Character Study: Bird on A Ledge (2300 words)

I changed the fonts. If it’s too small, let me know and I’ll make it bigger or change it again.


He plucked the strings of the guitar slowly and with ease. The tones that came out where melancholic and yet strangely serene. His hair fell into his eyes as he played, but it didn’t bother him. He was busy with his music and I didn’t want to disturb him.

Instead I sat there on the balcony rail, balancing on the brim, glancing down from time to time wondering what would happen if I lost my grip and fell down. There was a swimming pool down there, but I doubt I would have fallen into it if I fell. It was a bit away from the house, and let’s face it, I don’t have that kind of luck.

Still I enjoyed balancing on the rail while he plucked his guitar, and when he started singing I almost did fall down.

He had a remarkable voice. You didn’t notice it when he talked, but when he started singing it was deep, raspy and yet there was something genuinely beautiful about it. I jumped down from the balcony rail and sat down in the sun bed. I put on my sunglasses and spent some time pretending to sunbathe while I watched him.

He was forty-six, had a rough face and stubble and he wasn’t the kind of guy you brought home to mom, although I’m pretty sure my mom would have loved him.

I know I did, but I didn’t have any scruples about it. I knew he didn’t feel the same way.

After a while he put the guitar down, went inside and came out with two beers. He handed one to me and asked if I was going to stay. I told him I’d stay if he’d let me and he just shrugged his shoulders.

It was the way he was, he rarely expressed himself much.

We met at a bar a few months earlier. He had been playing and I had been fascinated with both his music, but also his exterior looks. I was just eighteen at the time but he didn’t seem to mind that I hung around him afterwards. He called me “sweetheart,” and smiled in a way that made me think that maybe he liked me a little.

It wasn’t until later that we fell into bed together. I had turned nineteen then, and he was divorced.

I’d made a habit of going to his shows. He never drew a lot of crowd, but the people who were there always liked his music. He was grungy, melancholic and cool in a way that only men of a certain age can be.

He asked me home after one of the shows. It had been unusually crowded and he was on edge that night. He had a few beers at the bar. The owner was a friend of his and they had a deal. He showed up and played his guitar once in a while and during those evenings he drank for free.

He wasn’t a big drinker, but he could down a beer or two when the mood called for it.

I don’t know how drunk he was, exactly, when he brought me home, but he wasn’t sober. Neither was I for that matter, but I didn’t go to his place to knit. I wanted this, even if I was just a pastime for him.

He sat beside me on the balcony, nursed his beer and looked over the city. He was quiet.

“Is that a new song?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, a bit reluctantly.

“What prompted it?” I had always been nosy.

“What prompts these things?” he asked.

I put my beer down on the table beside me, took off my sunglasses, got up and straddled him. He smiled, put down his beer and kissed me. His stubbled face brushing against mine and I knew I’d have a beard-burn later on, but I didn’t mind. I loved his stubble.

We kissed for a while, until I realised where it was headed and pulled back.

“Not until you tell me,” I grinned at him and got up. He sighed theatrically, took a sip of his beer but got up too and followed me into the apartment. It was rather dim with the drapes pulled back. I threw myself on the couch and pouted a little.

“What was it you wanted to know?” he asked, standing over me like an angered father.

I laughed.

“What prompted the song?” I asked.

He sat down on me, like I had on him before, one knee on each side of me. Then he kissed me. It was a long, hard kiss and I almost gave in to it then.

“Please tell me,” I said, pushing him away.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked, sitting down beside me, a little grumpy.

“Because, I want to know you,” I said with a happier tone than I was supposed to.

“It’s just dark,” he said, “why would you want to know that”.

His words angered me. They angered me more than anything he’d said to me before and I got up.

“I’m not just a pretty face,” I told him. “There is something on the inside too.”

He looked at me and smiled. “A fantastic body as well,” he said, mocking me.

I slapped his chest gently, the movement awkward as I was standing and he was leaning back in the couch. I felt like an idiot.

“I don’t know where these things come from,” he said at last. I could hear the condescending tone in his voice.

“So you can fuck me, but not talk to me? Is that it?” I said and this time I was getting really angry.

I had promised myself not to get angry at him for his thoughtless comments, but there is only so much stupidity a girl can take and he was behaving like an asshole.

“You know,” I told him, “I may be young, but it doesn’t mean I’m completely brainless”.

I went into the bedroom and pulled my jumper off the floor. I put it on over the bikini I was wearing and started to pull my jeans on.

“Do you know that in Japan women and men have a different language, the language that women speak is different from the men’s” he said, watching me get dressed.

“I think exactly the same thing is true around here,” I told him. I was more than cross. I buttoned my jeans, which took a bit of an effort, and then I pushed past him.

He grabbed my hand, and looked into my eyes and he knew exactly how that affected me. I sighed, but refused to give in to him.

“I’m not just a stupid toy,” I told him. I didn’t know where the words were coming from.

He sighed and let go off me but the eye contact held, despite that.

