I push the spoon into the buttered yams, stir them around. My father is at one side of the table, explaining the moving parts of a radiator. “There’s fewer than you’d think.” He keeps segueing to the life of sharks in the pacific. He gets this stuff from television.
Mother thinks he’s Dean Martin with a hot rhythm section. She’s at the other side of the table, clapping without touching her hands, tucking her hair behind her ears. This only encourages him. He sometimes gets really loud for no reason. She slaps the table, says Yeah like it’s jazz. Every half minute or so they gaze in my direction, drop their jaws.
I know my part. On demand, I can deposit food into both their mouths at the same time. Stare straight ahead, eye my peripherals without really looking, stretch my arms in either direction, feel the hi-hat shutting of their teeth on each spoon. This is nothing like flying.
With flying you get somewhere. Or, you can if you want.
I’ve been back home for eight months, caring for my parents. They’re insane. They had separated years ago and for the most part, they were fine on their own. Then there was that day mother was standing in line at Lou Ellen’s. One minute she was talking about cantaloupe, the next minute she was on the floor, a dark circle spreading on her pants, a scared look in her eyes.
The first thing I did was move her back in with my father. They don’t seem to realize they’re back together. They regard each other as someone new. And they have no idea who I am.
Last Tuesday I was a duck. It was really nice. Maybe the best day of the year. There weren’t any ornithologists out, which is good because they would have been bothered by my flight patterns. At one point I thought it would be pleasant to have some company. I landed in the middle of a flock of ducks. Some chewed at their backs. Some shook tail feathers. I quacked, three times. I knew the third one was too much but I did it anyway. The others gave me a look.
The next morning, Wednesday morning, I woke up face down on the kitchen floor, my old self. My nose was wet, drops of blood shining on the linoleum. A cheery game show played on the TV in the other room.
I wondered if my body stayed in the kitchen while I was away. I asked my father. He said, “Could be. Anything’s possible!” I did not ask my mother. Questions bother her. That question especially would be a problem.
It is rather easy to become a duck. Under the sink in our kitchen is a steel pipe. Unscrew the middle section of that pipe and inside is a little wire looped on the end. Pull that wire, there will be a flash of light, and you’ll be flying. Five hundred feet in the air, a wide river below, your orange webbed feet dangling. Which is not where they’re supposed to be, you should tuck them in, you’ll go faster.
It took me an hour to figure that out, and once I did, I was delighted at my speed, looping the loop, coming in a little low, tumbling over the water. Bicyclists were wary of me. My feathers were askew, a dozen plucked out and dangling in a tree from an earlier miscalculation. It was not pretty what I was doing.
The thing about the wire in the pipe, it’s now further back. To reach it I’m gonna need someone with child-sized hands.
Every night after dinner mother goes to the attic, she dances up there for hours, without music, without a partner.
I walk up the little stairs and there she is, holding herself, eye’s closed, waltzing past cobweb strands that hang from the ceiling, dust particles twinkling in the light of an orange lamp.
“Hello mother, sorry to bother you, but I—.” She clears her throat. There’s something wet and heavy in there.
“Mother I think I dropped your ring down the sink.” She stops, tilts her head, then blows raspberries at me. A phone call from the president wouldn’t get her downstairs. Not until it’s time for her late night cocktail. A portion of her brain is dry coral, but her inner clock stays true, a well-tuned metronome that she trusts above all else.
I go out, out to the backyard and there’s my dad on his knees, one hand petting the grass like he’s searching an animal for fleas. The other hand above his head, holding a pair of sewing scissors.
“Hi dad,” I say.
“Goddamn slugs!” he says. He slides the lower blade of the scissors under the ruffled skirt of a slug, a big one, large enough to suggest cognition. At the touch of the cold metal the creature’s tentacled eyes sink in, then it looks at me, pleading. My father, chewing his lip, not breathing, focused like a surgeon, closes the scissors with delicacy. The top blade pushes against the slug’s leathery mantel, the lower blade slips upwards, the scissors meet with a thin glissando, a muted snap.
“Ha!” he says, lifting the shears with pride, a strand of mucus trailing off them.
Watching the halved gastropod empty itself in the grass, I recall eating one of its kind. Last Tuesday when I was a duck. It was a shameful, satiating experience, the feel of it sliding whole down my gullet.
A shadow moves. I look towards the light in the kitchen window. The top of mother’s head buoys in and out of view, a fragile muppet looking for a strong drink.
I step in the kitchen. She’s kneeling in front of the sink, her arm half way up the pipe. She asks me what again did I drop down there? “Because I think I found it.”
“You did? That’s gr—wait, mother. Don’t pull!”
“Too late.” Bars of sharp light stream out of the pipe. The room fills with hot white, black spots eat holes in my vision. There’s a sound like a balloon being twisted and sucked through something wet. Then a champagne pop, and mother is gone. The empty kitchen looks dull. Near the open pipe a small white cloud spreads invisible.
My father walks in, sets his glistening scissors on the counter. “We could make an omelet,” he says, “if you want. There’s eggs and onions.” He opens the refrigerator, peers inside. “Why don’t you heat up some oil, I’ll see if I can find a tomato.”
Sunny Bleckinger worked for five years as a journalist and editor in the Netherlands. He currently hosts the Soft Show reading series in Portland, OR, and he’s working on his first novel for the third time. This is his first published fiction.