by Mikki Aronoff
I’m fixated on the feathery quills
sprouting from your armpits,
peeking out from the short sleeves of your pink 100% cotton Over-Educated,
Under-Loved Millennial T-shirt, although you’re nearing 91. My eyes widen watching
your knobby toes stretch and web, your lips beak hard and yellow. Your belly
beckons the ground, down sprouts from your crown, your throat, your flanks,
your tail. Your wings now pinion. You shake and fluff to rearrange the dust
that’s settled on all my surfaces. You’ve even brought your own bucket and mop.
Are my hardwood floors not gleaming? My granite counters not sparkling? Have I
not visited you often enough?
Good and proper, it’ll be,
you say. Can’t
let strangers in to help. You’re bobbing your
head like one of those toy ducks with its beak dunking ad nauseam in the same
glass of stale water.
You shunt me aside, bump me into a chair.
Watch, I hear.
Your nostrils steam the windows before you wing-wipe the glass. You hiss and
lick my kitchen sink, your tongue a fishy-smelling strip of wet rag. Learn.
Your bill tugs and pulls at all my closets’ contents. One honk for stay, two
for go, then you cast the losers down the hallway chute. Items limp and
bedraggled as any hard-working woman at weekend’s close thump down to the skip
below. Soon, slimy things no longer slither from my toilet tank, and the
bathtub faucet’s slick as Jack on a Friday night. For a final fillip, you flap
your wings wide and high, create currents that freshen the air while cooling
the round heat of your breast.
I wrestle myself out of my La-Z-Boy, return
with my tablet. I
google what can be inherited, what can’t. I’ll be back next spring, you wait
and see! you quack as you waddle toward the warmth of my bed, its duvet
feather-heavy. You’ll learn! What the hell, it’s just for one more
night, I tell myself. I scrunch down on the couch, jam my pillow over my
head. But I still hear the ghosts of your insistence over the creaks and slams
of apartment doors down the hall, shutting for the night, one by one.
Years from now, you won’t remember
why you couldn’t, or wouldn’t,
visit your mother more often or attend her last dying days before the memorial
next to a pond. To remember would flood you with guilt, and you had no time for
that. You shiver with distaste, then relief as you shove all the family
photographs up high in the hallway closet, shelved along with your mother’s
life-long quacking disappointments. You fill all your spare time volunteering
for the Red Cross, joining the board of two nonprofits serving the unhoused,
escorting women to their abortions. You read to the blind on Saturdays, knit
socks for the needy as you watch the news recaps. Over Manhattans, you confess
to a colleague that you considered, for a minute, fostering a child or a dog.
You snorted till the bitters burned your nostrils. You decide to learn Italian.
More years pass. You will retire from your
job but keep half your
volunteer positions, the ones your friends seem to admire. One morning,
dressing for the Wednesday bridge club you joined in your building, you feel a
strange chafing. That night, you sit at your computer and google “best women’s
razors” as pinfeathers pimple your armpits. Next, you research
“hammertoes—surgery,” cursing your genetic inheritance. Your manicured fingers
flutter over the keys as a breeze of feathers drifts past your face, a long,
low hiss chills your neck.
Mikki Aronoff’s work appears in New World Writing, MacQueen’s
Molecules, The Disappointed Housewife, Bending Genres, Milk Candy Review, Gone
Lawn, Mslexia, The Dribble Drabble Review, 100 word story, The Citron Review,
Atlas and Alice, trampset, jmww, and elsewhere. She’s received Pushcart, Best
of the Net, Best Small Fictions, Best American Short Stories, and Best
Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues
in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s
Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she
can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.