Lime Hawk

Lime Hawk is an independent artist collective and literary press based in Redding, Connecticut, producing works that muse on environment, culture, and sustainability. 

Birds | Andrew Mirzoian

C.D. Frelinghuysen
Recurse

 

Echo off.

You return home from the two-month trip you’d begged your boss to take. You open the front door and step inside. It is very dark. Someone is sobbing in a chair in the furthest corner.

 

Turn on light

OK

The light above the kitchen table flicks on. Your wife of ten years is covering her face with massive, swollen hands. She removes her hands and you see she has somehow gotten uglier, her features coarse and iron. She is going on about her everlasting headache and how awful it has been while you were gone.

 

Say right thing

You can't do that

Embrace wife

You don't have anything to do that with

Talk wife

OK

“Yeah, I bet,” you say. “Stop brushing your hair and see how depressing you get. Jesus, you look in the mirror lately?”

Your wife asks, “Can you take me to the doctor tomorrow?” Then, as apology: “I can’t see well enough to drive.”

The next morning you take her to the doctor’s office. You hold her purse while the doctor examines her on the table. Both of you are perplexed when the doctor asks if she has any old photos.

 

Look 

The doctor is examining the peculiar way your wife's forehead hangs like a shelf over her eye sockets. He is taking longer to diagnose psychosomatic headaches than you'd thought.You are sitting in an uncomfortable chair by the door. You are holding your wife's purse in your lap.

 

Look purse

The purse contains: a bottle of ibuprofen that contains two types of pills, several crumpled bus transfers, a pair of bifocals even though your wife is only forty, and a burgeoning clutch.

 
 
 
 

She avoids your gaze and says they are for her headaches.

Ask wife pills

Look bifocals

They are a pair of bifocals. As far as you knew, she never had vision problems before. The doctor notes them and writes something down.

Open clutch

Inside is cash and many photographs. You withdraw one that you shot on a hiking trip to Alaska while you were dating.

Look photo

She is standing on a steep glacier in a full parka and smiling. Her cheeks and nose are flushed and raw from the wind. You remember how young and energetic she had once been. You wonder if she always carries this picture in her purse.

Give photo doctor

OK

The doctor looks at the photo, then back at your wife. It seems to decide something for him. He orders a head scan and sends you to a surgeon. The surgeon holds to the light the slices of your wife’s brain and points out a bright acorn in their deepest shadows.

“That’s an adenoma of the pituitary,” she says. “Making way too much growth hormone. This is why the changes in the skull and hands.”

 

Self

You think the surgeon has just said that your wife has a brain tumor but you're not sure.

Look wife

Say right thing wife

Ask surgeon adenoma

She is trembling

You can't do that now

OK

In that dangerous two-second gap between hearing and understanding, you shoot off a question. “And it turns you into a whiny mess?” you ask.

You realize immediately this is a question to either ask the doctor in private, or to never ask at all. Your wife looks at you and just as quickly looks down. Her face is red. The surgeon, bless her, pretends not to notice. The surgeon schedules the surgery for two weeks from today.

At home, your wife goes into the bathroom and is pulling her hair down to make bangs to cover her Lurch mug. She says, “I’m medically ugly.”

 

Self

OK

You wish her problem instead was a kidney, or liver, or cornea; something you could donate that would surely erase your debt and probably get the both of you on the news. At the next appointment you pull the surgeon aside to make sure she knows that if your wife needs blood that you are willing to roll up your sleeve. The surgeon assures you that it will not be a bloody surgery, and that the hospital’s blood bank has plenty in case. “Just be there for her when she goes in, and be there when she comes back out,” she says, patting your arm.

At home, your wife goes into the bathroom and is pulling her hair down to make bangs to cover her Lurch mug. She says, “I’m medically ugly.”

 

Say right thing wife

Help

You can't do that now

You can: go, talk, throw, eat, drink, fight, use, look, or Inventory. But use your imagination and see what happens!

Look wife

Your wife is failing to obscure her Neanderthal brow. Take-out Indian food is congealing on the table.

Inventory

You have: the business card for a cancer psychiatrist that the surgeon gave you, a one-hitter, your car keys, and a looming despair that if you don't find something amazing to say, and let your wife get wheeled away and gassed, alone, surrounded by masks, irrevocable harm will be done. Not just to your marriage but to the reckoning that you believe is waiting for you.

 

Use one-hitter

You inhale deeply. Nothing else happens.

 

Use despair

On What?

 

Use despair to say right thing wife 

You can't do that now.

 

Use despair on wife

OK

You tell your wife that you don’t trust her surgeon and that you want a second opinion. She does not seem to pay attention to you. You turn the light off so she can’t use the mirror. She turns it back on. You slam the door, open it again, and yank her out of the bathroom to listen to you. Your wife says that insurance won’t cover a second opinion and you cry out that money doesn’t matter! Yelling and manhandling her makes you feel a little better.

