"The Pigeons Paid In Dropped Feathers"
Emily Randolph Epstein
Across the street from The Bear and Bee where demi-gods drank and muses mused, and the Fates sat stitching and bitching over steaming cups of breakfast tea, there stood a park where a naiad played for pennies.
Troya set out her case and a plea for tips in front of a clogged fountain that had once been the crown jewel of the park and forced sound from the too-dead strings of her guitar. Most days she sat under the over grown trees, serenading the pigeons and the homeless and the occasional tourist who’d gotten lost and heard the music and came away with minds soothed. She sang songs no one cared to know anymore accept the old gods and their kin who lurked across the street at The Bear and Bee sipping macchiatos and lattes and micro-brewed beer.
But the rent was due today, and she played new songs, the songs she heard playing over the radio when she browsed bargain bins, or filtering through the urbanites’ headphones as they walked passed her down the sidewalk. She played and sang with a desperation she didn’t usually feel. It had been a slow month’s busking; people just hadn’t been in a giving mood it seemed.
So, she played Tops 40s on her pawn shop guitar on brittle strings she couldn’t afford to replace, not until she’d made the rent money and a little extra for a pour-over and a panini at The Bear and Bee.
The pigeons were a poor audience who paid in dropped feathers and coos. The tourists weren’t much better. Most of them didn’t carry cash these days and more often than not they dropped novelty crushed pennies from tourist attractions into her battered, duct-taped, over-stickered guitar case. The homeless, she liked most out of all her audience members. She found that if she smiled to them and gave what she could when she could that they returned the favor when they had an extra dollar or had scored free bread from a bakery’s dumpster. But bread wasn’t going to pay the rent, and neither would squashed pennies and pigeon shit.
The afternoon wore on in a humid haze of cooing birds, polite claps, and selfie-taking tourists, and Troya sweated as the sun rode her sleek black motorcycle past the apex of her daily ride and down towards the horizon. There were a few bills in her case, crumpled ones and fives in amongst the loose change and pocket lint. Still short.
The tourists disappeared as the sun set her wheels down to the ground, pulling up in front of The Bear and Bee with an engine rumble that echoed in Troya’s stomach. The homeless settled in for a warm summer night still dressed in all their layers to keep them from being stolen, and the pigeons found their roosts.
Troya counted her meagre earnings.
“You do okay?” one of the homeless called, a trans girl named Polly.
Troya shrugged. “Looks like it’s noodles and peanut butter for dinner tonight.” She heaved her guitar up, wishing she could afford a lighter case and navigated the dusky undergrowth towards the street.
Light and laughter filtered out of The Bear and Bee. Her stomach growled, catching the sweet honey scent of baklava. Troya paused at the window, staring in towards the demi-gods who drank at Mel’s bar while the bees buzzed around them and the gardens on the wall sprouted thick with night-blooming jasmine.
“Coming in?” Troya jumped as the sun pulled her helmet off and tossed her long black tresses free before balancing the helmet on the seat of her sleek black motorcycle.
“Not tonight.” Troya shook her head and started to walk away.
The heavy thud of thick boots on pavement followed her. “Wait up.”
The naiad turns back to the sun. “Yes?”
“I heard you playing today,” said the sun, unzipping her leather moto jacket. “You’re really good.”
Troya shrugged. “Thanks.” She turned to walk away.
“Come inside,” said the sun. “Let me buy you a meal, as thanks for the entertainment.”
Troya smiled. “I’d like that.” And she let the sun hold the door open as she entered The Bear and Bee, honey and hops and the heavy scent of jasmine filling her nose, another day survived.
Emily Randolph-Epstein is an asexual/biromantic writer, musician, and songwriter whose work can be found on the Miners Creek albums Ulysses on The Highway, Strong Black Coffee, All Stove Up, and New Banks of the Ohio. She splits her time between Maine and Western Australia.