A short story
By David Hutto
This story consists of five parts, and except for the first part, below, the remaining four parts can all vary according to the choice the reader makes. After this first section, the story continues from the point of view of four different characters, and at the bottom of the page, the reader must choose which character to focus on. The story is written for the reader to choose just one character for each section. It is therefore possible to listen to only one character all the way through, or to switch point of view among characters.
Before reading the story, you can get some background on each character
as they talk about themselves.
Does your life ever seem heavy? Perhaps you carry around the weight of worries and anxieties that no one sees. If we could spread wings out to each side, push down on the air and feel ourselves rise slowly off the ground, if we lifted up with wind in our feathers, watching the land grow into the distance, then would we let go of our worries and feel our hearts grow carefree? Birds fly this way. And birds do have things that should concern them: being killed by a predator, finding food, becoming injured and unable to fly. But birds have this advantage over us, that they don’t know to worry. So they push down on the air, rise off the ground, and sail away with no cares at all. Lucky birds.
Along the coast of southern New Jersey, flocks of seagulls hover over the ocean, then drift over the beach, and some seagulls fly across the coastal islands and the marshes and on across the state, flying over small towns filled with pizza joints, across the rich farmland with peach orchards, acres of blueberries, fields of corn and collards, and even the unexpected grapevines of south Jersey wineries. Some seagulls will fly this way. Sometimes as they cross New Jersey they come to earth, perhaps in a supermarket parking lot to peck at bits of leftover bagel tossed out a car window. Or maybe they swoop down over the parking lot of a movie theater where two college professors are going in to see an Indian movie.
Whether they land or not, some seagulls continue to fly west until they come to the other side of New Jersey, bordered by the Delaware River, a wide river in this southern part of the state. Possibly one of these shorebirds, having traveled this far, might fly across the suburban regions of Marlton and Cherry Hill, where tightly packed houses mix with shopping centers and busy roads, and then suddenly a remarkable patch of forest or an open field, a remnant of the old agricultural days. Flying over Cherry Hill, a seagull might pass over the bar Red Hot and Blue, on route 70, where Moses “Mojo” Jackson plays blues guitar one weekend a month, on Friday and Saturday. Chances are, though, seagulls will not settle in this parking lot, and some of them will continue on to the west, flying over poor, damaged Camden, until the bird is once more over the water. This is the Delaware River, with docks along both shores and a few boats on the water. From this point, if it wanted to, a seagull could look to the left and see the huge span of the Walt Whitman Bridge. To the right the curious seagull would see the more impressive stone towers of the Ben Franklin Bridge. And straight ahead, across the river, the red brick buildings and taller glass towers of Philadelphia.
Some seagulls do fly that far. If it happens to be a windy day, not a rare thing in this blustery region, the bird may not be able to land right away. On a windy day, with wings tipping left and right, dropping and rising with the gusts, a seagull may be blown into the city over South Street. This is an area of bars, restaurants, shops with arts and crafts, and clothing stores for people who do not want to follow the mainstream. If a seagull should fly this way, it would pass over a store called Even the Iguana, a store that has been there for nine years, since Jenny Shapovalenko opened it in 1993.
Maybe this same seagull will continue west across the city and slightly north to a park which is one block square, filled with large trees, and surrounded by upscale restaurants, high-rise apartment buildings and condominiums. This is Rittenhouse Square, and on a corner here is the Episcopalian Church of the Holy Trinity. Jenny Shapovalenko attends this church regularly because of the woman she lives with, Amy Green. Still farther west, across another river, the Schuylkill, is an area known colloquially as University City, where several schools are located. One of those schools is the University of Pennsylvania, block after block of stone buildings, where Calla Rougeau is a student in her third year.
Any seagull that has flown this far is now quite a distance from the ocean. At some point it will head back toward the coast, perhaps still fighting against the swirling wind. As it moves coastward, it could pass through the central business district of Philadelphia, the area that local people call Center City. This is where Amy Green works for an architectural firm. Slightly to the north of here, the tired seagull might land to rest for a bit, and who can blame it. There is a Catholic girls’ high school in this area, and a seagull might by chance find itself on the ground, sheltering from the wind near the school. In that case one of the teachers from the school might come along and see the seagull sitting there.
And that’s just what did happen. Toward the end of March on a windy day, Sister Hildegard had finished teaching for the day. She came out of the school, thinking about the argument she had broken up two hours before between Lainey Mascarone and Cindy Dicicco. And over such a stupid thing, arguing over whether Britney Spears should make movies or just stick to singing. Sister Hildegard taught at the John W. Hallahan Girls’ High School on 19th Street, just off Logan Circle. She had been at the school for nine years, and she was now 40 years old.
When Sister Hildegard came out of the school on that windy March day, she was on her way to a meeting in North Philadelphia. Shivering from the chill of the wind, she went around the corner to where her car was parked, and standing on the ground nearby was a seagull. The bird simply stood without moving, even as she approached it. A seagull, Hildegard thought with surprise. How did you get all the way over here?