I.

I read once about a Peaches the parrot, adopted in North Carolina, that, unbeknownst to her foster family upon purchase, couldn’t stop reenacting the violent separation of her original owners. In her cage, the parrot swayed from one side to the next. She did her dance upon her perch to better argue both perspectives. Like a broken, feathered record, Peaches reported again and again on insecurity, financial and otherwise, and then in reply offered apathy and then anger. On a loop, Peaches abused and degraded herself until, one day, Peaches was quiet, and she never spoke up again.

II.

Jennifer clutched at her stomach and coughed, and coughed, and coughed, and cried, and cried, and eventually she spat the magnets out and into her palms. The magnets were round and silver and the size of a jawbreaker that costs a dollar. She got up off of the blue-green couch and made her way across the stained grey carpet, on top of the roaches and spiders and mice and cats and past the fading, peeling wallpaper. Gold fleur-de-lis on a fall leaf brown background. She moved away from the old grey TV that sat atop a newer, but still old and overturned, cardboard box; it faced the couch and only got two channels, 1 in English. She moved nearer to the black telephone mounted on the nicotine-swathed wall and beside the doorframe that traced the perimeter of entryway to a tiny, greasy kitchen. She answered the phone with her left hand, magnets in full view in her right. She had them tucked between her fingers, splaying her hand. After a moment, she repositioned the phone, still tethered by its winding black cord, to being cradled between her ear and her neck. She put the magnets in her black sweatpants’ pocket. Jennifer spoke slowly and quietly, almost inaudibly to the man on the other end of the call. He had been her favorite teacher in high school, when she had bothered to go, Mr. Ramirez—“sir” to Jennifer back then—but he didn’t remember who she was now. She was ranting. He had once promised her that she could go to college, become whatever she wanted if she worked hard enough. Post-a-blowjob. She hung up and found herself back on the couch, exhaling carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and all the other stuff found in a speckled-orange filter-tipped white cancer stick: menthol, rumour is there’s fiberglass in it, too. Again, she vacates the couch, this time to retrieve her keys from her jacket’s pocket. The jacket was the camouflage army kind, the thrift store variety, and nestled in the middle of an infamous pleather orange armchair that inhabited the room’s corner, behind the TV. I’d have called it a living room, but that would be misleading.

Jennifer left her coat where it was and left her house, too. She locked her home’s front door and then turned to the adjacent driveway. Any and all patches of dark, dark green, nearly brown grass in view played host to a shimmering frost. The next lock to attend to was her maroon minivan’s driver side door’s. She did what needed to be done in regard to key turning and got in.

Her car’s interior was a bastion for sin, and thus plagued by consequence: the smell. Spoilt milk was the odor’s culprit, but there were other rancid contenders. Many’s vomit, cigarettes, sex, drugs, blood: they all took a turn at convalescence inside grey polyester. It really was unpleasant. The rubber sole of Jennifer’s boots rubbed against the rubber gas pedal. She reversed off of private concrete and onto public asphalt without looking back. Spring Street, her street, was a one-way street, and in said fashion she proceeded, making a right at its end. And then another right. And then another right. And another, and she drove in circles in silence for about 20 minutes, her motor vehicle a vulture in pursuit of some carrion. She turned on the car’s FM radio, and on cue stopped circling and headed toward her son’s school, sound tracked by tragic news. All her tattoos wouldn’t stop staring at her. The school, Rothko Middle School, was barely a ten minute drive, but down the town’s one and only main street, conveniently called Maine Street, that was notorious for its long lights and longer traffic. She hit greens all the way down and didn’t notice.

To the tune of a bell that sounded more like an alarm, an ocean of brightly colored backpacks and bad haircuts and missing teeth and scabby knees, flowed out of double doors and toward bright yellow buses or their parents, or their parents’ cars parked down the block to avoid traffic if you’re Jennifer’s son, Dutch. There you’ll find her crooning, to the radio, crooked smile, and happy as ever to see you.

Jennifer, Jen to some, kissed her son’s forehead.  She drove them home past the church and the liquor store and the pharmacy and the Burger King and the McDonald’s and the Wendy’s and a strip mall or two. Then a left onto Spring Street, and there they were, on her property at least; well, her landlord’s property, when she, Jen, pulled into the driveway, at least.

Child’s doors unlocked, Dutch hopped out of the car first. He hurried to the next door, the house’s door, and then, being called to from the car, waited there while Jen made her way over. A jingle, a click, a push, and a creak, and they were inside. Dutch put his backpack on top of Jen’s jacket, on top of the pleather orange armchair; she put her keys in the camouflage pocket. The kitchen was next.

On their way there, after a nod from his mom, Dutch said, “Thank you for breakfast.”

The tiny, greasy kitchen came equipped with limited counter space and a sink full of dishes, both affixed above a half-working metal dishwasher (it did half a cycle then shut off and/or flooded), the counter space and sink beside a half-working pale green refrigerator (the freezer part tried its hardest, but just couldn’t seem to get, let alone keep, anything frozen; also, it leaked something dreadful), and then also bordering and beside and affiliated with the dishwasher, but on the opposite side of things (the fridge and the dishwasher and the counter), was a black oven with a grill top that, bless the thing, worked perfectly. There was still some grime present. Also, there was a boxy, Brutalistic microwave that consumed more than its fair share of the limited counter space.

Dutch had scarfed down his breakfast. Jen fetched the necessary pan and plates and forks to make him the breakfast, and did—eggs, sunny side-up, cheese kindly shredded by Kraft—sprinkled on top, and a slice of toast, well, at first bread, white bread, Wonderbread, made in the, God bless the thing, oven. On the side, a glass of milk; today was special.

And after breakfast, Jennifer watched a little TV with her son, but after she woke him up first.

His room had been his Dad’s room. Jen now slept in Dutch’s. She stared at him sleeping peacefully in the bed where she never could, and resolved that her son could withstand anything.

And after that, she was asleep in her relatively new room, and new bed, Dutch’s old one, and it still smelled like him.

III.

A column in the local paper, printed deep into its pages and the next day, which would be occurring of course after the local news stations got a hold of the story, read: “Gutwrenching…local woman Jennifer _____ found dead in her home: apparent suicide. She swallowed two powerful magnets marketed as toys for children.” There were promises of more as the story developed. And it did. Apparently, after Dutch had walked home from school, only after his mother hadn’t picked him up, and had seen what she had done, he hadn’t come home. Not a word since.

***

For all installments from 30 Birds, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. “Velvet” by the Bloody Eyes
  2. “Subtle” by Yukio Mishima
  3. “Geronimo Sunset!” by Jun. 27
  4. “My Hero” by Annie Wonoffate Million
  5. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 1
  6. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 2
  7. “Eel Dogs ‘Til Stupid” by Jun. 27
  8. “Pleasant Town” by Jun. 27
  9. “Daffy” by Herman Barker
  10. “Classic, Ecstatic, and Shocked (My First Kiss)” by John Robert Barnes
  11. I Would/Would I?/Wouldn’t You?
  12. “Fabled” by Jun. 27
  13. “Simpatico Starring Matthew McConaughey” by Harrison Ford
  14. “Tarantella” by Jun. 27
  15. “That Time a Toucan Was in Our Backyard/The Very First Thing I Can Remember” by John Robert Barnes