Miami Birds by Terese Svoboda


I’m not Spanish but they are, the couple giving me the tour. It’s their Miami, bright in the condos and brighter in its slums, with tin roofs that shouldn’t be seen so close to such fancy beaches. Palms don’t grow in the part of town we cruise, or else there’s a lot more care to them than they look. The man who's driving has just turned lawyer from journalist at a tough age vs. a tender one—fifty—so he can advocate for rather than report on what goes on under these palm-free properties. Maybe it’s not his country but it’s his people, he says.

He’s Spanish Spanish.

We slow to watch a kid stop spinning something on a string―a large roach.

They use a special knot so they don’t have to touch them when they’re harnessed, a bug noose, the lawyer says.

How do you know? says his wife. She hasn’t given up being a journalist like he has, she likes argument for its own sake, not the law’s, she married him once for love but she won’t say which time. She’s the Cuban.

I know, he says. Only the biggest species fly.

Outside, the cockroach folds its copper self and drops, and the boy pulps it with his foot.

It’s called the Miami bird, it’s a Cuban species, the lawyer says.

She laughs. Everything’s bigger in Cuba. There’s just more life.

The traffic picks up, we turn and new sun against the windshield forces sunglasses on everyone, even the lawyer, who hates them. A boy in blindingly white athletic shoes and raggy-assed shorts stands on the street corner we have to slow by―such traffic.

He stands like he's hungry, says the lawyer, you can almost see his hunger, he’s after sneaker money, he's in the sneaker war. That’s all they want, he says, warming up. They will do anything, and do, to get them. They act as go-betweens. Under statutory law, they don’t serve as long as adults and adults know that. Crazy Miami.

He drums on the steering wheel as if he could make the boy turn around. I have two kids staring at long sentences next week, he says. To get off they only had to show up for a psych evaluation. They took the three dollars carfare we gave them to get there and put the money toward sneakers.

Food, she says. They don’t need it.

Or else they go-between before they get to my office, for bigger money, he says.

There’s a deal on every corner, she says.

She lifts her arm to show me its back. We were go-betweens before, so to speak, she says, if news is a kind of drug. In Columbia.

I study her arm where the skin is confused. That looks bad, I say.

Nothing happened to him, nada, she says. The guy walked away.

Watch that woman over there, the lawyer says.

The woman is balancing a Carmen Miranda hairdo, lots of pouf and pomade, she’s got too many clothes on in this weather of blow and sun, and her feet are hiked up on heels sharp as needles. Piercing the hot blacktop with every step, she’s crossing the street for a big black SUV. She’s out of jail one week, he says as the SUV creeps closer. No—two weeks.

She takes a look at our car, which is hardly worth a look, and she steps past us. She lets the SUV cruise by as if she is ignoring it.

At least she's not using her kids, he says. But what’s she supposed to do? Kids do eat, no matter what you say. You don’t get free take-out for the first three weeks after getting out of jail.

How do you know she has kids? asks his wife.

He leans on the steering wheel, rubs his forehead. Epistemology, he says. That’s what newspapers don’t do—study knowledge.

The car behind us honks and we zoom out of there, swerving around the woman dealing with the cop who has biked up, plainsclothed. A set-up, the lawyer says. A game.

Witnessing, that’s all you can do, says his wife.

I put them in jail now, he says. It might not be progress.

At least journalists go to the scene of the crime, she says.

The whole country is a crime, he says. The USA, where they all flee to, to be happy.  And safe.

We roll down the windows. Humidity replaces the refrigerated cold, malls begin to line the road. There's heat pulsing against brandnames, there's the earnest glitter of cars in rows. In a lull of the ocean wave paused on our left, two police vans scream by. More clients, the lawyer says, taking his hands off the steering wheel, wringing them as if in pleasure.

Any regrets? I ask.

You mean, like it’s always the same? he says. There’s no new news?

You can joke, she says.

I thought I could protect them, he says. I thought I could change things. Is that regret or just naivete?

A kid bikes up to the stoplight, backpedals, showing off his sneakers. Nice shoes, the lawyer says out the window.

The boy flees before the light turns.

A fountain looms its white foam ahead, marking the end of one way to live and another. It’s not like we turn around. Once we get inside their house, she shows me where her torso took the bomb.

It’s almost fruit-like, the way the skin braids up her back, something about to be born. Another country, she says. But not for long.