Zeroscape by Joanna Ruocco

This morning I saw a woodpecker the size of a turkey. At first, I heard it. I thought the road crew was removing the street again, but the noise was the woodpecker. It was pecking through the building. From my window, I could see the top of its red crest and long beak. It was pecking its way into the apartment directly below my apartment. Whenever it drew back its head I saw the white fullness of its breast, its full like a turkey breast breast, and then the black beak drove forward through the bricks. The woman who lives in the apartment directly below my apartment gets special treatment from the landlord, because she is the oldest tenant, both in age and in years of tenancy. She has a screen door on her apartment and a locker in the laundry room. I have long grudged her the special treatment. Even so, I became concerned for the woman when I saw the woodpecker disappear into her apartment. If the woman happened to be standing upright, offering a vertical plane to the woodpecker, he might perch on her hip and drive his beak through her heart. I waited at the window peering down. The woodpecker had disappeared. I didn’t see the woodpecker. I saw a few bricks from the hole he pecked in the building lying in the beds of red gravel the landlord built as an edging. I like these red beds, beds that I call Martian beds. They are a fine example of low maintenance landscaping, requiring no inputs from the landlord, except that sometimes he drives up in a truck and hoses the gravel. The gravel contains a lot of mica and sparkles. I stood a little longer at the window and I listened but the woman wasn’t screaming. There’s a joke about a woodpecker and an ash tree. I tried to remember the joke, which seemed related to the situation because of the woodpecker. Of course, the woman wasn’t anything like an ash tree. Even standing upright, she wasn’t straight or tall or strong. The woodpecker couldn’t have enjoyed the woman, pecking at the woman, in the same way the woodpecker in the joke enjoyed pecking at the ash tree. The woman must have been drier than an ash tree. I wouldn’t want to peck her. There are ash trees in the neighborhood, by the creek, and why would a woodpecker prefer this woman to an ash tree? She is a dry, puny, smug kind of person, with her locker and her screen door and her welcome mat outside the door and the table just inside the door topped with the in-process jigsaw puzzle I have to look at through the screen door every time I go down the stairs, stairs I call motel stairs because they are metal stairs affixed to the outside of the building. I waited just a little bit longer, but the woman wasn’t screaming. Everything was quiet. From my window, I couldn’t see any sign of the road crew in the intersection or the woodpecker emerging from the hole in the wall. The woman was down there, in her apartment, alone with the woodpecker, not screaming. The landlord is strict about noise, but the woman can’t pretend she doesn’t have privileges. She could have screamed if she wanted. Even without a woodpecker’s beak in her heart, she could scream and scream and scream and keep me from sleeping anytime she wanted. The landlord wouldn’t stop her. He would let her break windows and tear up the carpet and demolish the walls. She is the queen of building, not the queen, the dowager empress, the pope. Supreme being. She has been given free rein. She can scream. Why not? But she never screams, no matter what happens. She is too dried out, or she prefers this silent torture, me standing at my window or at her door, holding my breath, waiting, hearing only the blood in my ears. A tree has more sap than this woman. A tree makes more noise than this woman. A tree, dropping leaves on the sidewalk, makes more trash. She never takes a bag to the dumpster. I know her locker in the laundry room is empty. It’s not for storage. It’s a portal. It’s where things disappear. If I were bigger and stronger, if I were beaked and had a neck that drove my head like a piston, I could put a hole in her locker and the pressure would change, sucking the world through the hole.
Joanna Ruocco co-edits Birkensnake, a fiction journal, with Brian Conn. She is the author of The Mothering Coven (Ellipsis Press), Man’s Companions (Tarpaulin Sky Press), A Compendium of Domestic Incidents (Noemi Press), and Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith: A Diptych (FC2). Her most recent book, Dan, was just released by Dorothy, a Publishing Project