Authors: Noy Holland
Other books by Noy Holland
The Spectacle of the Body
What Begins with Bird
Swim for the Little One First
Copyright Â© 2015 Noy Holland
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Holland, Noy, 1960-
Bird: a novel / Noy Holland.
1. Married womenâFiction. 2. AdulteryâFiction. 3. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
Cover design by Kelly Winton
Interior design by Domini Dragoone
2560 Ninth Street, Suite 318
Berkeley, CA 94710
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e-book ISBN 978-1-61902-665-0
He crossed her
wrists behind her, walked her into the room. She was gowned in a towel from the tub, damp still, the day passingâcold, the green fuse blown. The city was flattened, looked to be; it was a poster of itself, grainy, famous in any light. He walked her where she could see it, where she could see the bridge, the man on a thread descending, his tiny pointed flame. She saw the hot blue bramble of welder's sparks fizzing out over the river. Across the river: the fabulous city.
He had set screw eyes in the floor. The floor was grooved, adrift with hair, the deep tarry blue of the ocean. He trained the heater on a patch of floor to warm the boards she would lie on. He pulled the towel off, helped her down in stages, onto her knees, her back.
The boards were gummy; they smelled of paint. They smelled of his dog who leaked in her sleep. She let him tie herâwrist and wrist and ankles. As he wished. He arranged
her as he wished. He spread out her hair like a headdress, tall, like grass the wind has knocked down. He turned her toes out. He turned her wrists up when he tied her.
Something smallâa birdâseveralâwobbled, blown behind her, the flock a scattering of ash in the wind in the cold above the river, the barges moored. The garbage scow. He lifted her head, knotted the scarf at the back of her head, the scarf snug across her eyes, her mother's scarf, across her mouth and nose. The scarf smelled of her mother. He trained the heater on her, and the cooling fan, oscillating, faint. He lit a candle, tipped it into the wind the fan made, and the wax blew hot, dispersingâsparkler, pod, nematocyst, a burn that lights and shrinks. He let the wax mound on the skin of her wristsâto mark the place, or seal it: here was the first place he touched her. Here was the mineral seep, the drip in a cave, the years passing. Here a notchâwhere the tendons of her neck knit into her chest and the wax would catch and pool. He said nothing. He scarcely touched her. Thrust into her once and walked out.
She heard him go. Two doors, the last stairs, hello on the stoop, he was gone.
A day a day: it passes. Gone: and not: and so again.
And so it passes. The last of the sun, a cooling wind. He was gone an hour, two, gone shopping. The only light in the room was the light of the street she could see through the scarf he had tied across her face and from the orange
glow of the heater, round, a fallen moon, its motor humming. She heard rats plumping their nests in the walls and the creak of the beaten wings of birds falling out of the wind in the airshaft.
She waked, and knew by this that she had been sleeping. She had been flying her mother again on a ridge by a string like a kite. She could tell: she waked with her mother's same question.
Who will die when I die?
It was Mickey's question too.
She waked hungry. A baby cried, pushed down the street in a carriage. The wheels dropped into a crack in the street and the baby hiccupped.
“Whoops,” said the mother.
It was too late to be out. It was too late to creep through the sumac with them and throw a stick in the river. Too longâthis. Prank. She wanted up.
A siren set out. Bird tried to sing: the one about old Dixie, a favorite of her mother's, her mother newly dead, and Bird was alone in Brooklyn, and hot, and cold, and lashed to the floor by the man she loved and he was gone off from her and never coming home. She would starve here, freeze, she didn't know which. Mickey was dead or dying, drowned. He had been struck down, murdered, ferried to the ER, ferried to the morgue. The sirens passed, dimming, quit.
Such a boy. A boy who knew his knots.
She smelled soup. Men and women all over the country were sitting down to soup. Coming home.
“Get your boots off,” say the mothers, “get your coat.”
Bird wanted to say it too. A little habit. She wanted to tell him to take his boots off twice a day for fifty years. She wanted to sort his socks for him and soak the spots from his clothes. She'd make biscuits. Swore it. And she would never use his comb. Bird would never use his toothbrush. She would always keep the sink clean. She would always ask first. She would leave a light on. She would not eat all the popcorn. She would leave his hats alone.
