You are rocked by the rumbling machine, the rhythm pecking at your feet. It’s the first wash that’s been on since. Since the day that knocked you. Blocked you, chopped you and then swapped you. Swapped you for a woman you no longer know. You tumble out the jumble of a family in pain. Black funeral clothes, your recent plumage, made into plaits.
You untwist the wet cloth, feel the rough on your skin. Hope they’ll erode you to nothing. Snap them out flat in mid-air and hang them on the line. They tap out an empty jig while you fight to remember what it felt like to dance. You can’t look, you know what comes next. Your hand will grasp a t-shirt or dress. Perhaps a vest, impossibly small to have once wrapped something so large. Someone so real. How can a life fit inside a vest?
It isn’t a garment still carved in her shape. But it is unmistakably hers, the colour of pine. A ringlet twisted into a knot.
You hold it up to your nose. Curse detergent for smelling so strong. You’ve no need for ylang ylang, what you need is the scent of your chick. The pressure inside you is volcanic, organic.
Mechanic, you walk to the bin. You pause over the mouth gasping for wastepaper. She isn’t waste. She can’t go in there. You leave the wash crumpled and squeeze the hair tight. Trying to absorb her inside.
You remember a time on the swings, her cries of delight suspended. You absorbed them like a virus. Her joy infectious, remodelled your whole DNA. She swung higher and harder than anyone else, as she chirped she was going to the moon.
The song of a bird seeps in through your smog. A magpie puffs out his chest, caws to lure a mate. Take her as his and give her his seed. To raise hatchlings together. Unless. Does the bird feel like you do? If the eggs do not hatch. If the offspring are snatched. By teeth or by talon. Does the bird feel the hole drilled inside it? Drill the pipe, spill the oil. A deathly thick slick where life should have flourished.
You look at the spider of hair on your palm and there’s nothing to do but climb. You perch next to his tangle of sticks. Sway like a ship lost at sea. You unpick the fine lines of hair and there’s nothing to do but weave. You watch the magpie, iridescent, incandescent in his splendour. You can’t catch the colour of him. One second he’s black fit for the wake, the next he is peacock daubed in sapphires and emeralds.
You feel punctured by his stare as he walks clumsily over the boughs to watch the featherless beast build a nest. He flies away, returning with something in his beak. Hops closer. Not blinking. Another strand of your child found hooked on the fence. She’s everywhere and nowhere at once. His claws squeeze your flesh as he clambers onto your arm. With his beak an extra hand, you construct him a castle. Building his future with fragments of your past.
He hovers at your shoulder as you enter the house. You go to her room. His wingspan immense in there. You lie under her bed, breath her in, gather tufts of her hair. Threads of her once destined for dust.
On the windowsill he taps the glass. You open it out for him. In silence he glides to his tree, carrying everything you found. You watch him braid her into branches like you used to braid her into bunches.
At her window, you find comfort in that nest you helped make. Protecting bird babies, evolved too easy to break. Some days you afford two. Two seconds of wishing all the best for the brood. Then you swallow glass and hate those fledgling fucks. Because one day they will fly, while your baby will not. Stuck forever on the swings not quite reaching the moon.
Martha Lane is a writer from the North East of England. She began writing flash while shielding from Covid and is working on a collection about parenthood and pregnancy loss. Her flash has been published by Perhappened, Reflex, Bandit, Briefly Zine, and Free Flash Fiction among others. Tweets @poor_and_clean.