Crystal Stewart lives in the North of England. She is a playwright, workshop facilitator and creative producer. The pandemic has led her back to her first loves, poetry and prose writing. She is drawn to magical realism and takes inspiration from writers such as Jeanette Winterson and Angela Carter.
We fall asleep in darkness, a mascara marbled tear nestling in the corner of my eye. I dream I’m a bird, flying to meet the night sky, being enveloped by the heavens, the stars pricking the tips of my wings. I hit a black ceiling and feel myself diving down like a spent firework, gravity pulling me, beak first, as rapid as Icarus when the sun had melted his wings.
My landing is soft, soft down. I’m back beside you, my body leaving a tiny dent in the pillow, my feathers billowing from the draught of your breath.
You’re still sleeping and I’m wondering, am I dreaming this bird’s eye view ? Abruptly you open your eyes, they meet with my frozen gaze, my pinhead heart pounding.
Lying spread eagled beneath the sheets, you contemplate my sudden absence. Did I leave you finally ? And the bird that has landed from nowhere, should you release this exotic creature, with her inky blue feathers ?
Holes in a shoebox, I’m dropped inside until you decide. Eventually you arrive home with a cage. A small cage, meant for a tuneless bird. You leave me by the window, blinds down.
One night, you bring a girl back. The same girl who we argued over that night. Only this time she is real, not a figment of my overactive imagination. A curse rings in my head, my awkward squawk ricochets against the eggshell ceiling.
Her wet hair is wrapped in towel. She wears my dressing gown. This woman, Martha, has stolen my laugh, a fine filigree of a voice caressing the walls. My head shifts, left then right, one way and then the other, my right eye then my left. Squawk-squawk. I begin to moult from the grief.
The more I curse, the finer my voice becomes. I wake up well before the larks, disturb your love making. You drape a pillowcase over my cage.
Martha moves in. The photos of us, from face down, are shoved at the back for drawers, then moved to a suitcase on the top of a wardrobe, where you also put my clothes.
You buy me a mirror to keep my eyes from following you across the room. I desperately peck at the painted glass with sharpened beak, willing for it to crack.
‘Does it have a name ?’ Martha asks.
She’s talking about me. I have been reduced to no more than an it.
You shake your head. ‘Let’s call her Polly.’
A name plucked from stale air. Polly. Bound in no book, there is no etymology to describe me.
I pebble dash my cage, moult until I resemble a newly hatched chick. I can see that a small part of you is frightened of losing me. I am a metaphor for a love that can self-destruct.
You pity me, and move closer. I want to believe that the eyes in this pea shell of a brain still have a hold over you. They are like bare bulbs glistening, recognise their twinkle ?
You look around the room to make sure no one’s watching, and you aren’t going mad.
My birds tongue glides over my beak, which I ram between the bars. You reach in with a tentative finger, tentatively, I peck lightly.
I utter your name: ‘Charlie.’ You jump back.
You try to teach me her name. ‘Polly, say her name – say Martha.’
I spit out seeds. Chatter staccato. Swoop onto the sandpaper flooring and claw the length of it.
‘Naughty Polly !’
A dirty tea towel covers my cage.
You kiss her in front of me, almost forcibly. I learn to say her name Bitch. I repeat this over and over. Envelop me in the greasy darkness. I am mastering the truth and I can’t stop.
One morning you shove this lech of a love bird into my cage, he wears his bright feathers as proudly as a Hawaiian shirt. He’s never seen the likes of me before in my inky blue lingerie. This resident wide boy, was her idea apparently. Have you ever spent a week with a bird on heat, trying to woo me with a sleazy karaoke tune ? Now you know why we female birds rarely mate in captivity.
One day Martha starts sneezing, Atishoo. A self-diagnosed allergy. All reasons lead back to me and my pal Joey.
‘Get rid of them.’
‘Get rid of our love birds ?’
‘I found a feather in my cornflakes. They have diseases.’
His eyes rest on Martha, then on me. I squawk, peck the arse off Romeo. I implore him with my eyes. I don’t have eyelashes so it’s a half arsed gesture.
You say you’ll sleep on it. You dream you’ve made your choice.
I dream I am a girl again, and you are lying next to me. As heavy as an albatross.
From the Editor:
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