasn't there. When we retired we stayed in his house for awhile, I couldn't just leave him alone, poor bastard would prob'ly fall down stairs or somethin'. We only lived together for two years though, one morning he hadn't gotten up for coffee, i went to check on him and he was just... gone. Died in his sleep. He had a small funeral, lotsa' folks knew his work, but not many people knew him though. I left the moment they put him in the ground, he was the last one, I was the last one. Just me an' you now." He didn't notice the tear that trailed down his face, he was in too much pain. It was getting worse, it was spreading.
Clayton let out a gasp, Rose puffed up, started crowing and flapping her wings. In his hand he still held the pictures, him with McKellar and Minglewood in a bar, him and Maynard dressed as knights on a stage, him and Misty kissing in a photobooth. The last one was of him holding Rose, she was a chick and he was so young. He pressed his head back into the chair, unable to do much else as his bird made her was over to him and climbed into his lap, she said his name. He was still drunk, he didn't know what to do, so he kept singing.
Dreaming, I was only dreaming,
I wake and I find you asleep,
In the deep of my heart here.
His heart was racing, his vision was blurred. It was as if he was back poland, only now it wasn't germans he was fighting. There was nothing to point a gun at. Maynard was gone. He had no wife to come home to, there was no one coming to save him. Strangely, he felt his fear fade. He had no gun, so why would he need a target. Maynard is safe where he is. Misty would be glad to see him. There was nothing soldiers could do to help him, but there was also nothing in danger. The war had been won, his friends had been by his side all those years, his marriage had been happy, so what was there to save but memories? He would take those with him. What would it be like to meet them again? Will would be able to walk, Misty would embrace and kiss him again, Maynard would have both legs and be able to remember clearly again.
Rose looked panicked, she knew something was wrong. "Clayton," she called. "Clayton?"
"It's alright sweetheart, I left a window open, you'll be okay. But I gotta go, I'm late."
Yes that would be nice.
Darlin' I hope that my dream never haunted you,
My heart is tellin' you how much I wanted you,
"Hello Mr. Green."
"Honey! You're home!"
"Finally! Never woulda' thought you'd outlive me you old bastard, now, how about a drink?"
Not many people attended his funeral. The ones who did were old, the people who remembered his name, the people who admired him when he was famous. Many once saw themselves in him, their ambition and joy, they still see themselves in him now. They see an old man that few remember, a man who will soon be completely forgotten. But not by all. As he was lowered into the ground, a bird flew down from a tree and perched on top of his gravestone.
The bird sat silent and watched.
It has been nineteen years since then, no one who had seen him buried is left, only people visiting graves and teenagers smoking. Yet they've all seen it. They've all seen the white bird. It is a friendly bird that many would feed and pick up, but when they tried to leave with it, it would fly back. It would stand on one particular grave, and sometimes would repeat a name, they all wondered who this "Clayton" was.