by Bonnie Brewer-Kraus
Percy the lorikeet is missing. Overnight, his image appears on flyers stapled to utility poles and taped to fences in our neighborhood. A tropical bird on the lam in suburban Cleveland, thrown in amongst the predatory hawks, feral cats, and aggressive crows. On my daily walks, I stare into Percy’s beady eyes and scan the dense foliage for a flash of saffron or acid green. According to the flyer, Allyson is waiting for a call. I picture her clutching her phone, fingers crossed.
My days are for meandering walks and online solitaire games, while my nights are for lying in bed staring at the ceiling fan, which hums ominously and has a lopsided twist to its revolution. Off-kilter, it’s off-kilter. What is a kilter, and how do you get back on?
“You’re scaring me,” my husband says. “How can I help? What do you need?” He wants to fix me, and I wish I could reassure him by giving him a task and some tools. But I have nothing for him.
I say, “I’m healing in my own way, don’t worry.” The baby was only a line on a plastic wand and a grainy image on an ultrasound for him, while I felt her; we shared blood and bone. She is a black hole now, consuming my future. She is a few foolish and premature purchases: a onesie with rainbows, a silly sun hat, an irresistible little smocked dress, a stuffed giraffe. Those items live in the back of my closet now, too terrifying to contemplate, but too sad to throw away.
“When do you think you will go back to work?” My husband worries about my aimless days and sleepless nights.
My work is the memory unit of a senior living facility, and I miss my people. The last memories to vanish into the maw of dementia are those of childhood, and I listen to stories of long-gone pets, rides on streetcars, songs Mama used to sing, and lost sweethearts.
But if my job is to smile and be cheerful, to gaze at photos of grandchildren with Marjorie, and to play games of checkers with Sid, how can I do that when I cry without warning? The staff is not supposed to sob.
My obstetrician, who wears gold earrings shaped like seahorses, tells my husband and me to take our time, that this is a minor setback, and to not let it discourage us. “Pregnancy loss is common,” she explains, “even two in a row. We can’t find anything wrong, so you’ve just been unlucky. It happens.”
My husband grills her with technical questions, just as he does the mechanics who work on our ancient Volvo. He wants to get to the bottom of this problem. She glances at the clock. Her waiting room is filled with pregnant women.
From where I sit on her white leather chair, I can see the family photograph on her desk with her three sons, the littlest one sitting on her lap. I want something more from her, but I don’t know how to ask. A miracle? A shortcut? A magic wand?
I think I spot Percy the lorikeet in a gingko tree in the park on my walk, a flare of blue and apricot, but he vanishes so quickly that it could have been a trick of the brassy sun. I pursue him through the underbrush, until I am dizzy and disoriented. A woman pushing a double stroller with two flushed, sweaty babies stops to ask if I am all right. She offers me a water bottle from her cavernous diaper bag, and I accept. I ask her questions about her children, and she babbles away, fake complaining about the sleepless nights, the endless diapers, and the colic, while touching their downy heads. I prolong the conversation until it becomes awkward, and she says she needs to go. The babies watch me solemnly. They’re onto me.
I scan neighborhood posts online for news of Percy. Sightings of Percy are frequent at first: on a slide at the playground, in a backyard garden at sunset, in a bird bath frolicking with the robins in the heat of the day and perched on a roof at dawn. This bird gets around. I read that lorikeets are native to Australia and live on nectar and pollen. They thrive in the heat. I pray for our heat wave to continue to give Percy a fighting chance.
The heat breaks and we have heavy rains for days. Percy’s photo on the flyers runs in teary lurid streaks of violet and brown. His image is fading. I imagine him dead in a child’s wading pool, his baroque and flamboyant plumage dissolving in brilliant whorls.
I don’t tell my husband about my obsession with Percy. I know what he would say. I know what he would think. We share a bed, but we don’t share our fears. Percy is my secret. I dream of Percy flying in the window, illuminating my dim rooms with his gaudy colors. Would I call Allyson or keep him? I wonder if he talks and what words I would teach him.
My family and friends tell me their miscarriage stories. They all end happily, with a baby, sometimes two or three in sequence. Everyone is eager for me to try again, cheering me on as if we are on a team. I feel I am letting everyone down.
