by Nicole Belte
So, he went out and bought a canary, like Tweety-Pie. It was nowhere near as bright; not really yellow at all, more nicotine white, I’d call it. He obviously couldn’t get a dove. Or afford one. “It’ll do,” he must have thought, handing over his crumpled notes; the ones he’d put aside for drinking, to show the effort he was making. He even got on the bus with it, get that! With that bloody bell twinkling all the way and all the school kids laughing at him and crowding around trying to get a peek. But I was worth it, he said.
It looks so scrawny and he looks so proud that it makes me want to laugh. I’m puzzled. Only lonely, old women and widows have birds; what was he thinking? But then I think: I’ll never be a widow. This gets me feeling all hysterical and panicky, like I do lately; and the bird starts flapping and for some reason that Looney-Tunes tune starts ringing around my head. You know the one, and…laaaaa-da-da-daa-da-daaa…laaaa-da-da-da-daa-da…
He tells me it’s a boy, running his fingers across the bars.
“It’ll sing,” he says, “only the boys can sing.” Well, that’s just bloody typical, I think. But I already know that it’s a boy, because if it was a girl it would peck him. It doesn’t. It doesn’t do anything.
I watch it for weeks and it just sits rocking on its perch, day-in, day-out; beady-eyed and matchstick legged, hopping across the headlines on the bottom of its cage.
Then, one night, it begins to tweet. It won’t shut up. It chirps, and sings; wings thrashing, feathers flying; going full-out crazy. I wonder if the heater’s leaking. Doesn’t gas freak them out? Or maybe it’s spied Sylvester, creeping up the drainpipe? The door slams. He’s back early; stomping up the hall, the unexpected; expected. I can tell by the way he takes his time getting to the room that he’s in the mood, and that I’ll be getting it. Fuck, sufferin’ succotash, I think, but I don’t know why, or where that came from. I try to inhale but it comes out like a whistle because my chest’s so tight. Tweety-Pie whistles back, thinking it’s a game.
“Tea?” he asks me in the morning, fidgeting, looking all shifty and like a little boy who’s wet the bed and who still wants a nice, big hug.
“Yeth, pleath” I say, because my lips are swollen: I walked into that swinging, cartoon anvil of his fist. And this tickles me, god knows why, and I can’t help myself, can’t keep from laughing. He calls from the kitchen and asks me if I’m alright, so I stop, pull myself together, and go to feed the bird.
He’s lying on the bottom of his cage, legs in the air, tiny beak gaping open and shut. I imagine squeezing him tight, his eyes bulging out; pulsing inches from his head. I imagine swallowing him whole, a giveaway feather burping from my mouth as I eat my breakfast; squawking and bolting free when someone thumps me on the back. I taut I taw a putty tat, I think, and then I’m curled up on the floor, clutching at my ribs, laughing, laughing, laughing.
He puts the cuppa and the biscuits on the table, and I’m wheezing, and spluttering, and whistling, like that stupid bird never did, aaaaand…laaaaa-da-da-daa-da-daaa…laaaa-da-da-da-daa-da…
Nicola Belte lives in Birmingham. She apologises if you’re humming the Looney Tunes tune.