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Gloves Off: Round XI
The pigeon should break our hearts
In today’s deep dive, we’ll take a look at Martha by Chris Alan Jones.
To read it as originally published, please click here.
To most of civilized society death is tragic, life changing, heartbreaking, it leaves a hole the shape of the dearly departed in the lives of those left behind.
Not to Barry. To him death was business. It was an missed episode of a show, an interrupted meal, a lousy night’s sleep. Death was many things but it was not sad.
My comments: Rethink stating the obvious with the first paragraph. If you just began with “To Barry death was an interrupted pizza,” you might hook readers more effectively. Better yet, can you do the same but with a more interesting verb than a form of “was”? For example, “Barry dropped everything for death. Pizza. Fucking. You name it, Barry set it aside.”
There is always a better verb than some form of “is” or “has.” And be careful of things done in a series, especially a series of three — a show, a meal, sleep — because this flattens the energy. A series of two — meals, sex — will leave readers expecting the third because too many people use series of three. Leave the reader hanging, and create tension with a series of two.
Better, better yet, “Barry had almost pounded one out when the phone rang.” This, I’ll explain in later comments.
The thunder snow slammed against the window like someone owed it money and the wind whistled through the faults in the wooden window frame loud enough to wake him up just before his alarm went off. Interesting and dilapidated architectural features were one of the perks of living in a building two days older than God. Fishman Mortuary had been in business for about a hundred years and the building had been around.longer than that. Local legend is that it’s the only building that survived a big Civil War battle and where dead bodies were kept until they could all get buried once the war officially ended.
Regardless of the veracity of the story, after that version of reality spread no one wanted to live or raise children there so the Fishman family bought the house for a dollar and turned it into a funeral home. The only people who have lived there since are people like Barry who’s job it is to go pick up the mortal remains of the souls who finally escaped Sorrah, Missouri.
My comments: Careful about introducing back story this early. Unpack “interesting and dilapidated architectural features” because here’s a chance to develop your authority. For instance, “carpenter gothic bargeboards and paired Italianate brackets were…” If you’re going into description this early I’d suggest overdoing it a mite, just to create authority and mood. Bury us in esoteric architectural lingo, and tie that knowledge to Barry. “Barry had repointed ever clinker brick in every chimney stack…” Otherwise, describe the scene only as Barry moves through it.
But only if architecture is Barry’s body of knowledge. If not, be very careful of the “architecture and dialog” trap. A lavish setting does not make a story good. Neither does clever talk. Only good verbs and escalating action make a story work.
“Merry Christmas to me,” Barry said to no one, “I really hope no one dies today. I really do not do not do NOT want to drive in this.” At least if he had a cat the frequency of talking to himself out loud would be less weird. This was what he told himself. Usually out loud.
This was supposed to be a temporary gig. Just a few months as a favor to a friend before starting grad school. Barry wanted to be an ornithologist and work at a zoo or something. Not pick up the dead relatives of his high school friends. Twelve years and no stable relationship later he was still at Fishman. His dream of being an ornithologist teetering on the edge of extinction like the Carolina Parakeet which was probably extinct by now. It had been a while since he kept up with the journals that covered such matters.
My comments: Okay, what’s your first set-up? The alarm clock. Consider just looking out the window and saying, “Merry Christmas.” Keep the snow present. Ring the alarm. You already show him talking to himself, so you don’t need to explain or address it. And again, stay with action, don’t sidetrack us with lost dreams this early. Or setting. Or explanation. Just show us a character in compelling action. Don’t steal your own thunder. Barry looks at his phone, sees a text. Grabs his keys. Motion.
Since we don’t know why he’s leaving or where he’s going on this grim day, we’ll tag along. Just put him in action. More points awarded if he can grab some compelling objects as he exits: Whatever is needed to collect a dead body — but DO NOT tell us he’s off to do so. We’ll already suspect as much. Tension. “He grabbed a white body bag and a toe tag.” Objects.
Since it was Christmas Day he decided to treat himself and had the foresight to order an extra pizza yesterday since his usual diner haunts would be closed. He often forgot that other people had families they liked and places to be besides diners or Waffle House. Cold pizza would be a fine Christmas dinner. Again.
The phone hadn’t rang all morning and he crossed his fingers and toes and eyes that it remained that way.