There he was. That was the key in the lock, the doorknob jammed into the divot it had made in the plaster of the entry wall. He left his boots on.
She married another. Mothered another.
She heard him movingâthe long stride, he wore his boot-heels down, moving among theâ
, she wants to say,
She said his name once and nobody answered.
It was not him. It wasn't like him.
Of course it was.
Her scalp fell away from her face; her brain dropped back in her head.
He brought her honey, the little bear warmed in his pocket. Lemon, he brought, and custard. Berries, asparagus, cream. He left the lights off, he took his time for a
time. He meant to feed her first, he left the scarf on. “Guess. What's your hurry?”
He fed her lilac. He fed her persimmonâshe had no ideaâa food like refrigerated satin. Saltines. Marmalade and corn-fed beef and puffy milky biscuits. Frozen beer. Bedroom food. “Be still. Be still.”
He would not be hurried. He turned the fan off. He turned the heater off. He wanted it quiet. He wanted them to hear. He slid his belt off, and swung the buckle across her mouth. “Say something,” he whispered.
“You don't quit.”
“Get this thing off,” she said. “I want to see.”
He pulled her scarf off. Mickey reached up and behind himself to bunch up his shirt at the collar.
It always took her, this simple act: the give in it, the show. How his chest broadened out, the wings went wide. The globe of muscle swelled out of his arm, glided away from his elbow: that. Simple act. A man undressing. Look. Look away. Any man is stronger than she is. Any freak on the street can take herâas he wishes, if he wishes. There is that. The fact of power; the fresh display.
And something more. He tugged his shirt up. He had to hang down his head to do it. He had to offer his neck, the hinge was open, the predator's handle of bone. Pretty, how he gave himself to it. His back softened, curved.
“Stop,” she said. “I want to see.”
He had his shirt across his face, he couldn't see. His arms were hung up, hanging down. He was wide open. She saw the shadowy scoop where his skull hooked in, a boy, just, tender, a girl dipping her hair in a stream. He would never be more lovely.
His face appeared. He looked down at her, his eyes near-white, boy-blue.
Something was wrong with him. He was weeping. The wind had torn up his hair.
“Mickey,” she said. She called him Bird sometimes, his name for her, mistaken. “Mickey, you came home.”
The day begins.
Nothing will stop it.
The phone rings in the dark. Word finds its way alongâno matter how far out you live, no matter what you say.
For years now, Bird has said it, for all the years since she has seen Mickey, all the things she has thought to say.
“I wish you'd stop,” Bird says.
But this is Suzie. Newsy Suzie. Her voice high and bright.
“Me too,” Bird says. “I was sleeping. You have no fucking clue.”
What Suzie has is the next word on Mickey. She has a new name to give Bird. She has had the names down the
years, a trade sometimes. Beatrice. Once a dancer, Brigitte, a girl who painted. Rosemarie. Country girls, exotics. Clara, Angelina, Racine.
“That's enough,” Bird tells her.
“Oh it isn't. I keep you posted. Early girl news. He moved.”
Moved, moved again. He thought to marry. He'd marry another, think of that, just as Bird had.
“He'll never marry,” Suzie says, “he's like me. She would have to swear to die in three months' time of an incommunicable disease. I don't care whoâRaquel, Ruby Lou, Victorine. He's like me.”
Suzie lives among the samplings. The saplings, and the fathery men. Men and boys and girls. Ship to shore; hand to mouth; bed to bed. Not for her: the leaky tit, the pilly slipper. The dread of the phone that rings in the dark:
It's your turn next to suffer.
“You hear nothing,” Suzie claims, “you can't stand to, not a whiff of the world, a radio show. You cringe at the least of the news.”
Which is true. And the rest of what Suzie says? This much is true, tooâthat the feeling is forever gone from Bird, god willing: of disappearing, of ever again being alone. Lonely doll.
“Remember,” Suzie insists, “the sentence you get to finish? The dream you're not wrangled from?”
The next first kiss to fall into.
“The old looseness, come on, you must miss it. You miss it. Your brain makes a drug to subdue you is all. Look, I see it. Suzie sees it. Those babies are everywhere at you, needing anything they find. Your every living tissue, sugar, is pressed into serviceâgone.”
