Slow News Day
Keith Stahl

Teresa was the Statue of Liberty: “Bring us your vegans, your vegetarians, your lactose and glucose intolerant; I lift my guest check beside the golden dupe-rack.”

Offices were calling in Godzilla a la carte orders. Bumblebee flailed his arms like one of those cartoon buddhas, face scarlet from the hell of the grill.

“Teresa. Concentrate.”

And today, they were coming to do a story about the pigeons.

Alliance Bank cooed for Teresa to put names on individual to-go containers, prima donnas because they made smart choices in life and had dental insurance. Teresa consoled them like their babies were dead because the tuna wasn’t Albacore. They were more than welcome to order salads without meat, without croutons, without cheese, since they were tripping about mutating into shit-spewing cow murderers with dolphin flesh between their incisors. No, Teresa didn’t have fucking soy milk. One guy ordered a chef salad without cheese or ham, extra turkey, a side of creamy bleu and also a side of Italian, with the croutons in a separate bag on the side (Teresa was going to lick them). Then a woman, sweet as Splenda, ordered a BLT without the bacon. She passed the phone to this mouth breather who wanted the Gyro Special, but they wouldn’t have the Gyro Special until two o’clock because Bumblebee forgot to thaw the Gyros last night. Mouth Breather moaned about the Gyros, so Teresa made him hard with her Marilyn voice. He settled for a burger, medium-rare to medium (Bumblebee says, it’s all just a guessing game), provolone and melted crumbly blue, toasted roll, lettuce, tomato, and please, please, please – hold the onion. No, Teresa didn’t have banana peppers. Finally, Queen Victoria reluctantly demanded a scoop of tuna salad. God Save The Queen.

“Just ran out of tuna salad.”

Out to lunch customers wiped pigeon shit from their shoes on the welcome mat like the Earls of York. Teresa stuck to the phone, couldn’t get them menus. Dammit Janet had kissy-faced the day off. Janet was going back to school and had a financial aid meeting she couldn’t reschedule (more like, she was better than everyone and wouldn’t reschedule). Wade was still delivering that continental breakfast to Family Counseling Services.

“Call the delivery customers back and suck their dicks.”

“Suck my dick, Bumblebee.”

“They’ll have to pick up their own orders. Say the delivery driver had a family emergency.”

“I’m Wade’s mother. This is a family emergency.”

Then Family Counseling Services called, bitching for the breakfast they should have crapped by now. Where the hell was Wade?

Maybe Wade got lost or the car broke down or he got pulled over and tried to call the restaurant but the line was busy. Family Counseling Services cast Teresa into hold-limbo, so she went for her cell to see if her son needed rescuing. Her toe caught the five-gallon vats and fifty-pound sacks Bumblebee had bulwarked under the dish-machine. Teresa’s five hundred dollar Android triple axelled into the Cream of Mushroom curdling in the crockpot on the counter. Mushroom-phlegm spewed all over fucking Hillary Clinton from table twelve. (She was at the counter to see if it was possible to order a grilled cheese sandwich without the bread.)

And today, they were coming to do a story about the pigeons.


Teresa rag-dolled onto the milk crate in the dead-end alley at the side of the restaurant like a prisoner back in The Hole. Bumblebee positioned the dumpster to hide from the world Teresa’s milk crate lounge chairs, cinderblock end tables, and coffee can ashtrays. She heard fragments of jokes, kids chirping in the playground. A solitary sunbeam sliced between the brick buildings like some religious painting. People’s shadows flickered like ghosts. Someday she would buy new paints and do a landscape, but she was always so tired. The patch of sky through the building tops was monastral blue. The sun was cremnitz white. The bricks were burnt sienna.

Bumblebee brought her the phone. “Your boy quit.”

Wade told his mother that he had had an epiphany.

“I’m about to call the hospitals, and you’re la-di-da in my car having epiphanies?”

Wade hadn’t been able to get through.

“Dammit Janet put in her two weeks. Epiphanies must be going around.”

Wade said he wasn’t a baby, anymore. He wanted to do his own thing.

“Epiphany my car back here, Wade.”

Bumblebee brought Teresa coffee.

“This better be Dopio Hazelnut soy milk macchiato.”

“Stick your pinky out while you drink, like a beautiful ar-tiste, and it will feel like dope… Hazelnut.”

Such a Bumblebee. She settled for black. “Get cleaned up. Leave me the dishes.”


“After the pigeons. You’ll bumble the interview.”

“What’s to say? If the City won’t do nothin’, let the business owners take care of ‘em.”

“What are you going to do, shoot ‘em?”

“They’re rats with wings. They shit on the sidewalk. They shit on my customers.”

“The animal rights activists are going to love you. Don’t start the interview without me.”

“Mother Teresa. Mother Hen. Pigeon Mother Hen.”