My comments: Careful. Using “thought verbs” such as decided and forethought and hoped don’t gain you tension. They’re just explaining, thus flattening tension.
He hoped whoever had bought office with such a klaxon ringer was suffering from an undiagnosable rash somewhere. The sound was awful and could not be ignored even when he tried. “They’re dead so they can’t be in a rush” he learned was not an acceptable excuse for ignoring the phone. He made that choice once. He did not make it again.
Barry balanced half of a pizza on a paper plate and carefully walked down the stairs to the break room to see if anything good was on. Why anyone would build a staircase so steep without a handrail was a topic he thought about frequently and never arrived at an answer that suited his curiosity.
My comments: Beware the character alone. Beware thought verbs. Beware pejorative language, instead make the phone ring in such a way that the reader decides it’s a klaxon, okay?
He hoped all the crappy holiday movies would be over and there was some daytime show where neighbors were suing each other over dog shit or someone was declaring a long held crush on their cousin, hell, even a rerun of some cop show would do. He found a cop show and settled in. The episode had just started so he knew he had about 20 minutes, give or take, before a commercial so he did a quick check to make sure he had everything he needed to be comfortable for the next 42 minutes of quality programming.
Three bites into his first slice and before he found out who the bad guy was the phone rang at the same volume as the mating call of the White Bellbird of the Amazon jungle.
My comments: Good, great, the phone rings. We’re moving. Now, consider that a ringing phone creates massive tension. The longer you can allow it to ring, the more ticked off the reader will feel. Use the bites of pizza as a counterpoint to the number of rings. Allow the ringing to stop with an apparent hang up. Or raise the volume of the television louder until it drowns out the ringing. Only with the third or so phone call will Barry pick up.
Again, this is about demonstrating reluctance. Avoid stating that reluctance up front.
The pigeon stuff is so good, why not put a passenger pigeon documentary on television? You needn’t give the pigeon’s name, not yet. Just introduce the topic. This would allow you to depict the skies black with the vast flocks of passenger pigeons that once filled the skies. Backstory via the television.
Note: If Barry was mid-sexy times when the phone rang, that would be much more interesting than pizza. It would also give you a “feed” in the form of a hot sex partner who could say leading things like, “How can you live here after all those dead soldiers?” and, “Criminy, could these stairs be any steeper?”
Also note: If you make the steps steep — no handrail! — you’ll need someone to fall down them. Steep steps = a promise to the reader.
Barry answered the call with a pleasant customer service tone masking his annoyance at the interruption and was surprised to hear his boss’ voice on the other end.
My comments: So much better if he were two strokes from his happy ending when he had to grab the phone and be a professional. Distracted by pigeon documentary. Or, the sex partner can be the ornithologist and introduce pigeon information.
Anything to avoid the dreaded character alone.
“You making sure I’m awake?” Barry asked hoping that this was just a social call and not for some weird favor.
“Yeah, I know you’re watching TV or some shit in the break room,” Rick replied and continued “Merry Christmas. Diane says hi. Alright look, Mrs. Clifton, Bobby’s mother, ain’t got much longer so I need you to go to Shady Pines and hang out. Take the hearse so it’s classy. Last thing we want to do is show up with a windowless white van parked where residents can see it. Hell, you do that and you may be bringing back more than one. Take the hearse and park around back. Got it? Ok, I gotta go.”
My comments: Pare Rick’s speech down to something terse and enticing like “Shady pines, got it? Classy, you got it?” Then, “Diane says merry Christmas.”
These are people who’ve done this numerous times. Allow us to hear their shorthand.
“Umm, ok, Merry Christmas to you and Diane,” Barry replied to the dial tone.
My comments: Careful. No tennis-match dialog. Do anything BUT answer a question or repeat information. Say a non sequitur such as, “If you’d like to make a call please hang up and dial again…” Or better, have Rick hang up without Barry’s response. Give Rick the last word, and Barry becomes our likeable underdog. Then, put Barry into action.
Note: If he’s got a sex partner, that person won’t be thrilled to be left alone on Christmas in a — don’t tell us it’s a funeral home, not yet, demonstrate that — place of dead people. Create tension by showing the person’s fear.
Well shit, there goes the rest of my day. I knew I should’ve gone to grad school he told himself again as he climbed the unreasonably steep stairs to his apartment to put on a shirt and tie. Picking up dead bodies in jeans and a hoodie makes is more of a journeyman organ harvester than mortuary associate look. This was another mistake he only made once.
