EXITING THE GROCERY STORE, THE WOMAN SEES A MAN LEANING AGAINST A BILLBOARD. UNDER THE INDUSTRIAL DIM HE IS HOLDING A BAG OF CHIPS. TO BE DRAWN TO SOMEONE AND SOUNDLESSLY SO. THE SOUND OF HER BOOTS DRIPPING ACROSS THE PAVEMENT.
Nervous in alligator boots. His hair, brown, tickling his shoulders. She sets her groceries on the
pavement. His white shirt, unbuttoned, revealing his sternum. He asks, Have I met you before.
She says, I was going to ask you that. His eyes pour out. Opening her lips but nothing wafts out,
only the mist of the sea. The air ripples with birdfume: fragrance of a dead seagull. The man is
loaded. He is unlike the evening crowd splurging noiselessly around them, two. Untangled from
the gasp of the smog, their reflection is trapped in the headlight of a passing truck. The man is
reaching his hands inside his pocket, unfolding a piece of paper, thrusting the poster into her
empty hand. She stares at the poster. Michael and the Beaches perform at The Pig on Saturday,
she says reading from it. She says, You’re in a band. He says, Yes. The man runs his finger
through his hairs. He stands like a tractor, and her grass chest is rippling. Will I see you inside
The Pig, he says. Her throat is stuffed with leaves. Like a wedge of an orange, she smiles.
THE MAN AND THE WOMAN WALK DOWN THE STREET. A SQUAWK GROWS LOUD FROM A NEARBY ALLEY— THEY STEP INSIDE. THE MAN’S BREATH WHIRRS, PLUGGING THEIR NOSES, THEY SLOPE OVER THE MASS SPLAYED ON THE SIDEWALK
He says, I want to cover your eyes. They both slump towards the mound of feathers
shaking on the alley curb. A metal smell. The bird’s heart ticks, ticks. He says, This
dying bird looks like it is dying. His hands fiddle at his side. He says, This is terrible to watch.
She says, Am I responsible. Not looking at her, he says, Not really. A square of sunlight on his
gator boot. She is distracted. By her reflection. On the window of a nearby car.
I PICKED THIS UP AT THE PROTEST THE OTHER DAY, THE MAN SAYS TO THE WOMAN AFTER DINNER. HE RETRIEVES A CRUMPLED PAMPHLET PRINTED ON WHITE PAPER OUT FROM HIS JEAN POCKET. CONSEQUENCES OF THE CLIMATE CRIMINALS, IT READS IN RED INK.
Its about the birds, he says reading from it:
Increasing rates of environmental changes in recent years alongside the related pattern of cyclones, hurricanes, have resulted in unprecedented levels of bird death. Therefore, the grief patterns of birds have become a hot topic in contemporary science. Last month, in the tropics, 300 birds were discovered dead. The sudden death of these birds related to a storm in a nearby city—which pushed a cloud of smog into the jungle— suffocating them. Ornithologists spread a net in the tropics, hoping to entrap the survivors. He clears his throat. The woman nods, folding back into her body. Operating under the assumption the remaining birds had lost someone they loved—they caught the surviving birds—flamingos, sparrows, quails—in nets. Then scientists injected the grief-struck birds with long, painful needles. The birds went to sleep. The scientists implanted tracking devices in the bird chests. When the mourning bird arose from their comas, they flew. The tracking devices allowed ornithologists to track their migratory routes. Grieving birds flew— they did not stop. From the Pacific Northwest to the Himalayas to the Artic Circle and back again. So the grief pattern of a bird is relentless flight. This is the only known grief pattern of a bird.
DUST SETTLES ACROSS THE MAN’S CRYSTAL COLLECTION. CAR HEADLIGHTS STICK TO HIS BEDROOM WINDOW, THE LIGHT BRIEFLY SHOCKS THE DARK. AN ORGASM IS AN INSTANCE OF INTENSE PLEASURE, THE SELF FORGETS, IT DOES NOT COLLIDE.
He smells like a shadow, coughed-up. His smell sticks to the walls and she is gasping like a stem of gas and stretching for spaces she cannot lick, a dark hot pith, gripping beyond his bone.
Clutching the span of his clavicle. She inhales, stretching her flower until the side of her lips ache. Resisting her will to open him, to peer inside of someone. She sucks his neck until his flesh sings purple. As cop headlights slither sonorously through his bedroom window, blue lights, red lights slip across their bodies limp, entangled.
Outside, the cop engine cuts. Silence. Clap of the car door closing. The woman’s eyes absorb the Michael Jackson poster above his bedroom door. Nude, gasping, the man and the woman hear the crunch of cop footsteps crossing the sidewalk grass. The man and the woman unfold like stupid accordions across his bed, suddenly sullen, empty.
The woman is opening the front door. Smog blows into the house, rippling the cream sheet she holds as a partition across her naked body. The woman says, Hello, officer. Hunched in the light of the doorway, the cop has bird-blood stains on the collar of his uniform. In the light, the blood glistens black. His body sputters, twitching. Hey, he says, Do I know you. The cop kicks the doormat with his boot. She says, I don’t know. He slaps his thigh, standing sort of aslant inside his own body. He says, Have you seen any quail terrorists around. Do you mind if I take a look inside your house.
He thrusts open every cupboard in the kitchen. Sniffing the kitchen towels. Touching his badge with his fingertips. Peering under her bed. Laughter of the man’s urine, loud, as the cop idles throughout the house, peeking under the couch cushions, peering inside the cold of the bathtub. When the cop leaves, he leaves the front door open. She presses her body down onto the man’s mattress, as the man presses against her, she is struck by the disarming weight of her own petals, suddenly clogged. A humming in her chest.
The man says, Can I read your tarot cards. His hands divvy the cards across the uneven surface of his mattress. The card’s edges gleam of tacked gold. He says, I’ve pulled the 10 of parrot. What does it mean, she says. He says, You could be the reason the birds are dying. She says, I thought it was because of the climate criminals. He says, Well, you are one of them, aren’t you. His dirt-lined fingernail outlines the black barb inserted inside the parrot’s neck. He stares at the card, frowning.