Jerry T. “Bumblebee” was helpless. If it weren’t for Teresa, suppliers would nickel-and-dime him to death. He’d bore his customers to death. Teresa deep-soaked the restaurant’s fry-oil dishtowels and washed them at home. Her laundry got so backed up, she wore three-days-worn tank tops and even the clean ones smelled like cat food. But it saved Jerry forty bucks a week from the linen company. She burned her own gas to buy soda on sale at Target, so Pepsi couldn’t fuck Jerry in the ass with their two hundred dollar minimum orders. She used the last of her oil paints years ago (twenty-bucks an ounce) to paint “Barack O’ Burger” and “Mussolini Panini,” because Jerry would never survive without some character. And only Teresa knew to use quiet, warm water dishtowels – not cold water or shaking or yelling – when you opened the restaurant to your boss bonding with the floorboards. Otherwise, you’d freaking kill him or he’d kill you. It was a good thing Teresa had the key.

Mother Teresa. Mother Hen. Pigeon Mother Hen. Teresa cancelled Artists and Illustrators and Pastel Journal to pay six hundred bucks, used, for hockey skates, chest and arm protectors, knee pads, leg pads, throat guard, catching glove, stick, mask, and yes – a goalie specific jock – so Wade could block goals. Her son would be one sorry ass, skinny, poser goalie if she hadn’t worked like a carny on Labor Day for Wade’s monster PP&J’s, his Bright Future Daycare, the apartment, the doctors, the dentist. She juggled her tips like a circus freak to stay under the poverty level to qualify for a little public assistance. Even Jerry couldn’t afford a dentist. She should have epiphanied Wade’s ass eighteen years ago at Planned Parenthood.

Steam escaped Teresa’s dishwater-soaked, spandex tank top. Her cigarette smoke was like, “Take me with you.” That cloud had been inside her. That was her breath.

A pigeon poofed like a fairy godmother, presto, wings snapping the way Teresa snapped dishtowels from the dryer. Fairy dust rained on the pavement. Was it corn? It clung to her ponytail. She felt pigeon wind on her face. Teresa pancaked the wall, and the pigeon played musical chairs with her milk crate.

“You’re not going to shit on me?”

It cartwheeled violently to the ground. It turned its neck unnaturally toward Teresa, like some double-jointed yoga guru: What you looking at?

“You’re hurt.”

It stumbled drunk on its side. The pigeon’s breaths were fragile, like Wade sleeping under his crib. Eighteen years ago. She was in the bathroom when the nap-monster surprised her months-old son, so he crawled into his bedroom but was helpless to climb into the crib. He babied his blankey and pacifier through the bars and tucked himself into a nap on the carpet. When Teresa found him, she dropped to her knees in Wade’s doorway. It was like standing before Monet’s Waterlilies, the creator whispering to Teresa through pastel chaos, “Look.” This lumpy, warm package of fuzzy cotton, Pampers, and talc, delicately purred through a slightly stuffy nose, the sweet swells of Wade’s breaths a perpetual motion machine that she had started. This miracle was whispering to Teresa, “Look.”

She nested with her son in the shag and sketched creation. The pencil knew the way, like a dog tugging a leash, the graphite brushing paper, panting, “Yes, yes, oh yes, that’s it.” The lines were desperate to be formed, predetermined, flowing arches and easy circles. Someday she would raise Wade’s sketch to a full-grown painting – Teresa’s masterpiece, her Waterlilies, her Starry Night. The colors would be Winsor orange, flesh tint, Naples yellow light. The colors would be flake white, rose dore, lemon yellow deep.

She kissed her baby’s carmine cheek, like kissing herself, laying him in the crib.

Now the sketch was in her high school year book, maybe that pile in the closet. Probably under the bed.

The pigeon twitched. Blue black. Burnt umber. Davy’s grey.

“I want to paint you.”

The pigeon stood up and did a jig.

“I’ll help you.” Teresa slam-dunked a milk crate over the bird and a cinder block on top of that. The pigeon spluttered. Then it dropped, resigned to its plastic prison.


But Bumblebee was a shadow on the wall. They were doing the story about the pigeons. Now News’ Barbie Bombardo’s nasal siren carried around the corner from the front of the restaurant. Teresa heard “roosting hoards” and “invade the city.” She heard “anti-roosting spike strips and sticky chemicals.” She heard “animal rights” and “humane.” Jerry snorted something that sounded like, “Harvest ‘em.” Bumblebee was bumbling the interview. The cameraman’s silhouette was like Wade’s old Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots. The square camera shadow, where the cameraman’s head should have been, hammered Bumblebee while Barbie stabbed him with a microphone.

She’d rush her pigeon to a vet. She needed a gurney. There was a Tupperware cake holder in the restaurant. It was airtight, but how much air does a pigeon need?

