Dale sat on the edge of a retention pond with a stained work shirt wrapped around his head, catching salty sweat before it dropped to his eyes. He had been there for eight hours and his pale body was mostly red, irritated by an angry Florida sun. The case of beer to his right was full. Dale’s checking account was nearly empty. His savings account never even existed.
Dale said, “I just don’t understand.” And the heron he was speaking to didn’t understand either. It stared with beady eyes and raised one leg up like a flamingo but it wasn’t a flamingo. It was just a heron and Dale knew the difference.
“You’re nothing special,” Dale told the heron. But the heron didn’t pay any attention. It closed its eyes and continued to pose. The heron was glistening from water. Dale was glistening from sweat. The heron was little and blue. Dale was pudgy and pink. He had a yellow mustache that had been stained over the past twenty-eight years by cigarette smoke and coffee.
Dale crushed a Busch Lite can and tossed it in the pond. Across the way, two kids were casting cane poles. He imagined that eventually those two kids will cast their poles in the same spot he was sitting then, and they would see the metal of his beer cans twinkle beneath the murky surface of the shit water and think it was treasure– a silver doubloon or a discarded religious artifact from an ancient civilization. He thought about the treasures he had found perusing ponds and forests as a kid. He remembered how exciting it was to find stuff, to find treasures, and Dale thought about how it was all worthless because most everything is worthless but algae encrusted aluminum cans and bike chains and rusty Coke bottle caps are really really worthless. If energy is neither created nor destroyed then where does curiosity go when children grow up? Probably into the atmosphere.
“Is anything sacred?” Dale asked the heron but the heron didn’t hear him. It had stopped listening hours ago. The heron had lasted longer as a makeshift therapist than the bartender at the Silver Dollar Saloon. And the bartender had lasted longer than Dale’s neighbor, who lasted longer than the schizophrenic guy at the bus stop who always boasts that John Cusack is his brother-in-law. Some people think Dale is homeless but he’s not, he’s just kind of grimy. Kind of used. Beaten up. Rough. Life can do that sometimes.
The heron looked over, stretched its tiny blue wings, and cocked its neck upward towards the sky. “It’s not so bad,” the heron said. And the heron motioned with his wing for Dale to crack open a beer for him. “I mean,” the heron paused to burp, tossed the can into some nearby reeds, “what’s even bothering you?” Dale opened two more beers.
“It’s just that nothing lasts. You know? I’m getting old. Everything is disappearing so quickly. I feel like it was yesterday that I was just turning twenty one. I don’t even get ID’d anymore, can you believe that?” The heron could believe that.
The kids that were fishing had circled around the small pond and now they were steering towards Dale, eyeing him suspiciously.
“You wanna fish?” he asked the heron. And the heron nodded, waded out into the water, and started pecking at minnows.
“Hey!” Dale called over to the kids. They must have been thirteen, maybe fourteen. They started backing away. “Don’t worry, don’t worry. I just want to borrow your pole. Just for a little bit.” The kids crept closer. They wore no shoes. They were dirty from head to toe. In these ways, the kids and Dale were the same. Dale traded them five warm beers in exchange for one of the poles and some worms, under the condition he leave the pole there when he was done so that the kids could retrieve it later in the evening.
“Thank you mister!” they both said. Dale hadn’t been called mister in a lifetime and it warmed his heart to see these kids being so respectful. “You two be safe now,” he said, and then he went back and had a seat next to the heron who had stopped pecking at minnows by then.
“That wasn’t very responsible of you,” the heron told him. And Dale said it was only five beers between two kids, how drunk could they get? “Lite beer, nonetheless,” he added. Dale and the heron watched the sun paint the wake of the pond with wisps gold. The occasional bass would stir up water in the center. Rings and rings and rings of water.
“Oh! That’s a big one.” Dale said.
There was a tug on the cane pole. Nothing drastic, just a light pull. Dale grinned and looked over to the heron. He started backing up further and further until the line was taut and a bluegill was flapping on the shore of the pond. The heron told Dale, “that isn’t how you’re supposed to use a cane pole, is it?” And Dale shrugged, held the tiny fish up to the sun. “Look at that,” he said, “just look at that.” The heron asked if he could eat it but Dale shook his head no. “Not this one, this is my fish.” He released the bluegill and it disappeared into algae and grime. Dale and the heron laid down on their backs, stretched out their limbs.
“This has been nice,” Dale said. The heron nodded in agreement.
“I wish it could last.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll be gone by tomorrow. Fly to whatever pond, the next stop. Just like everybody else. Always on the move.” And the heron nodded again, understanding.
“There will always be another heron,” the heron said, “or a crane. Not that I recommend cranes, their talkative bastards. And loud.”
“Sure, yeah. It won’t be the same though.”
“No, it won’t be the same. It might be worse. Might be better.” They both nodded, sipped their final bit of beer, and tossed the cans.
With that, the heron flew away. Dale watched it soar, slightly cocked to the left. “Good guy,” Dale said, shutting his eyes, “real good guy.”
Cavin Bryce is a twenty-one year old graduate from the University of Central Florida. He spends his time off sitting on the back porch, sipping sweet tea and watching his hound dog dig holes across a dilapidated yard. His work has been published in Hobart, CHEAP POP, OCCULUM, and elsewhere. He is also a first reader and book reviewer at Pidgeon Holes. He tweets at @cavinbryce