A North American Field Guide to How It Falls Apart

Elissa Field

You won’t suspect them, in the wild. They will be standing in line for a keg in the back of a van in an alley between brick tenements, both eyeing the batted momentum of a huge inflatable bison to the rhythm of a garage band. The female will be hiding in a black leather biker jacket and Docs. The male will approach from behind, less distinctive, but remarkable for the silken-haired knees projecting through frayed holes in his jeans. The female will note he has good hands, good wingspan.

You will observe their courtship in the dropped timbre of his low, soft accent. The playful way he pushes his arms out like an airplane, drunk on Jack and Coke, and flies circles around her, waiting for an elevator door to open, singing, I don’t know who this other guy is, but he ain’t got shit on me. You will know she has accepted him as her mate if she steps in before the doors close.

You will observe displays of joy and attachment. He will drive three hours round trip up from the city to her flat and back when she’s locked her car keys and the papers she needs to teach a class inside her sporty hatchback. He will grin wide when she comes out to the car park to meet him. Sprint hard and leap miraculously over the roof of her car to sweep her into a humpy kiss. She will return the favor, meeting him once in the lobby of his job wearing nothing but an overcoat and stilettos despite the cold.

You will worry those first seasons when the nest remains empty. When they migrate wrong directions, stay too long in the sun, gather wrong foods. Dwindling numbers. Disease. Loss of habitat. But you will see them dance. Him, all arms and legs. Her, a slinky thing. Them, one movement. You will observe the first time the female orders a drink in a Japanese restaurant—a mai tai—and hesitates at the first sip, wondering. You will see a trip canceled. He will suddenly change jobs. Their nest will fill with absurd objects, larger than themselves. And you will be relieved—for them, for their stupid-love faces, for the species, for the time you invested in watching—when the first downy chick arrives.

You will observe the low timbre when he drops his soft accent to speak love to the newly born. The playful way he pushes his arms out like an airplane, flies circles around his bairn. The way he leaps the roof of the car and the pram. The way he drives three hours round trip, over and over and over and over and over and over and over. And over. You’ll track mileage. Oil changes. Transmission. Car payments. Tires. Insurance. Health insurance. Life insurance. Renters insurance. Rent. Gas. Electric. Water. Phone. Mortgage. Childcare. Pediatrician. Obstetrician. Dentist. Orthodontist. Dental guard for grinding teeth. Cardiologist. Orthopedist. Chiropractor. Therapist. Movers. Attorney’s fees. Clerk’s fees.

You will be tempted to argue in defense of the species. Angry margin notes half legible. Banking crisis. Housing crisis. Neurodivergence. Pandemic. Tornado. Drought. Hurricane. War. Layoff. Thieves. Liars. Diagnosis. Diagnosis. Diagnosis. Temptation. Ennui. But that is only context. Fallibility is all you can conclude. Fragility despite that magnetism strong as gravity, true as tides.

You will sketch the plumage, carefully, beside your notes. What she wore. What he noticed. What they overlooked. What they loved anyway. What they said. How long they promised. How long they lasted. How grateful they are, all the same. How much how much how much how monstrously much they loved. And you will wait for the next mating season to begin. 

Elissa Field’s writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Ghost Parachute, Reckon Review, Hypertext, Conjunctions, Adelaide, Writer Unboxed, Sun Sentinel, and elsewhere. She is a SmokeLong Quarterly Emerging Writer Fellow 2023, with a prior fellowship from Story Studio Chicago. She has been a finalist in the Heekin Foundation for novel in progress and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. She and her sons live in a ridiculously cool historic house under an ancient mango tree. She is at work on a novel and collection of stories. Find her @elissafield or elissafieldthompson.com.

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

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