I hate the word: miscarriage. Mis- meaning a mistake or wrong, as if my baby were a poseur or a fraud. Or perhaps I am a defective conveyance, a carriage missing a wheel or two. “Your grandmother,” my mother says, “had three misses, and she was grateful to have the break. She ended up with eight children to raise on a steelworker’s salary as it was.”
I call Allyson and ask her if she has any leads on Percy. The online sightings have dried up. The last view was to the north, by the lake, in a wooded area.
“Nothing useful,” she says. “What do you want?” She seems annoyed. I hear a male voice in the background, the clinking of dishes. She doesn’t mute the phone while she yells, “Just some lady asking about Percy, but she hasn’t seen him.”
“How did he escape? I mean, he was in a cage, right?” I have tried to imagine the scenario: the cage, the open window, Percy flitting around the room. Where was Allyson? Did she run outside immediately? Why wasn’t there a screen on the window? Why didn’t she close the doors?
“My boyfriend was cleaning the cage because it smelled so bad, and he couldn’t find him when he finished. I don’t know what happened. Why are you so interested?” Her voice softens, and she seems genuinely curious. I want to keep her on the phone, to prolong this talk of Percy.
Tears choke me, making my voice sound like I am gargling. “Because he’s in a place he never expected to be and, I just don’t want you to give up on him.”
“You’re sweet,” she says. “But I’m accepting that he’s gone. Exotic birds are a lot of trouble and maybe I wasn’t up to the job.”
“Wait,” I say, but Allyson has already disconnected.
Janice calls me from the memory care unit. “Marjorie wanders about looking for you,” she says. “She asks where you are at least once an hour. And I have sad news. Rafael died yesterday.”
Rafael, with his stories of Barcelona after the war, when he ran in the streets with his brothers, climbing walls and stealing fruit, selling trinkets their mother made to survive. When he described his mother’s rabo de toro soup, made from oxtails, I could almost taste it and smell its earthy odors. An entire world of memories, tastes, and textures vanished with Rafael.
I rip down one of Percy’s flyers and take it home. I stare into his expectant little face. He’s asking me a question I don’t know how to answer. “No one’s looking for you anymore, but I won’t forget you. I don’t know what else I can do.”
I place his photo and my ultrasound images into my grandmother’s small satin jewelry box, where they nestle with my tarnished charm bracelet and a desiccated bottle of Eau de Joy perfume. I dig a hole near the fence where the butterfly bushes grow, their phallus-like blooms heavy with lavender flowers. The soil is wet, and the clay clings to my hands. I pat it carefully, tightly around the box, filling the hole and smoothing it flat. Only I know where they are.
“I think we should try again,” my husband says. “Time is not on our side.”
He’s lost weight, I see, and his face has new lines around his mouth. Or were they already there, and I just didn’t look? How long has it been since we touched each other? We are adrift in the middle of our lives on a little boat far from shore.
“I don’t know if I can,” I say. “My heart just can’t take it.”
He hugs me then, enfolding me, and I don’t pull away. His arms anchor me to the earth, and I can feel every inch of him and me. Us.
I visit the memory unit the week before I am due to return. I admire the new drapes in the art room, inhale the aromas of pine cleaner and chicken casserole, and absorb the tender triviality of life in the unit, where nothing is as it seems. There is someone new in Rafael’s room, a small birdlike woman with a raucous laugh. Her merry eyes remind me of Percy.
Marjorie grips my hand and won’t let go. She has been to the hairdresser, and her snow-white hair falls in a chic wedge cut. She looks like an ice queen.
“I lost the baby,” I tell her.
“Oh honey,” she says, stroking my face. “That’s awful. That’s just so unfair.”
I want to put my head in her lap, but that would be unprofessional, and Janice is watching me, assessing my emotional state.
Marjorie will ask me about the baby repeatedly in the weeks to come, but I won’t mind, savoring talking about a child who is no longer real to anybody but us.
Bonnie Brewer-Kraus lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in sight of Lake Erie, the great lake with the largest number of shipwrecks. A former architect, she writes short fiction and essays which focus on the overlooked and the minimized: children, women, animals, and invertebrates. She has a special fondness for spiders. She is a member of Literary Cleveland and a volunteer reader for Gordon Square Review. Her work can be found in CommuterLit, Coffin Bell, Gordon Square Review and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, as well as others.