Here you realize that you’re missing a parallel subplot designed to illustrate and reinforce the main plot.

You can: suffer from chronic lower back pain, have a stray fox arrive in your backyard, or try and confront your mounting struggles against racism, or |more|

 

Back pain

OK

Every morning for the past year you’ve been waking up with a terrible ache down around your right kidney. You tell your chiropractor you tweaked it while raking leaves out front, but really it happened during love-making acrobatics in an airport Ramada.

He kneads and kneads it. “It’s really bad today,” he notes. After your half-hour session it feels worse, somehow. Hotter, angrier. The chiropractor refers you to an acupuncturist in Chinatown.

The acupuncturist thoroughly aerates your back, then lays his palms on it. He frowns at you for a while, and then consults his colleague next door, who arrives with an armload of suction cups and candles. By the time they’re done, you have a new limp and have to push your car seat back three notches to accommodate the swelling.

Even worse, you get home to find your wife has dragged herself to the store and bought a hot water bottle with a strap for you, and fills it every thirty minutes with new water from the kettle. It doesn’t help. The next morning you are suplexed by pain. You can’t get out of bed--can’t even wiggle your toes--for twenty minutes, and your wife wants to call an ambulance. She helps you down the stairs.

 

Say thank you

You groan out, "Thanks," and your wife says, "Don't mention it."

 

Say thank you, really

You say, "Seriously, I--" but your wife deposits you on the couch and you seize up with fresh pain. You overhear her mutter, "Motherfucker" while she dials the phone. Laid up with your nice excuse and in constant agony, you berate your wife even more in the days leading up to her surgery and never realize anything.

You lose! Do you want to try again?

 

Y

OK


Here you realize that you’re missing a parallel subplot designed to illustrate and reinforce the main plot.

You can: suffer from chronic lower back pain, have a stray fox arrive in your backyard, or recall your lifelong struggles against racism.

 

Racism

OK

Growing up, your family restaurant was in the red all the time, and you still blame the All-American city you lived in. You blame them for your ratty shirts and for each career door that slammed shut with every test you failed. You blame them for the infirm way your mother lowered herself down the tall bus steps, four transfers a day. One night

 

Skip forward

OK

Dad loved cooking and he did it well. He made better food for the customers than he made for you, your Mom or your Granddad. When he took the order, he unwrapped the chicken breasts

 

Skip forward

OK

You remember you stared at the white customer through the porthole in the double doors. You hate his calm invincibility, here in your place, eating your food. If you had asked to see the wine list at the brasserie downtown, dressed like him, they’d hit the silent alarm

 

Skip

OK

You picked up the dish, pressed a finger over the side of your nose, unloaded a loogie onto the food, and

 

Skip

OK

Dad nodded or shook his head obediently at each question, hands folded on his apronfront, and afterwards he sweeps into his hand the eighty cents left on a $12.20 check. All this you watch through the door. You follow Dad all the way to the till and watch him deposit each coin into its drawer.

“Dad,” You finally burst. “Dad. Are you

 

Redo

OK

Here you realize that you're missing a parallel

 

|more|

OK

You can also: have an important contract at your job go sour, your neighbor can be pissed about your tree that keeps dropping crabapples on his lawn, secretly be a werewolf, see on the news that there is a serial killer in the city, get a girl pregnant.

 

|more|

Those are great, emblematic sideplots; why do you want more?

 

Fox

OK

You are kicking over rocks in your backyard and crushing worms and beetles with your heel when you notice two alert eyes staring at you from the pile of garbage in the side alley. You’ve never seen a fox before.

 

Shoo away fox

You lob a stone at it but it merely quivers and remains.

 

Feed fox

OK

You run back inside and fix a bowl of milk and a plate of cube steak your wife had marinating with Diet Coke, lemon, and rosemary. The fox steps in the milk getting to the bloody steak. It tears it apart and trots away without even looking at you.

It comes back a week later and sinks its teeth into your calf while you are bringing the mail back to the house. The pain is quite more than you can handle.

 

Remove fox

You try to pry its jaws open but it will not budge. Blood has drenched your sock and the skin immediately around the wounds is turning white. You are. getting dizzy.

 

Hit fox

OK

You slam your fist down on its head until it lets go, then spend the rest of the evening in the emergency room getting eight stitches. As soon as you get home, your wife calls Animal Control and the next day they send over a burly man with a cage and a shotgun. You regard each other in your driveway.

 

Turn fox into symbol

You need to specify, "Turn [subject] into symbol of [object] with [amount of literary heavy-handedness.]"

