My wife’s mother told her a story the night before we were married. She was an old-fashioned mother, and a petite creature that seemed prone to mishandling, as if she might fold at any moment like a card table after an AA meeting.
Contrary to her size though, she held inscrutable beliefs, and she held them tight.
It was a crazy story - a voodoo story. A tale my wife and I used to mock in early morning romances between cotton sheets and hushed, private fucking.
We smiled at her imagination the way you smile when you’re embarrassed – tight lipped, head down, and contained. We smiled because we were in love and that’s what lovers do; they smile.
The girl’s name was Naomi and she was beautiful and small and calm in the way an only child can be.
She came from the city.
She loved to read, and when she told people this she emphasized that girlish word love because she did not yet know what it meant.
At twenty, she met a boy like her mother told her she would. His name was Mario, and he was handsome and tall. He had a sturdy jaw, pursed lips, and nice hands.
It took some time, but eventually, they thought it fate – the pair of them.
They married and settled. They fucked like rabbits. They fucked like newlyweds.
They spent afternoons reading out loud to one another because they both liked Hemingway.
“For his prose!” they said aloud and she would giggle and he would laugh.
They held hands often.
And then, as if a curtain had been drawn, they fell out of love.
It was fast how it happened, how quickly their love soured.
It flailed and gasped and drowned in the ocean. It fell from the skyscraper and smashed into the ground and it bled everywhere.
Then came her obvious regret, as his love still thrived. He still kissed her neck. He still held her hand. He bought her things, little stupid things that she had once adored but now despised.
And so she dreamed where her guilt could not reach and she dreamed that something would happen, something terrible, and in the end he would be gone and she would be allowed to start over.
One night she slept, and she dreamed of a white room with a white bed and a single window. Outside the window it was black. Not darkness, but rather the absence of color – as if outside the window did not exist and there was only this room and this bed and this girl, Naomi.
She was dressed in a white gown, and her black hair was curled underneath her.
Her eyes were closed and she lay on the bed, dreaming of a boy.
But not her Mario.
Instead, this one had tattoos and she lusted for his arms. He worked in the same bookstore she worked in. He had a wonderful haircut and he used to make jokes and when he laughed Naomi could feel it in her belly, the red-hot glow, the bleeding, licking carnality that filled her up like Thanksgiving turkey.
And so she closed her eyes and she dreamed of the new boy’s hands as they explored her. And she became more and more excited until all of it had to go somewhere…
And then the window burst open and in came the birds.
Hundreds of nondescript black birds, all of them screaming human screams, and they hurricaned around her and then they attacked.
They ripped at her belly. They pulled at her clothes. They tore at her skin and blood erupted from her and it sprayed against the wall, TAT – TAT –TAT, like machine gun fire.
The red blood clung and dripped from the white wall and she looked and saw a macabre mural of her creation.
She beat at the birds with her fists and her screams infused with those of the birds and it created a swelling, ghastly, cacophonous melody and still the birds screamed louder and their pitch went higher and higher and higherandhigherandhigher until she shot from her dream like lightning from the earth.
Mario held her but she knew something was lost, something in her belly, something she would never be able to replicate.
But they never divorced – the pair of them.
They grew old together. They never had children but they shared memories. They made love, and they cooked and their pastoral pleasantness compensated one another in some way.
But for the rest of her life, Naomi never felt any sort of sexual fervor for Mario, or any other man for that matter. It had taken her a bit, but eventually she accepted what the birds had stolen from her.
When she died she did not weep.
Instead she glanced to the walls around her, and in their sparkling whiteness, she searched for traces of red.
In the winter they congregate on the telephone line like fossilized old men at a country club, like a bunch of Chatty fucking Cathy’s, and with these goddamn birds come my mother-in-law’s story.
They appear and it appears and they are one in the same – these birds and their story. Recently, I’ve stayed inside and watched them through the window there on the wire. The word isn’t comforting, but they keep me company nonetheless.
I’ve done this since my wife came home from the hospital.
I do this as she cries in our bedroom, as she sleeps alone, as she refuses my eggs and toast I’ve made for her.
With the doctor and he keeps using the words mishap, mistake, mischance, and not once does he say MISCARRIAGE and I want to pin him down and fucking scream it at him and tattoo it on his face.
Instead, he says that we can try again when she’s ready.
“There are no second chances!” I yell. “There is no false start! There is no replay!”
I can no longer be a part of my wife. Not spiritually. Not physically.
It feels as if I can no longer be a part of myself.
And so I sit at the window.
I think of the story.
I think of my mother in law.
I think of my wife.
And the birds eat the desire.
Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Logan Theissen