I bought her a bird for us. A life we could both touch.
She leans over the birdcage. “I need a drink,” she says.
“I thought we’d spend the evening taking some getting used to it,” I say.
“I was thinking West Side.”
“We’re going to cross that bridge now?”
“I am,” she says and she’s gone.
It’s me and the bird. “Bird,” I begin, but that’s all I’ve got. It hops from hanging block of wood to hanging block of wood, pecking at its reflection in the miniature mirror. How cruel the wilds must be! I try imagining life with no mirrors. Life with other birds and things much bigger than other birds, predators, winter and the exposure to elements, needing to flee come change of season. I’m re-reminded of the miracle that is indoor living in suburban Northeast Ohio. “Bird,” I say. “You won’t need no other place no more.”
The bird peeps. My wife has no idea what she’s missing. I pet its feathers. It pecks at my fingers. “But I’m no worm,” I say.
I watch the bird sleep. Past midnight I start thinking how long does drinks take?
It’s sunup when she kisses me. “West side?” I say
“It wasn’t what I expected, so I kept going.”
“They seemed content where they were.”
“Where were you?”
“Two counties into Indiana. I realized I was overdressed.”
The bird wakes up and sings its morning song.
“You look tired,” she says.
“It was a wild night,” I say. “And look! Our bird can sing.”
I follow her into the bedroom. “Aren’t you tired?” I say.
She’s packing her sweats into a suitcase. “I came for a change of clothes.”
“Our bird is a fledgling.”
“I think I’m on to something.”
It’s two days later when she bursts through the door. “Come help me,” she says. There are hundreds of ears of corn on our porch. “Best I ever seen,” she says. “Needs shucked, is all.”
We pile them in the living room. I peel back a husk and drop the finest yellow kernel in the birdcage. The birds spits it out. I try one myself. “Indiana’s sweet,” I say.
“No. It’s Illinois.”
“What happened to Indiana?”
“The Pizza King.”
“The Pizza King?”
“I needed a meal. The Pizza King said there’s no meal like Illini meal. He showed me his map.” She locks herself in the bedroom. I knock. “I’m changing,” she says. She reappears in a sundress. She touches the birdcage. “It’s getting old,” she says. “Isn’t it?”
“It’s been three days,” I say.
She’s running out the house. “I keep thinking like a mayfly.”
“But your suitcase,” I say.
“It’s a hundred degrees in Missouruh,” she says. “This is all I need.”
“Missouruh. You have to say it right or else you won’t belong.”
I’m thinking misery as the bird sings mourning. I lift it out the birdcage. “I miss her too,” I say. It pecks at me and I drop it. It thuds the floor hard. “You can’t fly?” I say. I pick it up and drop it again. Another thud. No singing. “There’s a lot I’m sorry about,” I say, setting it back in the birdcage.
“Surprise!” she screams. She’s covered in snow.
“How long’s it been?” I say.
She takes my fingers in her cold hands. Sets a stone in my palm. “It’s gold,” she says.
“Real?” I say.
“Portions out west are huge. This place has held back our entire life.”
It’s me and the stone and the bird still as a stone. I fall asleep with them both in my hands.
I wake up in a sea of casino chips. I can’t swim. I reach for something. I find a note. I float in the sea of casino chips using the note as a buoy. The note says: LUCKY! and always I’ve thought I was. For my home and for finding a woman like her.
But now I can’t find her. So how lucky am I now?
I dig through the sea of casino chips and find the bird. Its body’s decayed enough that I can find its wishbone easy.
She puts her hands on my shoulders.
“Is it over?” I say. I turn and I face her and she’s so much harder to recognize. Her hair’s dyed blonde. A mole’s drawn above the left corner of her lips. She’s wearing a gown full of stars.
“I’m leaving,” she says.
“For how long?”
There’s a knock at the door. In walks the Pizza King. He’s big and broad-shouldered and gold-crowned and dressed in a crisp, pressed, blue pinstriped white suite. He hands me a hanky worth more than I am. “For when you start crying,” the Pizza King says. He wraps his big arms around her.
“I might have a future in pictures,” she says. “I might have a future.”
“Have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your life?” the Pizza King says.
And then, they’re both gone.
And me? I haven’t.