Barry pulled in to the Shady Pines parking lot and parked around back. “I guess I have time for one quick one” he said to an orderly smoking a cigarette so fast there was a high pitched whistle every time she took a drag.
My comments: I liked the whistle. Trouble is, you’ve got to show the orderly for a beat before you can talk to her. Picture comics: you’re always shown each item or person before it or they come into play.
Now… if you brought along the sex partner, she could be the foil here.
You might also land us in the nursing home with a Christmas tree. Show us Christmas instead of stating it in dialog. The dying woman can have unopened gifts near her. The symbol of unfulfilled promise. Unexpressed love.
“Uh huh, yeah, probably,” she said sounding like black-and-gold Cotinga or a high school kid caught smoking in the bathroom before throwing it on the ground and stomping it out with her sensible shoes.
“Whatever,” he said to her back as the automatic door slowly closed behind her.
Three drags later he dropped his own cigarette on the ground, stomped it out, and headed inside to look for Mrs. Clifton’s room. He got about ten feet from the desk before a much more chipper orderly greeted him, “hello sir, welcome to Shady Pines. Who can I direct you to today?”
“Hi, um, I’m looking for Mrs. Clifton’s room,” he answered in an apologetic whisper.
“Ok, and are you family?”she continued.
My comments: Careful, the orderly needs to be wearing a striped coat or dress so we realize she’s the same person as the chipper orderly. And if Barry’s still carrying the slice of pizza, that would keep him busy and give him hands and a full mouth.
If you really want to show urgency and on-the-body sensation, he’s still wearing the condom. It was his last one. It’s Christmas so he can’t buy another. He still wants to finish sex. And he needs to urinate. I see the noir viewpoint you’re taking, don’t let me undermine your tone. But if need be, the condom can tumble out one pantleg.
Plotspoiler: Your upcoming bird stuff is marvelous. It resonates with the dove released at the end of the Blader Runner film and the pigeon in Remains of the Day. Good cultural precedent. But we need the story of Martha salted in much earlier. You might introduce it with the sex partner/foil in conversation. Or, launch it with a documentary on television, that program can also appear on televisions at the nursing home.
“No, I’m from Fishman, the family asked us to come now because…” Barry trailed off hoping the candy striper would interject or pick up what he was saying. Her blank look told him she did not.
My comments: Good, but just allow Barry to trail off. The reader will understand his decorum, so you don’t need to explain.
“They’re friends with the Fishman’s and asked someone - me - well, me since I’m the one working today. Merry Christmas by the way. I’m just looking for the room she’s in. Sorry. It’s been a day,” he said in one breath feeling beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck.
My comments: Be very careful with your point of view here. We’re in Barry’s perspective so we can’t jump into the candy striper’s POV. She can look shocked, or flinch or wince, but we can’t dip into her head.
“Ah, yes, of course,” the candy striper said shocked at the word vomit from Barry, “she’s right down the hall. Second to last room on the left.”
“Thanks,” Barry said and turned to head to the second to the last room on the left.
My comments: And no tennis-match dialog. Imagine the tension you’d create if she simply pointed down the hallway and said, “Not everyone’s a Christian, asshole.”
And allow the surly candy striper to have the last word.
Barry passed ten rooms on the way to his destination. Each room spilled a unique stench into the hall. Bleach, urine, ammonia (which had likely started as a urine stench earlier in the day), poop, and a turkey meal that someone’s family had brought in. The noises coming from each TV were similarly diverse. Sports, news, a movie he couldn’t quite place, and a different episode of the cop show he started watching a couple hours ago.
My comments: Now this is a nice place to pay off your television. If Barry is in fact interrupted while watching television — during sex — he could see the same program within a room and be sucked in for a moment. The goal in Minimalism is to keep your elements present. The birds, the pizza, the television, the snow, once it comes into the story it must stick around in some form.
A man in a tweed sports coat with leather patches on the elbow, the type of jacket Barry thought he would wear someday as a distinguished professor of ornithology, walked towards him and stopped. “Are you here from Fishman?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m Barry. Rick called and asked me to come out today” Barry said.
