Noelle was a response to Sophia. He learned relationships in a high school science class, each action creating an opposite reaction.
He peeked at the Yankees score while having sex with Sophia and it changed the atomic properties of rooms they shared going forward. Hives appeared on his back like islands of the Solomon Sea and he had to shit in a plastic hat for a month so they could run tests, which came back inconclusive. She hated his friends. He had visions of their wedding in an empty room made of wood.
Noelle smelled more than Sophia because she was heavier and had a worse diet, but he inhaled deeply under the covers while laying in bed all day, all night, on Sundays, ordering Ruebens from the deli up the street. They drank wine she stole from her dad and smoked weed she bought from her ex who she said was just like her dad. He asked her to consider a deeper meaning to that statement and she plunged her head down through the smoke and screamed into his face, don’t tell me what to do! He ignored it because he convinced himself she was attracted to confidence.
Noelle also had no interest in his friends, but would see them if they came to her.
She had an African Grey that knew party tricks, of course, like how it would say hello in Noelle’s mother’s voice whenever a phone would ring, or how it would bob its little head to the right kind of dance music. She left the cage open during the day so the bird could climb out and enjoy the sun. It had a murderous, unfiled beak which it smacked on the metal when your back was turned. She brought it into the shower and let it drink from the water rushing off her fingers.
That summer she just stopped showing up to work. She wore the same cotton bra every day for a month. She tore her ACL jumping on a trampoline and instead of going to see a doctor she pulled all of the blankets and pillows off of her bed onto the floor. But she never stopped caring for the bird, as if the care and passion draining from everything else was pooled and collected between her and this little squawking thing.
This was important because there are many, many ways to kill your bird. Avocados are number one on all the lists. Even a nibble at the skin or leaf can kill your bird. Guacamole can kill your bird. Caffeine will speed the beat of its miniature heart until it explodes in its chest, so don’t leave coffee out. Salt will unsettle the electrolyte ecosystem in its tiny bird body causing it to become dehydrated and die painfully while you’re at work. Non-stick pots and pans release toxic fumes, so don’t boil water in the winter to release humidity or this will suffocate the bird in your home. Smoke obviously kills your bird, so when she hit her surface-to-air-missile sized bong in the morning, after lunch, and right before bed, she tucked the bird behind a decorative sheet. And while not on any of the lists, the most common way to kill your bird is to bring it to bed, roll over on it, and crush it while you sleep.The bird makes no sounds while it happens so you wake up well rested before discovering your mistake. He almost did this once in Noelle’s childhood bed, but she had her hands locked around the bird like a shark cage. She thought of everything.
But what she didn’t think of was that having his friends at her apartment would make him approach the cage. Or that the prospect of creating a moment, something that could be referenced down the line in a speech at their wedding, laughter all around, would cause him to forget that only she could handle the bird. Or that he looked into empty cups of coffee wishing he could CTRL+A+Delete parts of his life like bad writing. Or that getting into relationships was much easier than getting out of them. Or that he would attempt to forge ahead, determined to make new memories, better memories, memories that would fit the picture of his life he kept in a trick drawer in his chest. Or that bird would step out onto his fingers to give life to that moment, for a moment, before creating a river between his knuckles. Or that he would jerk his hand so quickly. Or that the bird would hold on too long instead of getting go, and hit the wooden floor with such force, such violence, snapping its neck on contact.
Noelle may have never left the couch had their reactions not betrayed them. The friends vanished. She picked up the bird and held it out to him like she was serving a hot dish. Her face looked like someone had taken it off and put it back on.
He left the apartment after she locked herself inside the bathroom. She was going to wake up the neighbors. Around the corner he realized he had left his phone on her couch. Keep it, he thought, and smiled, thinking all this time how easy it was to start a new life.