 

Turn fox into symbol of fatherhood with high 

OK

Every garbage day you spy the fox in the alley nuzzling at something putrid. It is incredibly cute. You want a dog but your wife wants to pay down the credit cards. You want a baby but never bully your wife all the way into it. Something holds you back. What role model of fatherhood do you have? Certainly nothing from your own childhood. I mean, what kind of father takes his son

 

Skip

OK

But this elegant, sleek creature is complete and self-reliant. Nothing you could do to it would hurt its feelings or complicate its worldview.

You are currently: regarding the Animal Control guy holding a shotgun and cage in your driveway.

 

Argue man

OK

You remonstrate with the man but he has hangman eyes and he sets the trap, fuels it with chicken scraps, and squats twenty feet away flicking the safety on and off until five o’clock. He comes back to replace the chicken every three days but as soon as he leaves you sprinkle paprika over it, which you read foxes hate.

You are currently: standing on one leg in the living room, the other leg propped on the couch so your wife can change the gauze.

“I still don’t get why they didn’t give you the rabies shot,” she says.

You don’t know but you almost wish you did have rabies. To go out of your mind would be a joy. Almost a poetic conclusion to you.

 

Inventory

You have: the business card to a cancer psychiatrist that the surgeon gave you, the bill from the ER, and a high deductible.

 

Go therapy

OK

Your wife has been to three sessions with Dr. Bracco but this is the first time you have met her. Your wife is not there. Dr. Bracco is a beautiful and intelligent woman. You don’t appreciate this.

 

Talk therapist

OK

Right as you both sit down you say, “Must be tough for men to talk about their whores and their hard-ons with a pretty girl like you.”

She gestures to her wastebasket which is overflowing with ten-dollar cardboard hearts filled with chocolate. “I don’t know where my patients find them, a whole month before Valentine’s Day. So. Why don’t you tell me about your whore and your hard-on?”

 

Think whore

There have been some, none memorable. You don't think they are the root of your problem.

 

Think wife

She is at the pharmacist, picking up anti-nausea medicine that the surgeon prescribed. There is something there.

 

Talk wife therapist

OK

“I”m having trouble with my wife,” you say.

“Go on,” Dr. Bracco says.

 

Tell truth therapist

To tell the truth, you need to specify what amount of truth, and how personally damaging it should be.

 

Tell half truth no damage

OK

You tell Dr. Bracco the truth. That you feel an anticipatory survivor’s guilt. That it should be you with the cancer, since your wife has made all the correct lifestyle choices--never smoked, rarely drank, exercised a decent amount. Whereas you . . . but you trail off.

Dr. Bracco doesn’t write any of this down. She looks bored, in fact.

 

Tell full truth half damage therapist

OK

You tell Dr. Bracco the truth. You haven’t fucked her in two years and kissed her in five. You tell her that your wife married you despite the objections of her parents and you hate all three of them for it. When her sumbitch father died you made her drive herself to the airport. That you fear you’d wielded your resentment like a steady beam of radiation and given her the cancer. Dr. Bracco corrects you that a pituitary adenoma is not that type of cancer, but that just makes you feel stupid without alleviating your guilt.

Dr. Bracco doesn’t write any of this down. She looks bored, in fact.

 

Tell full truth full damage

OK

You tell Dr. Bracco about the time you were seven and saw the Boris Carloff Frankenstein and he gave you dismemberment nightmares. This is the Frankenstein with the metal pegs coming out of the neck. Dr. Bracco frowns at you, waiting for this to go somewhere.

You keep describing him. He had a big, high forehead, a broad nose, and crooked, spaced teeth that look hammered into his gums. His shuffling huge feet. You dreamt he chased you through a swamp and ripped your belly button out.

Dr. Bracco gets it now and recoils from you. You know what she is thinking. If you were in the history books you would rank even below Henry VIII. He wanted a son. You’re too scared to even want that.

Finally she takes out her notebook and writes down what you’ve said. “Now we know what we’re dealing with,” she says.

 

Talk therapist

You talk some more but nothing comes of it.

 

Talk dream therapist

You talk some more but nothing comes of it.

 

Talk wife therapist

You talk some more but nothing comes of it.

 

Self

You are sitting in a comfortable chair and feel very vulnerable before Dr. Bracco. You feel that after your revelation there should be some maturation or resolution but you just feel like a bug.

 

Leave

OK

It is the day of surgery. Your wife changes slowly in the small curtained room with a sliding glass door. You sit watching her yank off her extra-wide, laceless shoes, and her flipper-like hands disappear into her sleeves and peel the sweater off her head.

“Can you help me?” she asks.

 

Tie gown

OK

You help her tie her gown. The nurse peeks in, asks about allergies, and then the anesthesiologist comes in, looks in your wife’s mouth with a light, and leaves. It is almost time.

Your wife lies on the pillow, her wet greying hair like kelp on a dirty beach. She insisted on washing her hair this morning so the surgeon’s gloves wouldn’t get greasy. Her hand is very close.