Bird makes her slow laps as she listensâkitchen, woodstove, dripping milk, her shirtfront sopped, stewed in sour juices. She holds the phone out away from her ear: Suzie's on a tear. It's a club, Suzie claims, and she's not in it, thanks. No, no thank you, honest, she's not signing up to stew. Talky, stewy mother-club, virtuous, how little sleep and still sheâlook at her!âstill she's cheerful. Seems to be, look at her, cheerful. Or maybe she's just smug, Suzie says. Clubby, you know, needed, every last speck of the day. Mama near. Little wife. A little respite comes, a little breath: nobody needs her! But she can't quite believe it, or let herself step outside.
“When's the last you stepped outside?” Suzie asks.
Or: “When'd you last look at your backside? That's the flapping you feel when you walk, sugar. You need to walk, sugar. You need to move.”
He moved to
France. Moved to pecan country.
Wise boy, getting out, flee the season. Winter coming on.
Oh I could help,
Bird thinks, at least she thought it then.
Pecan country. Pecans, best little nut. She could toss her smelly boots out, toss her stinking hat. Lie among the trees, among the shadows. She would like that. Watch the tough nuts fall.
She thinks of a boy in Kansas hung up on a swing, cripple boy, a boy they saw once, a little rope swing, a log on a rope, among the shadows. Among the signs. She and Mickey drove a Drive Away out, setting out from Brooklyn, dark, when the stars lined up how they sometimes do and anything you look at, everything's a sign.
SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP
, the sign says. It says,
Move while you still can.
The dog was dead, the ragtop towed. The up-neighbors tub had fallen through. A rat sprung a trap and came at them, hissing, its haunches caught, dragging the thing down the hall. Glory days. Dirty dark-bar days. A mouse ran up Bird's sleeve and nipped her.
Her mother came to her in dreams. She was dead but in dreams, she lived.
I smell fire,
your toilet froze. I made you my nice kitten soup.
Her mother set a bowl down before Bird. The kittens simmered there, plump, unfurredâher mother always plucked them first, their bodies small as peas.
Her mother sangâthe tune of the plastic shopping bag the wind had hung from a tree. Old winter wind. Old mother dead. Mickey slept and slept. Bird carried his child,
tiny yet; they called it Caroline, little Caroline, which had been her mother's name.
Bird wrote notes
to her mother then, in the months she lived in Brooklyn, as though her mother were still alive. She wrote:
I dreamed all the dogs I ever loved were running laps through the leaves around our house.
I met a boy named Mickey. I crossed the room with my shoe off, my spiky heel, and knocked him between the eyes.
He hooks his finger in my ear to kiss me.
He sleeps with his eyes open.
We call the baby Caroline,
Sometimes Mickey calls me Caroline. I cut my hair like your hair. I still have all your dresses.
His eyes are nearly white, Mother. It must be you love him, too.
Bird is wearing
her mother's robe even now, swabbing the sink, her shoulder hiked up to hold the phone. The house is quiet; the wind has quit. Everyone else is still sleeping. Even the dog is sleeping, stretched out on her side beside the woodstove, twitching through her dreams. Bird dog, Bird's dog, demoted the moment her firstborn was born.
The house is quiet, that is, but for Suzie. Suzie won't let her go.
“Hold on,” Suzie says. “Don't go,” and sets the phone down, and walks off to snort whatever she snorts these days in a room where Bird can't hear.
“Suzie,” Bird says. “I hear you. I've known you for a thousand years.”
The phone heats up, feels wet against Bird's earâthat's the burned-off waste of Suzie talking, Bird thinks. She's back from Fiji, Machu Picchu, back from Timbuktu. Patagonia, Rapid City, Ngorongoro.
was my boy's first word,” Bird says, slides the word in edgewise.
Suzie doesn't miss a beat. She took a picture, she says, scuba diving. They were in a big pod of killer whales and the picture she took was black.
“I don't get it,” Bird says.
“Black!” Suzie says. “As in solid? As in that's how close they came?”
“They're the only whale that will leave the waterâ”
“Yeah no, I know it. I saw, sugar. This one had a seal it snagged from the beach and bumped into the air like a kitten.”
is a name for Bird's baby.
is a word for dog.
“I'll let you go,” Bird insists, and takes the first stair.
But something in her gives way.
She has let a sound out. It is the sound of a woman run through.
âright through the bony floor.