Out for Publication... but here's the beginning of the story...
The alley was dirty, squalid even, except for the last small corner near the end tucked out of the way where one vacant and ruined building abutted another. In that corner, an elderly woman in thread-bare clothes slowly swept away the dust and debris of the night before. Spidery blue veins crawled across her hands and over her wrists then disappeared into the sleeves of a brightly colored blouse that layered a faded brown skirt which fell to her ankles. A once-white apron, long gone to gray and severely frayed at the edges, wrapped around her hips to tie in the back. The slow swish-swish of her broom scratched the cracked concrete and raised miniature clouds of dust that swirled and filled the air around her. The sun rose and stretched a pinkish finger down the center of the alley banishing the shadows back to their corners.
With a gnarled hand, the woman tucked the broom between the sliver of space between the buildings and a cacophony of twitters, cheeps, and chirps filled the air. Two small cages built of sticks and scrap wood cobbled together with pieces of ribbons and rags were stacked in a doorway. She slowly made her way to sit upon the stoop beside them. A bird pulled at one of the ribbons and she poked a crooked finger with a jagged nail into the cage to shoo it away then curled over to peer closer and retie the knot.
The birds in the cage flittered back and forth to hang first on one stick then another. The woman lifted the top cage free and slowly spun it around to examine its occupants then set it to the side and repeated the process with the other. She clucked her tongue and shook her head. The sun had almost made its way to the stoop when the building sliced it into a sharp angle at her feet.
The clink of coins rattled when she dipped her hand into a hidden pocket of her skirt. She held them aloft and pushed the change around. With a sad little sigh, she pocketed the money and reached into a pocket on her apron, turning it sideways to shake the contents into her palm. Small bits of birdseed and breadcrumbs were split between the cages and the soft flurry of wings settled into light scratches of tiny claws on wood.
The woman reached down and rubbed her ankles but stopped when a single small seed rolled from a cage. She licked her index finger and pressed it to the run-away. A bird clinging to the stick nearby snapped the morsel from her, no more than a quick light peck that she could barely feel. With one more heavy sigh, she struggled to her feet, lifted one cage in each hand, and set off down the alleyway.
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