My comments: Careful, don’t reiterate what the reader already knows. Create tension by responding with a non sequitur or a gesture. Such as shushing the tweed-coat guy as Barry watches the television.
“Oh, good, thank you. Mother has been hanging on but I don’t think she’s got much longer. We’ve all said our goodbyes and want her to be at peace and at rest, you know what I mean? Oh goodness, of course you do, I’m sure you see this all the time. Thank you, young man. I’m going to go to the rest room. You can go in the room if you like and please let me know if she wakes up again. She’s been kind of in and out of it today. You know? Ok, I’ll be right back.” Bobby said in one breath.
Maybe it was the craziness of everyone’s day but Barry noticed that Bobby wasn’t the first person to talk like a brown thrasher today. A deep breath to start and then keep talking until the breath ran out.
My comments: Careful, when did Bobby get a name? Way back, and in dialog — the reader will backtrack to confirm that (I did), and you don’t want that. So consider just keeping him as “the tweed guy” because names are abstract and don’t readily denote characters. The “candy striper” will be recalled much more easily than “Bobby.”
And if the tweed guy just said, “Thank God you’re here, young man. I’ve got to piss like a race horse,” that would underline Barry’s need to urinate. And the rubber. And the unfinished copulation.
Bobby disappeared down the hall and Barry stepped into the room. The lights were off except for a small lamp on a table in the corner. The TV wasn’t on and he knew better than to turn it on. The only sound in the room was Mrs. Clifton’s labored breathing. The sound of her breathing and his reason for being there reminded him of a story he read in undergrad about the last passenger pigeon, Martha, and how this pigeon was the last of her species and she died at the Cincinnati zoo. The part of the story that stuck with Barry is that there were ornithologists in the room with this bird in the morning, then they went to lunch or something, and when they got back Martha was dead in the bottom of her cage. Imagine being the guy sitting at his desk in the same room as the last one of these pigeons and the pigeon dies so he makes some profound statement probably about pollution or hunting or some shit but the bird is dead. All of this kind of pigeon are dead now and this guy saw the last one die.
My comments: Oh man, I adore this element.
But be clear. Did the pigeon die alone — “they went to lunch” — or did someone see the pigeon die — “this guy saw the last one die”?
I can’t believe you buried the pigeon stuff! The passenger pigeon anecdote is glorious. It’s a diamond! And it needs to begin much earlier, told to a foil (the sex partner) and strung out over time — just as Amy Hempel strings out the talking gorilla story in In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried. And/or shown in bits and pieces over the television.
Seriously, the pigeon stuff is solid gold. In fact, why not snap on the television in Martha’s room and tune in the pigeon documentary?
“Bobby? Bobby?” Mrs. Clifton said weakly shocking Barry back to the present moment.
“Um, he’ll be right back ma’am. Can I do anything for you?” Barry asked.
“Can you get my Bobby? Please?” she said.
“He said he’ll be right back, ma’am,” Barry answered moving out of what he thought was her line of sight. He immediately connected and saw the parallel between Martha and the situation he found himself in now. He was probably the closest he would ever be to an extinction event. Not of a species or anything just this one lady. But it was still something.
My comments: Careful. You’re already showing us the parallel to the pigeon anecdote. You don’t need to overtly state it here. You’re showing it just fine.
“Bobby?” she said again sounding weaker.
Shit. Should I see if I can find Bobby? Does she have some giant death bed confession or something? If Bobby comes back to the room in the next minute or so I’m gonna be in deep shit but if he doesn’t… meh, what’s the worst that can happen, right? Barry thought proud of himself that he didn’t say what he was thinking out loud like he usually did.
“Bobby?” Mrs. Clifton says again followed by a cough and what sounded like an old plunger finally loosing a giant turd from a gas station toilet and then silence.
My comments: Ouch. At “turd” we moved from pathos to bathos. And by mentioning a deathbed confession you make the reader a promise. We’d adore Barry if he later tells the tweed guy, “She said she loved you, and that you are the best son she could ever have…” The noble lie.
“Merry Christmas to me, I guess,” Barry said. Out loud this time.
Barry had just watched the thing he read about. An extinction event. He felt a perverse connection to the ornithologist who saw Martha die. He just witnessed the thing he had built up in his mind to be the end-all-be-all of his dream career and it was way less climactic than he expected.
