short story

My Wife Marries a Parrot

The love of your life has returned. There is a parrot on her shoulder.

She circles you twice. Her eyes are closed.

It seems futile to ask the parrot questions.

“That’s my scarf,” you tell your wife. “You’re my wife.”

The parrot sits on your wife’s face.

“Can I have my scarf back,” you say.

The woman looks at you now. There are bars in front of her face.

“That’s a fine parrot,” she says. “I’ll take him.”

Potluck

Chris was the only one who brought something to share at the potluck. Caesar salad, enough to go ‘round twice. I looked to see how the others would react.

There was silence, then Katie laughed and walked to the sink, where she started washing a handful of berries. Lori smiled softly at Chris, but lowered her head and walked past him. She had an apple.

I was angry, but I didn’t want to be first—I liked Chris, but I had only been there a month.

Denise was the one who went in the end. She was manager after all. I wondered how many times this had happened before. Poor Chris—he must have thought it was a clever plan.

Denise tasted one leaf and said, “Quite fresh.”

Chris should have taken the compliment. He should have smiled. Instead he took his salad and left the room.

“He has no manners,” a woman who I recognized as a fourth-floorer said.

Katie looked at the woman, then at the bagel she held in her hands. The woman noticed Katie staring and two red blotches appeared on her cheeks.

“We had—I went to buy—but—”

“Here,” said Katie, offering the woman a single berry.

The woman froze, horrified. Katie pulled her hand back and popped the berry into her mouth.

“You couldn’t have thought I was serious.”

The woman laughed. It was a harsh sound, much too loud for the room.

“A bagel is still better than salad,” someone said—I did not see who.

“And it’s not like you brought it to share.”

Everyone laughed. I excused myself.

***

Lori stood in the hall. She smiled when she saw me.

“Banana. Good choice.”

“Only fruit I could afford.”

I liked Lori. I could be honest with her.

“If only Chris was as smart as you,” she said. “Quantity? I’m disappointed, really.”

“I’ve never heard of sharing at a potluck,” I added.

“Oh that’s more common than you’d think. They do it all the time on ground floors. That way they get to try a little bit of everything.”

“We’re sixth-floorers.”

“Bananas and berries. I’m scared to see what they’ve got on the tenth floor.”

We both smiled at that.

***

The door to the room opened, but we did not hear laughter. We did not hear conversation. There was only the faint sound of water, as each person washed their fruits, to be displayed and envied, then finally eaten, with great dread.

Billboard

A seagull appeared in a field. Its head bobbed through the green as it walked. It stared for a moment at the people, then became uninterested.

When it finally flew it was majestic, wings sweeping the air in broad strokes.

The people smiled their radiant smiles. One man’s cheek was peeling. There were lumps on another’s neck. Something black rested on a woman’s unblinking eye.

They would continue to stare at the highway, which had long been overgrown by weeds.

The seagull would not return.

Rainy Companion

There were no cars in the parking lot.

A man stood in the bus shelter, out of the rain, which had begun to pour. He faced the highway with his phone in his hand. His hat was damp on his head.

Something landed on the back of a truck. The truck drove onward, indifferent to the added weight. The man watched the truck leave, but the creature was still there.

It was thin and black. A set of translucent wings folded against its back. The man blinked. The bug was on the glass.

It was hiding from the rain just as he was. The man smiled and reached for the bug with a finger. The bug climbed higher. It did not seem to be able to use its wings.

The man was not smiling now. He reached again and picked up the bug. He pinched its wings between his thumb and index finger, paused for a moment to watch its legs kick, then bent down to a puddle.

The tips of his fingers that had touched the water in the puddle were red and sore. The man took off his hat. He did not have any hair. There were red marks around his skull where the rim of his hat touched skin.

He stepped over the puddle and exited the shelter.

The rain had stopped.

Dirty Nails

A woman enters the restroom of a busy café. Eight minutes later a man steps out.

“Out of toilet paper,” he says to a girl.

She nods and turns to the other door.

The man orders an iced latte and pays in cash. The barista takes his money without touching his hands.

“Dirty nails,” he says to his co-worker once the man has left.

Five minutes later another customer uses the restroom.

Five minutes until the scream.

