Charlie's Birds

Charlie's Birds

A Story by Tim W

Inspired by true events. Charlie finds a sense of self-worth through feeding three seagulls at downtown bus stop. A short story project...


The fresh, fallen snow has coated downtown in a white blanket, as if a miniature version of this city was just pulled from a spray paint booth. Charlie stands beneath the bus stop, sheltered from nothing. He’s alone. The metal frame is a skeleton of its former self and the graffiti provides a colorful back drop for an otherwise, apocalyptic scene. Trash tumbles around Charlie’s feet. He pays no attention to the trash. For now, the snow has stopped with the exception of an occasional flurry. Winter’s subtle reminder that she’s not departing anytime soon. Except for Charlie, the streets are lifeless. 

As he stands beneath the dilapidated bus stop shelter, he wears a simple, black trench coat. It’s torn from the armpit down to the waist band. The chilled air creeps inside. Charlie’s undershirt provides a little warmth but he’s been standing outside for a long time. By February, Charlie is accustomed to being cold. “Just a part of life,” he always reminds himself, just as the shivering begins. His pants sag, both legs soaked in water up to his ankles. The icy slush and wet snow reminds Charlie of the Spring rain. He’s comforted knowing Spring will soon return. He smiles. Soon, Charlie will begin looking for a new pair of shoes. The local Goodwill store probably has some. He’ll wait until Spring arrives. Why take the chance on ruining a perfectly good pair of shoes now? His toes are probably frostbitten. But new shoes will just have to wait for the warmth of the Spring sun. Charlie plays this game every year. He’s seasoned. 

The hood on Charlie's trench coat keeps his ears warm. He had a wool hat but he left it somewhere. A park bench, maybe a few blocks away. Or, maybe he left it on the 21st street bus the one time a stranger gave him a bus ticket. He didn’t care where the bus went. It was cold that night, maybe less than 10 degrees he remembers thinking. Charlie was happy to escape the frigid temperatures and he rode the best until the driver made him get off. His only resistance was a polite, “Yes Sir,” and “Thank you Sir.” Maybe someone else has his hat now and their ears and head are warm. Thinking about that, Charlie smiled.

Three seagulls land gracefully at Charlie’s feet. They know Charlie, or so it seems. The birds seem unaffected by the dirty snow and icy slush. Two of the birds are mostly white. If they were painted that way, they were touched up with a little grey. Wings folded shut, they look nothing like the third bird. He’s much darker, like a summer sky just before a powerful thunderstorm. His demeanor is even slightly different. Not as rambunctious as the other two. More calculated as if he’s been hardened by more life experience. Maybe he’s felt starvation. 

All three birds begin a haphazard figure eight pattern around Charlie’s feet. They gaze at Charlie, excited for something. Their pace quickens and little balls of slush are kicked onto Charlie’s shoes as they frantically look up. They must know what’s coming. Charlie unbuttons his trench coat and pulls out a plastic bag full of bread slices he found yesterday morning in the trash can on the corner of Temple and Chapel. If Charlie didn’t find that bread, would the birds still come? Ripping small chunks of bread from the plastic bag, Charlie tosses them into the slush and the snow and near the parking meter. Larry, Curly, and Moe he calls them. Not original but simple. Moe is the darker bird. Even now, Moe appears watchful of Charlie’s movements. Moe appears guarded but even Moe knows an easy meal when he finds one. Charlie knows these birds. So it seems. 

The seagulls are now frenzied with delight, feathers now covered in dirty snow and slush and dried salt water. Webbed tracks dot every square inch within six feet of Charlie. He smiles. For a moment he forgets about where he will sleep tonight or what trash can holds his next meal. For now, these birds are Charlie’s semblance of family ties. He doesn’t feel alone and the birds make him feel loved and alive. Charlie hasn’t had a meal in two day. His stomach writhes in hunger. The pain comes and goes and he’s learned to deal with it. “Spring will come soon,” he thinks to himself. The warmth brings people, and people throw away food. Despite the hunger living in Charlie’s hollow stomach, he continues tossing perfectly edible pieces of bread in the bird’s direction. Why?

Soon, Charlie’s supply runs thin. Soon his bag is empty. It doesn’t take long for the birds to realize Charlie has nothing left to offer. One last glance at Charlie confirms their instincts. They stand, far less frenzied than before. A rusted Chevy pickup turns the corner near Charlie’s bus stop, with a snow plow on the front, ready to battle last night’s elements. This gives the birds a good reason to leave Charlie and they take flight, heading South over the train tracks and snow covered tree limbs. They disappear. Will they come back?

Charlie appears fulfilled. He walks over to a trash can no less than ten feet away and gently sets the plastic bread bag in the receptacle. Leaning over the trash can, he rummages for only a few minutes and comes away with nothing. The town’s recreational department will be coming soon to empty all the trash cans. They always say hello to Charlie and it it always makes Charlie smile. He quickly realizes his next meal will have to wait and looks up towards the sky, a sliver of blue off in the distance over the train tracks and snow covered tree limbs. “Spring will come soon,” Charlie whispers. He begins the long, slow walk up Chapel Street, turns a corner, and disappears. Charlie never returns. Neither do the birds.

© 2015 Tim W

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I really enjoyed this story in such a short format you were able to convey so much about Charlie. Other then a few small things for example when you write "The seagulls are now frenzied with delight, feathers now covered in dirty snow" I think it might be better to remove the repeated "now" to just clean up and make it read more cleanly. But in general it all reads very well and hope to see more of your writing in the future.

Posted 6 Years Ago

I love the idea behind this. Such a simple idea which you gave so much meaning. "Spring will come soon."

Posted 6 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on February 23, 2015
Last Updated on February 23, 2015
Tags: homeless, seagulls


Tim W
Tim W

New Haven, CT

I retire in October, 2015 after 20 years in the US Coast Guard. Writing is my passion and I'm trying to rediscover myself. more..

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