Barry wasn’t sure what to expect but he didn’t think it was this. Maybe a little more drama and flair but remembered something about beggars and choosers something something.
After taking the length of the commercial break he could hear from the next room he reached for the nurse call button on Mrs. Clifton’s bed. Barry’s thumb hovered over the large red button with PUSH printed in large friendly letters. His thumb pressed the button and an orderly came to the room in response to the call. The orderly saw her laying in the bed and pressed another button, a blue one with a doctor symbol on it. The one with the snake and staff. There were suddenly people rushing in and out of the room so Barry slipped out and made his way to lounge area with a TV to wait for Mrs. Clifton to be made ready for her trip with him.
My comments: All good. Action, progress. Careful about reiterating the obvious, the reader can realize that Barry has just seen an equivalent of Martha’s death.
“Barry?” a voice behind him said. He had been waiting so long he dozed off during one episode and woke up in somewhere in the middle of completely different show.
The voice belonged to Bobby.
“Barry, I have to know. Did she wake up again? Did she say anything? Did she call my name before she went?” Bobby said choking back sobs. Barry felt sorry for him but stuck to the story he came up with in the room.
“No sir. She didn’t say another word. All I heard was a soft sigh and she was gone. So peaceful.” Barry said not breaking character.
My comments: It’s very good that you introduce the voice before you identify it as the tweed guy. But if Barry told some noble lies that brought the tweed guy to wracking sobs — about what a loving son tweed guy was — it would make the reader feel smarter and invested in the story. Just a suggestion. And we’d like Barry.
Then the tweed guy could lift a wrapped gift and tearfully give it to Barry, saying, “It’s a clock.” This demonstrates Christmas and unfulfilled potential. Barry carries the gift back with the body.
“Oh my, thank you. Thank you for being in the room with her. I know she could feel your presence and…” Bobby continued talking for another half an episode worth of stories about his mother and the Fishman’s and several other topics Barry didn’t care about. He mostly tuned out but paid enough attention to know when to respond appropriately with an uh huh, yep, mmhmm, or wow.
Mercifully, an orderly came to the lounge to get Bobby’s signature on some forms to release the body to a third party. She looked at Barry and said it would be about 20 more minutes and turned to leave. He knew this was his only way out of the room and away from the dreadful small talk circle of hell he was trapped in. Not even Dante could have predicted that one.
“Excuse me, ma’am, I have a couple questions about what’s next,” Barry said following her into the hall.
My comments: Careful about using abstract measurements of time.
“Yes, how can I help you?” the orderly said not breaking stride back to her station.
“You already did. I just needed to get out of that conversation,” Barry answered and turned down a hallway that led to the rear entrance where the hearse was parked. “I’ll check in a half hour” he yelled as he passed through the heavy door into the comparatively fresh air. After three hours inside Shady Palms even the dumpster he now stood next to smelled like a casket spray.
He finished his second cigarette and figured it was about 20 minutes later, popped an Altoid to cut the smell on his breath and walked back to the heavy door. Barry walked to the orderly station to get the papers he needed and prayed to whomever might be listening that he wouldn’t run into Bobby again. He noticed another young man wearing a shirt and tie who looked as out of place as he did and offered a chin jut of acknowledgement as he passed but did not look long enough to see if the gesture was returned.
He made it to the orderly station without seeing Bobby again and without any other awkward conversations. Someone up there must have heard his prayer of desperation and saw fit to answer it. Barry waited until the orderly that provide his escape from small talk hell was off the phone before speaking.
“Hi, um, I need the paperwork for Mrs. Clifton. I’m with Fishman Mortuary.” he said.
“Yes. Clifton, Clifton, yep, right here,” she said reading the form again quickly to be sure she was sending me away with the right body. “Yep, Mrs. Martha Clifton. You’re all set.”
My comments: Careful. Instead of filtering through Barry, just state what the other man is doing. That shifts our attention to the man in the way a camera would. And thus removes a thought verb — “notice.”
Barry could give the unopened gift to the man, saying, “Merry Christmas.” A gesture.
“Martha?” Barry asked his eyes wider than they should have been based on the nature of the exchange. His brain was now lit up with too many theories and coincidences to sort out in the 30 seconds he had before his silence would get awkward. “Martha Clifton. Got it.” With his mind still overclocking at the entire situation muscle memory carried him from Shady Pines until the last turn down the alley to the Fishman warehouse where the hearse lived snapped him back to reality.