The cake holder had fallen behind the dish machine. Teresa slid the heavy chemical buckets and burlap sacks, her chicken legs and stringy arms drunk with superhero adrenaline, and reached the Tupperware with her fingertips. Dry corn bled from a rip in one of the displaced sacks. It sounded like rain.

She raced back to her pigeon. It was lifelessly still. She reverently lifted the milk crate like an undertaker pulling the sheet back to identify a loved one. The pigeon didn’t move. “You’re just resting,” she sniffed. The autumn breeze rustled Teresa’s hair and made her tears cold. Salty, custardy phlegm oozed down her throat. “You’re just resting, right?”

The pigeon was just resting. It spread its wings like a thunderbird and coughed out a single kernel of corn. Then it did the Hokey Pokey.

It all came together. It was the corn. Fifty-pound sacks of dry corn under the dish-machine. Five-gallon buckets of new chemicals Jerry was going to try, to get rid of “spots.” Jerry had been cooking up special recipe corn and feeding the pigeons alfresco up in the eaves. She gave Bumblebee the best years of her life, and he was poisoning her helpless, innocent pigeons.

Teresa snapped her delirious Rock Dove into the cake holder.

Would they pump a pigeon’s stomach?

Teresa peeked around the dumpster. Wade had come back and was perpetually parallel parking across the street.

She heard “Histoplasmosis.” She heard “bird-borne disease.”

Then she heard two squawks. One was a pigeon, falling from a window ledge onto Barbie Bombardo. The other was Barbie Bombardo.

More fairy-dust-corn skittled the sidewalk. Ms. Bombardo hysterically swiped at a pigeon on the lapel of her blazer with her microphone.

Another pigeon shimmied along the sidewalk, crawling trench warfare on its belly. Then another pigeon bomb landed. More corn. Pigeon paratroopers descended, frenzied for battle, seemingly shot in mid-air, lifelessly landing like sacks of potatoes. Pigeons were dying. Horrific death spasms of mustard gas and nerve agents. It was Picasso’s Guernica with feathers.

Teresa crept through the minefield of fallen birds, towards Barbie Bombardo and the cameraman and Jerry, gently kicking away the fluttering, her shoes crunching on corn like a twenty-one gun salute. She extended the pigeon in the cake holder, like a delicate soufflé fresh from the oven.

“No tuna. No Gyros. But you got plenty of poison corn, don’t you Bumblebee?”

Barbie Bombardo whispered, “You getting this?”

The cameraman said, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Jerry was a mannequin, like one of those plastic, Italian pizza guys with all the checks.

Wade backed in for the fifth time. He put the car in park, front bumper out like a baguette.

“Stay where you are, Wade! We’re going to the hospital!”

Teresa evacuated the pigeon to the outside of her car. Wade rolled down the window. “Mom?” He glanced at the Tupperware. “Mom, are you okay?”

Wade looked different, concerned. About her. A nineteen-year-old Clara Barton, only a dude. His face was all hard and crisp. What happened to all that baby fat? He had been a doughy ball in a Bismuth yellow sleeper. Like bread dough. She kneaded and kneaded and kneaded him, kept him nice and warm so that he would proof just right and rise. Ready for the oven. And now he was done, all cooked, didn’t need her anymore.

The pigeons needed her. She was a battlefield chaplain with a job to do. She looked down at her pigeon cake and shook her head. She looked to the sky. Mother Teresa fell to her knees. She serenely lowered the Tupperware under the front wheel of her car.

“Drive over it.”


“We have to put it out of its misery.”


“Drive over it! Just do it!”

The crunch was like peanut brittle, like crackers in bed.

Teresa went savage. A skinny Braveheart, charging from pigeon to pigeon, wildly flapping her arms for Wade to run this one over, run that one over, “They’re in pain, Wade! They’re dying, anyway. Don’t worry about the sidewalk!”

Car horns wailed, but she just pointed at them to run over pigeons. Some did. Most screeched away. One elderly couple, locking their doors and flashing their hazards, backed slowly up the street.

Pedestrians kept their distance. They pointed at Barbie Bombardo, so much smaller in real life, clinging to the cameraman like Bumblebee’s omelets to the skillet. Cuckoo Pigeons. Story at eleven.

Jerry retreated to the restaurant. His beer went pffst.

Teresa retrieved the cinder block from the alley and checked for survivors, the sound of her euthanasia like Jerry tenderizing meat.

She got into the car. Wade asked if she wanted to drive, but she said no.

“Just drive.”


“I don’t care.”

Teresa fastened her seatbelt, as the hearse inched through pigeon carnage.

The colors were permanent magenta, cobalt violet, alizarin crimson. The colors were scarlet lake, purple madder, permanent rose.

Keith Stahl’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Ghost Town, Per Contra, and The Madison Review. Keith is currently a non-traditional undergraduate student pursuing a degree in English and Textual Studies on the Creative Writing Track at Syracuse University.