Painting of a blue jay

Why We Have Blue Jays

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

When my brother and I were young, just kids, our parents took us to Jamaica. Bananas everywhere. On the cab ride from the airport: bananas, these whole plantations just outside the window. At a snarl in the traffic where we had to slow down, someone knocking on the hood: selling bananas. And in the hotel lobby while checking in, a woman asked my dad if he wanted to buy some bananas. She had a whole bunch—not like the grocery store; a whole branch cut down and hoisted on her shoulder—but my dad was busy, so he said no thanks, and she moved on.

Later that night at dinner, in the hotel’s open-air courtyard, this couple crossed over from the bar and asked my mom, “Are you from the States?”

She said, “We are.” She said, “We’re from Washington.”

“We’re from Minneapolis,” they told her. “Do yourself a favor and order a banana daiquiri.”

“But I don’t like banana daiquiris.”

“That’s okay. Just do it and see what happens.” Then they left.

And so she did. The waiter came by, and she asked him, but he said no; the restaurant was out of bananas.

Now flash ahead to today: I’m just off the phone with CenturyLink. They’ve gotten my bill wrong again. As if they, too, want me to give up my landline, and completely sucking is their scheme to make it happen, like I’ll finally just yank the cord from the wall and throw it all away.

So I did the ten-minute robot menu, did the 20 minutes on hold, then a woman picked up on the other end and said, “I see that you’re calling from yada yada yada; is that correct?”

“It is.”

“And are you the primary contact?”

“I am.”

“And your full name?”

“Robert Carney.”

“And your email for verification? The last 4 digits of your social? Nine things you’d rather be doing right now? Your estimated love of redundancy on a scale from 1-to-a-million? What was your question exactly?”

“Not a question,” I said, “a statement: You charged me double on my latest bill, plus an $18 late fee.”

“A moment, please, while I look up your account… yes, I see. Would you like to pay that balance now?”

“I already did.”

“Not according to our records.”

“Well, my bank records show that my check for March was cashed and cleared…”

You’ve probably lived through this plotline yourself, so I’ll just skip to the ending:

“I’ve gone ahead and waived March’s. Are there any other questions?”

“What about the late-fee?”

“I can waive that too.”

“So what’s the new total for April?”

“Same as before.”

“But you just said—”

“You pay the whole total on your statement now, then we credit you in May.”

“But that’s ridiculous.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Then I want those credits in writing. As proof. You can send it to my email.”

“No I can’t.”

“How come?”

“Because we aren’t connected to the Internet.”

“But you’re my Internet provi—”

“Listen, I’m not gonna sit here and explain our whole system for you.”

“What system?” I asked.

“The way we do things,” she said.

“I have an idea,” I said. “I think it might be a good one. Is there anyone there I can talk to other than you?”

“Not about this.”

“Can I talk about vintage automobiles? Like the hardtop ’56 T-Bird coupe? It’s always pictured in Fiesta Red paint, but I prefer the Sunset Coral.”

“Yes,” she said. “You can talk about that. A supervisor will call you. I just need to get your call-back number.”

I couldn’t believe it. What’s my number?! She works for the telephone company. It was there on the statement we’d been talking about, the same one she’d asked me to verify, so I just hung up. Wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s the whole damn banana daiquiri again, minus the trip to Jamaica and courtyard café. It’s why we have Beckett in the universe.

And it’s why sometimes I’d rather just stop and try to write myself because if the real world can’t do better than this, then at least I can make up a new one. That’s the reason for stories, I think. Or at least it’s one of the reasons. Suddenly, in the middle of nonsense or blah, a story flies over and lands nearby, and now there’s this interesting stranger. Maybe she’s blue. Maybe he’s Fiesta Red. And your only job is to notice. To wait, and listen, and see what happens next.

Why We Have Blue Jays

Before there were blue jays,
the morning was lonely, each new day

like an empty room next door:
no sky’s eyes, no laughter-squawks,

no head-tilts
in curious directions.

If the morning wanted more attitude,
good luck; no sign of it anywhere.

Dogs mouthing sticks
like they always did.

And doves taking gray
from the ground

to branch
to ground again.

But then blue in a meadow
where there wasn’t blue

moments ago—
Now where did that come from?

What is this story
with its noise, quick hop, electric wings?



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new book Facts and Figures is available from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle. Previous books include The Book of Sharks and 88 Maps. His first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is forthcoming from Stormbird Press.
Read Rob Carney’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by Terrain.org and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to an interview on Montana Public Radio about The Book of Sharks.

Header ArtTower, courtesy Pixabay.



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