by Silke Stein
The seagull standing on the asphalt shingles had to have no temperature receptors in her flatfeet. The mid-July sun singed the rooftops; or so it seemed to me trying to cool down at the living room window of our fourth floor apartment, right under the thin cover of wood and tar paper.
Yet, Erica Martin, part of the feathered neighbourhood menace, (christened by Glenn in a feminized twist of the local mental health facility’s name) now hopped onto the chimney vent’s round metal cap in defiance of the heat, her beak wide open while she baked.
When had seagulls start to abhor trees and rocks as resting places? In our area, they perched on utility poles and streetlights, on high-rises, and tower cranes. We never spotted them in the branches of the tall redwoods and pines in the small nearby park. Erica was ever-present on the chimneys and roofs we saw from our windows. I peered at her, wondering when she would catch fire and be transformed into a roast, with some of her white dress still sticking to her ankles like paper frill booties.
Yet, she was unimpressed by my musings, and presently lowered herself onto the stainless steel to incinerate her underside. You wouldn’t expect any sane, self-respecting seagull to act this way; a bird capable of soaring in the winds blowing over from the snow-covered Olympic Mountains; a bird whose feet could paddle in the bone-chilling waves of the Pacific for hours on end. Maybe Erica was a recent mutation? The puzzling fusion of Mr. Freeze and a thermophile.
Piercing screams from the building to the right reminded me that iceberg-white Erica was only the tip of the problem. Her partner and her maturing offspring were just as unbearable, not to mention her friends and relatives who frequently stopped by. Bird activity had been slow over the winter months (we had moved in at Christmas), but with the advent of mating season, the seagulls started to go wild.
“It hasn’t been this awful in all the seventeen years I’ve lived here,” one of our elderly neighbours told me in the elevator.
“Worst ever,” Mick mumbled while counting our rent money for May. “Don’t know the other managers,” he added, squashing hopes for a bold concerted action on the part of the landlords.
Glenn and I had glorious visions of majestic owls swooping down, clawing into Erica’s bulk and taking her away to the rainforest to feast on her carcass, bones and feathers dropping in slow motion to the pine-needle-covered ground.
We thought of starting a facebook page advocating a general cull. Dreamed about hiring a falconer. And best of all, enacted Glenn climbing Erica’s favourite building, grabbing her by the hot legs, and smashing her against the brick chimney until she disintegrated while I cheered him on in our window, waving seagull-down pompoms.
Meanwhile in reality, Erica and company decided 4:30 am was as good a time as any to hold tap-dance lessons above our bedroom.
As the summer moved on, we watched the white patches around the vent pipes grow in size and thickness, and marvelled at the birds’ undesirable ability to enjoy life in such close proximity to their own refuse. But at least, they had the decency not to eat there.
Of course, Erica’s choice of dwelling places, personal hygiene and even her clamorous waddling would not have caused us any trepidation had she not been accustomed to performing chores and pleasures alike with an ear-piercing play-by-play.
All our human neighbours had turned out to be princes. Nobody threw parties. Rock and rap were never heard, telephone calls conducted in secretive voices barely above a hush. Guests came and went silently, and whispered during their brief visits.
But Erica screamed. Glenn called her demonic and contemplated an exorcism; Erica continued to scream. She knew nothing of sound modulation. She screamed at her child, her partner, at the clouds, at the floatplanes; she screamed at nobody in particular, at life itself. And all her fellow seagulls did likewise.
We often wondered about the reasons for their hysterics. I suspected pain caused by second degree burns and blistered feet. Or was it the burden of child rearing? Anybody aware of Erica’s needy offspring (begotten and incubated on the neighbouring roof) would understand that being responsible for baby gulls could drive the most level-headed person to the brink. Eventually, Glenn suggested their verbal hyper-activity was owed to the fact that they all look alike.
“They fly around announcing who they are,” he said to me in bed, at five o’clock, on a late-August Sunday morning, when we were once more compelled to hearken to Erica’s dawn song. “They’re perpetually yelling in frustration.”
“I can relate to that,” I muttered, pressing my pillow over my ears.
“I’m Erica! Remember, I’m Erica,” Glenn whisper-hollered at me.
“How could I forget you?” I slapped him with the pillow.
Another gull joined. “Fred’s the name, folks. Fred’s here!” Glenn’s laughter sounded as crazy as the gulls’. “Look at me everybody. Sally’s back!”
A few more strikes onto his head released fluff from the feather pillow and more shrieks from him. “It’s me, Glenn. Remember?”
I hurled the pillow against the footboard of our bed. “Do you think that’s their problem? Missing face recognition? An intrinsic identity crisis?”
Glenn shrugged, but he had a point. It was not an unlikely scenario. How could we even be sure that Erica was Erica? For once we almost felt sorry for them — until the next screamer flew by our bedroom window, approximately thirty seconds later, landed above us on the roof and began to stomp.
One thing was certain: they all sounded the same.