Dead birds washed up on deck, caught in storms, doomed. The ornithologist touched a salt water-sodden dead bird with the toe of her boot. Spider watched her write GREEN THROAT in her notebook and kick the dead bird across the slippery deck.
The ship had recently taken on a staff of performers. Spider pulled her cart aside to let them pass in the corridors. One evening Spider was followed into the hot cave of the laundry by a boyish little acrobat.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” the acrobat demanded, hands on her hips. Her smooth gold hair slid like a curtain across her heart-shaped face. Spider said nothing.
“You don’t speak English?” the acrobat scowled. The machines rumbled in the bright-white room.
“There’s something wrong with you,” the acrobat said. “Let me reach in and undo it.”
The acrobat pressed Spider down in a cart of sheets. The odor of bleach engulfed Spider, filling her throat and skull. She closed her eyes and saw in her foggy mind her heart’s desire: her favorite dead bird, ATLANTIC PUFFIN, its parrot bill and webbed feet bright as clotting blood, in the ornithologist’s hands, cradled in those hands forever.
creation note: This story was inspired by the phenomenon of exhausted migrating songbirds collapsing on boats at sea.
Bio: G. Walker is a birdwatcher, teacher, and writer living in Richmond, Virginia.