Academic journal article Antipodes

Gently, Gently

Academic journal article Antipodes

Gently, Gently

Article excerpt

Gently, you place them on the back seat. Soft rustles from inside. Dry scrape of claw. Papery flutter of feather. (Your insides, too, a tumble-turn of butterflies.) Low clucks, but not many. They're quiet. They're frightened, trying to find their feet in the slipping dark. This morning, you'd stabbed air holes into the box's sides with a kitchen knife. Now, you squint through the gouges, trying to see if anything can see you. A reptilian yellow eye stares back. Another scuffle. The lizard of look flashes away.

You both move to the front of the car. You insist on driving. No need, he says, walking to the driver's side. He is just trying to help. Without looking at him, you nudge him out of the way. Pulling back onto the dirt track you ignore his hurt and try to ignore the quiet distress pulsing from the back seat. (And again, that familiar flush of guilt. How can his hurt merely irritate you, as if it is nothing more than a mosquito bite, a stone in a shoe, a key jammed in a lock? How is it that those confused creatures on the back seat whip up a storm of compassion in you as it hits you, once again, that you will never, never be able to imagine their experience? It makes no sense: it's not like you can imagine his.)

You're back on the highway. You stare at the broken white lines on the strip of black tick tick ticking past and you ignore his talking. A woman in an old station wagon overtakes you. She's about the same age. In her back seat a toddler sits next to a grey plastic baby carriage. The boy is talking and watching the pale flashing stars of his tiny hands in the rearview mirror. Just a broken white line, tick tick ticking between you and you watch it unfold.

A mere flick of the wrist.

Your car nicks theirs.

They ricochet across the highway, slamming into a ton of roadside gum.

The rough embrace of steel.

But your mind's eye is not interested in this image (a clichéd scene from a B-grade movie). Instead, it is watching three escapee chickens belt themselves against your car's glass windows, a blizzard of feathers as they bat around and around and around a car that is spinning out to nowhere.

Your stagger of laughter.

He smiles at you, thinking you are laughing at something he's said.

You get home at lunch time. Together, you stand in your small backyard. The box sits between you on the grass. You have spent the past week knocking together a coop from old wire, wooden crates, and bare sawn branches. It's not beautiful, but it's sturdy. They have everything they need: roosts, nesting boxes, and a door and wire floor to keep out the nocturnal prowls of cat and fox. During the day, they'll roam the yard.

Again, you ask him if he's sure that the six-foot fence is high enough.

Again, he tells you everything will be fine. Trust me, he says, squatting down and lifting the cardboard flaps.

Inside, your three birds are plumped up in a fluff of defense. Their heads twitch at the sudden light.

Out you get, he says. His elbows rest on his knees as he peers over them. His sleeves are rolled up over his firm, dark forearms; the ropes of vein and sinew that make him up.

He starts making wet kissy noises.

You shake your head.

What? He squints up at you and the midday sun.

He tries to make clicking sounds, as you do with the dog. He sounds like he is choking on his tongue.

Stop that! you say. It's disgusting.

The birds just sit there, a little less round, a little more curious, their heads twisting left and right as they calculate the stupidities of their new situation.

You step forward and kick the box over onto its side.

Hey! He rocks back onto his heels and stands as the birds summersault and slide onto the grass, shrieking. Quickly, they right themselves and shake dignity back into their plumage. They begin to walk in circles, stopping now and again to stretch out their wings and legs, chicken-style yoga. …

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