 

Hold hand

OK

You take her hand in both of yours. Surprised, she turns to you. “Honey?” she says.

It would be nothing at all to say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’ll be good to you again.” Or a million other things would do the job, the moment is so ripe.

 

Say right thing

You know you have to specify

 

Say I'm sorry

What are you apologizing for? The tumor? Her unhappiness? None of those have your prints on them. We are all in the end responsible for our own feelings. Plus, doing so would admit to cheating, the inattention, the cruelty, the apathy. Your wife would correctly infer that only the external event of the tumor has brought you to this point. You're not sorry, you're just guilty.

 

Say I'll be good to you again

No; because even if you meant it and she accepted, eventually you would resent being cornered into reforming your ways just because of some unlucky neural mitosis, and she would resent having a prisoner instead of a husband.

 

Kiss wife

You lean in and kiss her for the first time in five years. Her mouth is dry and musty from not haven eaten anything since eight hours pre-op. Afterward her eyes gleam but she still looks expectant.

 

Say I love you

OK

You say the magic words. Your wife beams. After the surgery you rent a new place uptown, bigger, with more sunlight. Both of you insist on three bedrooms because you guys are trying, now. You both are clean, sober, and have good credit this time. You still get annoyed with her and she still gets seized by the occasional fear that she’s wasted her life with you--but you stick to your maintenance sex schedule and sometimes smoke and overeat and watch TV. It’s not perfect but it’s sustainable.

You wake up from this dream. It is the day of the surgery. Your ugly wife lies beside you. Your chest feels like reverse popcorn: tough, small, and inert.

You both go to the hospital.

Your wife changes slowly in the small curtained room with a sliding glass door. You sit watching her yank off her extra-wide, laceless shoes, and her flipper-like hands disappear into her sleeves and peel the sweater off her head.

“Can you help me?” she asks.

 

Tie gown

OK

You help her tie her gown. The nurse peeks in, asks about allergies, and then the anesthesiologist comes in, looks in your wife’s mouth with a light, and leaves. It is almost time.

Your wife lies on the pillow, her old grey hair like tangled kelp. She insisted on washing her hair this morning so the surgeon’s gloves wouldn’t get greasy. Her hand is very close.

 

Hold hand

OK

You take her hand in both of yours. Surprised, she turns to you. “Honey?” she says.

It would be nothing at all to say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’ll be good to you again.” Or a million other things would do the job, the moment is so ripe.

 

Say right thing

You know you have to specify

 

Say I love you

You can't do that because you don't

 

Say it and mean it

What are you, six years old?

 

>

>

>

 

Say I'm leaving you

OK

"I'm leaving you," you say.

 

Leave

You are still holding her hand

 

Drop hand

OK

 

Leave

OK

You stand up, slide open the door, and shut it behind you. You step outside into that silent part of the morning. It is warm and bright and you feel a reprisal of your subplot coming on before the big finish. Where will it come from?

 

Go home

OK

You drive home to pack. You hear a clanging from the backyard and see the fox clawing at the cage. The Animal Control man isn’t there but his van is, and so is his shotgun, resting against the house. The fox sees you and stops jumping about.

 

Feed fox

There is no food in the house

 

Pet fox

You bring your fingers close to the cage and it nearly bites them off

 

Pick up gun

You heft the gun in your hands and flick off the safety

 

Shoot fox

The fox pants happily until you blow its head off for the crime of lazy symbolism

You win! Not a great ending though--see the others?

 

Y

OK

You let go of your wife’s hand and clutching your aching back, limp through the parking lot to retrieve your cigarettes. A pickup truck collides with you, neatly severing your spinal cord. Before you go comatose you smile since your back no longer hurts. You go into surgery the next room over from your wife. You wake up at night. There is a chair next to your bed containing a large form but it is too dark to discern any features.

 

Say wife's name

OK

You try to form the word but you’ve long lost your right to say it. Only a pitiful blubbering comes out. The noise stirs the thing in the chair. It unwinds its long arms and huge hands, each large enough to strangle you. You bring the sheets over your head and wait.

 

Wait for it

OK


C.D. Frelinghuysen is a writer living in Oakland, and is a recent graduate of the MFA Fiction program at San Francisco State University.

Andrew Mirzoian was born during winter in a small miner's town in Tula region. Mother, a teacher of Russian and Literature, would tell his brother and him about writers and poets, and read out a lot of fairy tales and classics. Father would sing romances accompanying himself on guitar or piano. Grandmother painted oriental beauties and fruit patterns, which Andrew colored with pleasure. Brother copied pictures from magazines—of bloodthirsty pirates or Sioux and Hurons wearing war bonnets paddling in canoes, down on the warpath carrying bows, spears and tomahawks. Andrew enjoyed watching him work standing behind his chair. Then they moved to Moscow and Andrew became an Artist.