 

The Pigeon

He took the microfiber cloth to his glasses, rotating his thumb against the lens methodically. There was a slight smudge where his finger had brushed the lens. If he could get that smudge out, he thought, if he could clean the lens, he could clear his mind. He pressed down harder, with surgeon-like precision, determined the excretion was imperative.

The glasses fell to the table, clanging against the desk lamp.

Jon brought two heavy hands up to his face. What was the point?

His words were devoured by an acidic sourness rising within him, a sourness that numbed rather than stung. A few surviving syllables crumbled away into whispers, never quite reaching his lips.

He stared blearily at the contents of his writing desk. At the BIC pen with its chewed blue cap, the USB drive he had copped a few years ago at some college fair, at an empty picture frame he keeps telling himself he would fill in, and his trusty old notebook.

It was torn in all the right places, scrap paper sticking out of every corner, the faded ink on the front cover reading JOURNAL. A writer’s notebook wasn’t just a bundle of pages stamped with all your brightest ideas, it was the writer in book form.

He stared up at the corkboard, rejection slips pinned in a crude display, “Thanks for submitting to us Jon, but this isn’t what we’re looking for.” Letters of the same grating nature laughed mockingly from his email, “We received more submissions than we had been expecting, if you weren’t selected please try again next year.”

What was the point of it all?

A bird cooed outside. Jon wanted to hurl himself against a concrete wall, crack his useless skull, mash his brains onto the keyboard. HERE YOU GO HERE YOU FUCKIN’ GO THIS IS ALL I’VE GOT. He wanted to plunge the BIC pen between his ribs and pop his balloon lungs. He wanted to find that cooing bird and pry its beak far enough for the breakfast worms to come squiggling out.

His hands went to his face again, faster this time, fueled by shame.

A flutter of wings woke his curiosity. It was the Cooing Bird. It must be. It heard my thoughts and flew here. I don’t know why. Probably to shit on all my stuff.

It was a pigeon. Fat and grey and disgusting. It peered at Jon with an infectious eye that rested within a ring of crust, clinging to the sill with scabby claws. Jon imagined shooting the pigeon with a hunting rifle. He imagined it bursting in an explosion of green pus.

Jon stared at the pigeon. The pigeon stared back.

Two minutes passed. Four. Six.

Six whole minutes and neither made a move.

The couple upstairs were arguing about whether or not they should order a set of pots online. “Em we don’t even need pots!” “But honey they’re ON SALE!”

“You’re a messenger,” Jon spoke at last, “you are aren’t you?”

The pigeon remained motionless.

“Stop looking at me like that. If you have something to say go ahead and say it. Stop staring.”

Nothing.

“Help me out here. I…I don’t know what to do.”

The pigeon shit.

Jon examined the pigeon with what he felt to be a scientific eye, but if the little girl playing hopscotch on the street had happened to look up into that second story window she would have gone home that night and told her mother about the crazy writer who lived upstairs. “Cariño,” her mother would have said, “you stay away from that man, sí?”

Jon lunged at the pigeon.

Weighed down by years of city crumbs, the pigeon struggled to lift its wings. They were crutches for a four hundred pound man, takeoff was unsuccessful. Horrified to find itself encased behind the bars of Breadman’s arms, it began to shit everywhere.

With much effort, Jon hauled the flailing pigeon to his writing desk. YOU NEVER SHOULD HAVE COME HERE, he roared in his mind, THIS IS THE LION’S DEN. With one hand still wrenching back its wings, he reached for his BIC pen. LET’S HEAR THOSE BALLOONS POP!

The couple upstairs had finally settled on buying the pots—they were, after all, ON SALE.

With a final stroke of determination, the pigeon broke free from Jon’s grasp. It knocked over the desk lamp, spilled a cup of stale coffee, and hurtled out the open window. New Yorkers, it thought, they were all crazy.

Jon sat in stunned silence.

I tried to stab a pigeon with a ballpoint pen

He looked down at his notebook, which was covered in feathers and drying bird crap, and began to laugh. He laughed so hard he started to wheeze, tears streaming down his blotched face.

It was him in book form alright.

Upstairs, Em and her husband discovered the pot set they wanted was sold out.

Alright. All-fucking-right.