I notice the dead bird on my way back from the grocery store. When I see his body splayed on the pavement, one wing bent snaking away from him, I almost drop my bags. He’s not bloody. His chest feathers are red and there’s a splash of yellow near his beak and he’s barely the size of my palm. I find a napkin buried at the bottom of my tote and scoop him into the grass.
When I walk back up to my apartment, my roommate is asleep on the couch with my blanket that took three months to make neatly on top of her. I shake her awake.
“I need your help—with the groceries, but also with this bird.” Lorena and I found each other in a queer housing Facebook group, where she made a post asking for someone who wouldn’t bring men into her space, and I needed someone to live with my when my girlfriend refused.
I convince her to bury the bird with me. “It’ll be a traditional funeral; we can dress up. I’ll look up some Catholic burial prayers or something. Then you can call your mom and say you went to Church. She’d love that.”
“I don’t know. It seems a little ridiculous.”
“Yeah,” I say, “But that’s what makes it fun. If nothing else, we should get it off the street in case a kid picks it up and gets some sort of bird flu.”
“Are you going to invite Zoey?”
I shake my head. “She’s from one of those hippie dippie New England branches anyway. Catholicism gives her hives.”
My roommate pretends to gag, before throwing off my blanket and stretching, arms toned from years of crew, lifting up, up and finally back into herself. Lorena had heart reacted to my housing post about looking for someone who loves dyke drama, limonazo, and watching trashy tv in sweatpants.
* * *
In the morning, I pull up the blinds to watch for birds. There’s a tree right outside my window and I want to see the dead bird’s family. I wish they could’ve come to the burial. Since my aunt killed herself, I’ve considered myself a distinguished funeral guest. However, my peak performance was the bird’s, since I preached.
* * *
My girlfriend, Zoey, asks if I want to get breakfast with her. We don’t sleep in the same bed, because she says she feels suffocated by too much body heat. Most nights, she pastes on her clothes that are strewn around my room before jogging back to her apartment, a half a mile closer to Manhattan.
When I meet her at the diner, she hugs me with one arm, before sliding back down into the vinyl shimmering booth.
“You’ll never guess who I saw,” she says, fiddling with her hair and releasing the almost-invisible blond strands under the table. “Daniel, from the soccer team.”
I nod and tell her that I don’t think she has told me about him. I finger through the menu, thick with lobster rolls and avocado salads. There’s no telling if Daniel is still in the restaurant, but I wish I had made an excuse to stay at home.
“When I was little, I used to shake salt into my palm and eat it under the table. My aunt would always pretend that I had gone missing but looking back I think it was pretty obvious where I was,” I tell her, hoping that the anecdote hands her the last jigsaw piece into my psyche, that once complete will allow us to connect again. Instead of reacting, she cranes her head around looking for other acquaintances. Sometimes Zoey’s skin looks so much like marble, it’s like I am falling out of love with a vampire and not a woman, but then I see her neck pulse.
The waitress comes by and asks what we want. Her fingers are delicate and slender and they make me sad, so I stare at her ears while I speak. Lorena has tattoos from her shoulders to her fingertips, but only on her right arm. Sometimes when I’m drunk, she dips the two fingers with a wishbone and crown past my tongue so I can throw up.
I tap my shoe against Zoey’s and ask for a side of home fries. She orders eggs over-easy and a side of multigrain toast. As the waitress walks off, my eyes itch, so I pull my sleeve over my fist to rub them.
“Do you think that maybe I’m allergic to the East Coast?” I ask.
“I don’t know.”
The fork is placed on the right side of the napkin and I can’t remember if that is correct. I switch them back and forth, enjoying the clank of metal to the table until I feel a sharp kick under the table.
I ask her if she wants to do anything later. She says she isn’t sure, but she thinks she has plans.
* * *
After I leave the diner, I take my time picking out allergy medicine at the pharmacy. I’ve never had allergies before, but I read that they could come from nowhere. I create a stronghold in the medication aisle, as I open up tab upon tab on my phone. I want to check the brand names vs. the generic names vs. active ingredients vs. percentages. Zyrtec is the fastest acting, but Allegra is still ranked higher, and Rhinocort is the best for pregnant women. I’m not pregnant, but I had a dream that I was.
I had an at-home birth. I stared at my little boy’s face. I made him, I thought, and then he started crying and screaming, covered in placenta and uterine lining, and now a U.S. Citizen. He would have to pay taxes one day on his allergy medicine. By the time he was an adult, it would probably be over 15 percent. I would cry about that too.
The baby was blond and that scared me. I was welcomed into the world with a full head of black hair that stuck up like a Troll doll.
I decide Allegra is the best route for me. I pay $14.14 and then walk back home.
* * *
Later, Lorena and I walk to the bird’s grave. When we get there, she takes out a pack of cheap, flavored cigarettes. I remember the sign in my high school math class that said, “Kissing a Smoker is like Licking an Ashtray.”
“I feel bad,” I say. “Zoey deserves to be with someone who isn’t a smoker. Or someone who likes being healthy. I feel like a burden.”
“What are you even talking about? You’re not a smoker.” Lorena sits down on a bench and continues, “Also Zoey doesn’t deserve much of anything.”
In the ground beneath the dead rose bush, I wonder how long it will take until there is no meat left on the bird. I think it will be a year until he is bones, provided no one digs him up, but there is no way to be certain.
I tell Lorena that I got some Allegra for my allergies and I already feel like there has been a difference. I tell her that I haven’t sneezed in eight hours.
“I didn’t know you have allergies, you should’ve mentioned it. I have some Rhinocort in the cabinet.”
Yesterday, after I used my best priest’s voice and said all of the prayers and holy words, I kneeled into the community garden, and dug a hole. Scooping wet dirt into a small pile, I asked Lorena to place the bird into the hole. She held him like water in her hands, and I almost cried.
I wanted the bird to wake up and fly away, for the funeral to work in a biblical way. I am ashamed of how deeply I want and how little anything fills that void. I cupped the excess mulch and tucked it over the bird’s body.
Then Lorena announced it was time for communion and pulled out a box of Triscuits and a can of cider. She placed the body in my mouth and waited until I opened again. Then she grabbed my jaw, tilted my head back, and poured.
* * *
That night, I lay in Zoey’s bed. A tangle of loose hair and cold stomachs and warm hands. I can feel her pulse stretched from her chest to her neck, the life below the surface. I put my mouth on her shoulder and resist the urge to bite. Being around her reminds me of being a little kid and wanting something so badly you couldn’t think of any other way to express it than putting your mouth on it.
Sometimes when I cry, she doesn’t know what to do except to take off my clothes, so now I do it before she has the chance. Sometimes, when she is angry, she calls me a bitch and storms out of my apartment and never apologizes.
In my dream, my baby wasn’t hers. I handed him a stuffed animal of a pigeon, and it made him weep.
Zoey’s touching my hair when she asks how I’m doing. Pulling a piece from the front and twisting until it makes a little bun. “I’m fine,” I say.
I can feel her chin bump my head as she nods along to music circling from the street. I continue, “Did I ever tell you about when I was little how I loved swimming out into the ocean as far as I could?
“I would paddle as far as my limbs could take me; I didn’t care how long it would take to get back to shore. It was the closest I could get to running away.”
I move so I’m on my back, and I tug on Zoey until she lays on top of me like a weighted blanket.
* * *
Alexandria Juarez is a Chicanx lesbian writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast from Southern California. A recent graduate of the BFA Writing Program at Pratt Institute, they have work in Electric Literature, X-R-A-Y, SFWP Quarterly, and more. Find them on twitter @alexbethjuarez.
featured photo by Alexandria Juarez