When I wake up, she’s already gone. The telephone wire, hanging limp outside our window, is bird free. There’s nothing in the bed but me and strands of Meg’s orange hair.
I shoot out of bed, pick up my glasses from the nightstand, slip them on, and go from blur to focus light-switch quick. I have my orange carry-on bag on the bed, and I’m stuffing socks and sports bras into it before I even check the time. This all feels practiced. Muscle memory. It isn’t.
I knew I was leaving yesterday. I had to, but I didn’t really know it until I woke up. Until I started stuffing clothes into a bag, debating if I could bare to leave my records behind.
It’s not Meg. Well, it is Meg, but it’s not something she did. I still love her, that’s really what I mean. On our first date, we went to the zoo. It wasn’t our first date. Our actual first date was at a bar, and she had to leave after half an hour because of a work emergency, so it didn’t count. We went to the zoo, and she paid for the tickets online, and she didn’t even have to convince me because I thought she was so way over-the-top gorgeous. In her car, on the way there, she told me that as a kid, a tiger peed on her.
I move on from socks and undies to t-shirts, jeans, comfy things. I check the window for birds.
I told her it was a cute story, but that I didn’t believe her. I told her that no kid from the Jersey suburbs could encounter a tiger in the wild and live to tell the tale. She smiled at that, a side of her mouth smile, she started to say something then cut herself off and just said, “I like you already, you know?”
I check the time, 8:56 AM. Meg leaves for the gym at 8:30 on Saturdays and gets home at 10, unless she gets coffee afterwards, then it’s 10:15. I have time for the records. I pull on jeans, socks, and a black t-shirt, two snakes crawl toward the collar. No time for a bra, but time for the records. I slip and slide out of the bedroom, step into my Blundstone’s at the door and avoid the kitchen, really just the fridge of summer weddings I won’t be attending with Meg, avert my eyes, head straight for the living room.
We had sex after the zoo and it felt very animal. Tigers. Roar. Her orange hair everywhere.
I can’t fit all the records (67) in the suitcase, and I don’t have time to make executive decisions, so I close my eyes and pick five. Stuff the five in the bag without checking what’s what, then say fuck it and pick two more. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and The Cost of Living.
I’m not leaving because of her. I love her. Really. That day at the zoo, that night in the bed I’m leaving behind, I thought that was it. The story we’d tell our kids. I texted my mom the next morning and said, “Hey, I know who I’m gonna marry now.” She sent back three heart eyes emojis, then “What’s her name?”, then “don’t tell your father until I talk to him.” It wasn’t the first time I texted her that, but it would be a lot cooler if my dad was a lot cooler.
I’m leaving because of the birds, or maybe her attitude towards the birds.
I order an Uber and look around the room, a final sweep. Anything else essential? My chest and shoulders tighten. I rub my chest where my heart lives, where the t-shirt snake’s head rests. My therapist says I carry my stress in my shoulders and my depression in my ribs. She says anything in the chest is a mix of both. I think she makes up everything she says the night before.
The problem isn’t that Meg is haunted by a cauldron of birds of prey. The problem is that she likes it. Maybe loves it. She blows them kisses goodnight. She thanks them for leaving her dead presents. I don’t mind having the only apartment in Philadelphia with no mice or rats. I mean, the birds are beautiful. Regal. Powerful. All the things Meg is. Dangerous.
The Uber is here, and I don’t take any last-minute items, no miniature memories. No strands of orange hair. Meg can have it all. I walk down the three flights to the street with my orange rollaboard click-clacking each step along the way. I’m not crying, but I might just be too upset to know.
Yesterday, or actually two days ago, Meg and I got in a fight. Over fucking Grubhub. It wasn’t our realest fight, but it was our loudest. I guess the birds heard. Friday morning, walking to work, they dropped a cat on me. Its fur orange with dried blood. They sat on their electrical wires, cleaning their wings with their beaks, preening, like look what we can do.
When I told Meg about the cat, she wasn’t angry. She wasn’t scared. She just said, “Catherine, they love me.” As if dropping dead animals on a romantic rival, real or imagined, was simply a product of love. The worst part was, she was right. Because when the birds dropped that dead kitty on my hair, got its blood on my best work blouse, my first thought was to throw it back.
The drive to the airport is quick. Henry, the driver, smells like Newports and doesn’t say a word. No traffic on 95. The skyline is a haze of heat in the distance. The sun chews up the clouds, spits them out. I see birds in the distance, little v’s. I wonder if they’re Meg’s and how fast they can fly.
MJ McGinn received his MFA from Adelphi University. His work has previously appeared in the Guernica/PEN Flash Series, New Flash Fiction Review, The Molotov Cocktail, Firewords, Bridge Eight Press, and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.