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.”

Boys on the Train

I saw two boys on the train who were the same person and I was the only one who knew it. One was gross and the other was evil. I had been reading Frank O’hara before boarding—though I did not have my glasses—and by that point my eyes had swam back into my head so I did not get a good look at either. Not that I wanted to. You should never make eye contact with boys on the train.

One was on the upper level, the other I saw as I was getting off. They never saw each other. Somehow, they were connected. Partners in crime. Possibly in another dimension. I also saw a ghost on the train, in the seat across from me. I thought it was my future husband, time travelling. Then he took my brain and I fell asleep. He’d meant to erase my memory of him—a non-human, I mean—but either changed his mind or did a sloppy job.

Never start your day without coffee.

 

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.

The Unexplained

It fell in Egypt first, falling down the sky in chunks of grey ooze, landing on the pyramids with sickening smacks. The foolish tourists who risked their eyesight out of curiosity squinted past the blinding rays of the Middle Eastern sun, what they saw they would later describe as a decomposing sky. They said, to everyone’s disbelief, that the clouds were crumbling off like charred flesh. The substance was collected, tested, and reported as a weather phenomenon. That was the end of that. Two weeks later the same ooze began plunging down onto North American soil, then all around the world. It was clearly no weather phenomena.

This substance, which the world later came to know as The Unexplained, seemed harmless at first. It resided on the surface of whatever object it landed on, stuck like glue from the impact. Children poked at it with thin branches broken off trees, before their mothers cried at them to back away. Local governments advised their citizens to wear Caputis, protective headwear resembling a cowboy or straw hat made of plastic, designed by the United Nations; scientifically proven to shield the wearer’s face from The Unexplained. Citizens were also required to follow a new dress code; no skin can be vulnerable to any form of contact with said substance. The rules arose overnight, no bills had to be passed and certainly no information as to just what The Unexplained can do was released to the public, which sparked a major outrage. Environmentalists swore this was the effects of global warming, screamed, “I told you so!” in everyone’s face. In less than five days, every single person on Earth was alienated from what society had embedded into their brains as the norm. There was a breakdown of culture, beliefs, and order. Panic swarm out onto the streets from the minds and mouths of those with weak hearts. The introduction of The Unexplained had sliced the world into two: a before, and after.

(more…)