“I know you’re not,” he then said and I could almost recognise his singing voice in that whisper. “You’re young, and I don’t want to taint our relationship with my dark thoughts,” he said.

“I know you don’t think I’m the second coming,” I said, “and I know you think I’m just something to do while you get over your divorce, but a little respect, please.” I said and went into the living room.

Instead of going out in a huff, however, as I had been planning to do, I sat down on the sofa with my beer and pouted.

It was a girly thing to do and I realised it, but I didn’t care.

“You don’t need my darkness in your life,” he said. “Let’s just have fun, and leave it at that?” he said.

“No,” I said. “It’s all or nothing with me.”

And I couldn’t believe I was saying it. Here I was giving him a form of ultimatum, the man I knew had no special feelings for me.

He sat down beside me and looked at me sideways, almost as if he was evaluating me.

Then he started.

“I guess this darkness has always been with me, partially, but it becomes worse with age. It’s like staring into the eyes of the big nothing.”

“The big nothing?” I echoed.

“Have you ever seen The Never Ending Story?” he asked.

I laughed and nodded.

“Well, the big enemy is a kind of an abyss, a giant engulfing nothingness and I feel as if I’ve been staring at it since I was your age. It’s as if I need to stand on the sidelines and watch others lead their joyful lives. It took my wife ten years, but she couldn’t take it in the end.”

“You cheated on her,” I told him bluntly.

“I did,” he said. “No excuses, but that’s not why the marriage broke down, that happened before that.”

“Sounds to me like you’re just making excuses to be melancholy and blue,” I said.

“I guess,” he smiled.

“So the song?” I hinted one more time.

He was quiet for a while. Then he got up and got his can, took a large sip and then he turned towards me again.

“It’s true that I don’t really know where these things come from. I saw a little boy with his dog when I was walking yesterday and it triggered a feeling. It’s the feeling I try to capture, and not the boy and his dog, but the boy was sad beyond belief and I remember experiencing something similar as a kid”.

“Being sad?” I asked.

“Being sad, heartbroken over something, but things got better, you know as it does with kids”.

I just nodded.

“I don’t know,” he sighed and sat down beside me again.

“See,” I told him, smiling, “was that so hard?”

He looked at me and laughed. The wrinkles around his eyes made him look gorgeous and I sighed again.

“You’re difficult,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he smiled and buried his nose in my neck, then his mouth sought mine and we kissed for a while.

“I love you, you know,” I said suddenly and bluntly as he pulled away. He was bending over towards the table to put his can down and I saw a glimpse in his eyes I hadn’t seen before. A glimpse I had no idea how to interpret, usually he was more or less an open book to me.

“I know,” he said and cocked his head.

I slapped him on the shoulder and laughed. “Evil bastard,” I said.

“If I ever stop staring into the abyss,” he said, “I’ll fall in love with someone like you.”

His words made me sad, unbelievably sad and I stood up. I went out onto the balcony to get a hint of light and warmth, both of which were gravely lacking inside the apartment. When he came outside I turned around and leaned backwards towards the rail.

“It’s alright to love me, you know,” I told him. “It won’t kill you.”

He stopped in the doorway, not coming out into the sun.

“We can’t help who we love,” he said, “and what do you know? Maybe I do love you, even though I don’t say it. You hadn’t said it before now.”

I looked at him. Jumped up to the rail and sat there, balancing.

“Don’t do that,” he said quietly.

“It’s alright,” I told him. “I’m just being a bitch. I have my dark days as well. You’re not alone in the world.”

  He laughed and approached me, slowly, like you approach someone that’s on the verge of doing something stupid.

I jumped down towards him before he got too close. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I am not that desperate.”

I went inside again, finished my beer and started to look for my purse.

He stopped in the balcony door and folded his arms, watching me.

“You’re young,” he said. “You’ll find someone better, soon”.

I stopped and turned around. “I never said I’d love you for the rest of my life, although I’m a little afraid that I will” I sighed. “What I say applies to the moment.”

He nodded his head and came to me. “Please don’t go,” he whispered.

“Will you sing for me again?” I asked.

“I’ll do more than that,” he whispered and pulled me towards him. It was impossible for me to resist the scent of him, his touch.

“I should go,” I whispered. I had nowhere to be, but I still felt I should go at that very moment.

“Please stay,” he said and he started kissing my neck.

“I’ll stay if you promise to write me a song,” I said.

“The song about the girl who loved the geezer?”

“Yes,” I whispered and kissed him.

“I promise to try,” he said and he picked me up and carried me off into the bedroom.

Afterwards we were outside on the balcony again. He was plucking his guitar slowly, singing softly and I sat on the sun bed and watched him play. A small bird sat down on the balcony rail and for a moment it seemed to join in the song, before it flew off again to other balconies.

And at that moment I saw a hint of the abyss he used to talk about. It wasn’t something tangible, but something in his eyes. A tainted spot on the existence he led and I realised in that moment that it would color my existence as well. Whether I would love him forever, or not.

He just continued to pluck his guitar slowly and with ease.

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