He unloaded Mrs. Clifton from the hearse and rolled her to “the cooler” if you can call three air conditioners from the 1980’s propped up on 2x4’s and empty oil drums a cooler. Barry flipped the light switch that was wired to the trio of machines and they sputtered and whirred pushing out air that hadn’t been cold since shortly after the Berlin Wall fell.
My comments: Where did the snow go? The snow and icy roads promised us a wreck. Being wrecked in a hearse with a dead lady. Joyce Carol Oates would skid the hearse into a ditch and trap Barry under the bagged dead body, you know Oates would do that.
You might also introduce the fate of the dead pigeon. Taxidermied, right? But it was first frozen in a 300-pound block of ice. We need pigeon minutia. That would echo the purpose of the mortuary. I think that pigeon’s on display.
“Goodbye Martha, and thanks,” Barry said to the white vinyl bag zipped shut on the rack closest to the spot with slightly cooler air. He walked to the side door that opened to the alley took one last look at Martha, lit a cigarette, and closed the door. The steps through the alley back to the mortuary gave him two minutes to pull the string that would unravel his current life and leave tonight or go back to his apartment above a funeral home and continue life as it had been. Safe and dull and full of single serving friends.
My comments: And don’t steal your own thunder by stating what he’s about to do — unravel his life — just show him taking that action. When you state intent you rob the reader of making that realization. You lose tension.
And at this point we find the sex partner crumpled and dead from a fall down the steep stairs. She’s dead in a place of the dead. Her fears are resolved. Barry finds himself with two dead women and discards the rubber/condom.
Another possibility is to pay-off several set-ups: the alarm clock is finally going off. And the phone is ringing. Thus Barry walks into a chaotic scene of noise and death. “The bell tolls for thee” stuff. All the noise continues as he packs, and writes the note. You’ve reached full chaos.
No. He was done. Martha’s timely death was a sign sent by the universe or something that picking up the dead relatives of his high school classmates was not his greater calling in life. Sure it wasn’t joining the Peace Corp but ornithologists contributed to the overall well being of the planet. Right? With his mind made up Barry went to his apartment and packed a couple backpacks and a duffel bag with the important stuff and went back downstairs to the office to leave a note. He considered typing it but wanted to get the note written and get out of the building before this potentially transient surge of bravery passed and he ordered a pizza and settled in in front of the TV like so many nights before.
My comments: Less explaining. More packing. More touching the cold body of his girlfriend.
No. He had to do this now or it would never happen. Barry dug through one one of the backpacks
until he found something to write his farewell note. He found a piece of Fishman Mortuary letterhead and wrote the note exactly as he had rehearsed in his head since he learned that Mrs. Clifton’s name was Martha.
My comments: As we come to the end of a story the action should carry everything. It’s too late to introduce anything new. All the objects and events should be jelling in the reader’s mind at this point, okay?
I took what I needed and left the rest of my stuff for the next guy. I read this story in school when I was a kid about passenger pigeons going extinct and the messed up thing I remember from it is how the guy said something like “I never thought I’d be present for a extinction event.” After I started here I thought about that. I always go in after the event and clean up what’s left. Kind of like that guy and the pigeon. I don’t think I’d be a good doctor. I can’t deal with blood. Not living person blood. If they’re already dead it’s different. It’s a mess not life and death. It’s not like anything I did made them dead so I’m good. I can clean up a mess if I didn’t make it.
Mrs. Clifton is in the cooler in the warehouse.
My comments: Ending on a line of dialog is okay — called a “black-out” line. But ending on a gesture is always stronger. You’ve never paid off Christmas. Can you revisit Christmas in a closing gesture? Can you revisit the pizza? Of all the objects introduced, what can be brought to the fore in this last moment?
The pigeon parallel is marvelous. It’s so loaded with sadness as a metaphor. Please take a look at the Hempel story, In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, and see how she salts in the parallel story of the gorilla. She actually ends with the gorilla using sign language (gesture/action) to beg her dead baby for a hug. Thus it ends with a gesture fraught with meaning.
With that in mind you might consider the gesture of feeding a pizza crust to birds in the snow. Something, some action that fuses the pigeon, the objects and the occasion of Christmas. And something that shows Barry expanding beyond himself and his own needs.