Animals On A Wire – Chris Milam

The window was stained with tobacco smoke and fingerprints. Outside, at least 50 blackbirds gathered on a power line. A funeral flock. If they were fried alive, he would pick the carcasses off the ground, take them inside, rip off the feathers, drown them in buffalo sauce, set the table for three, eat them, and wash it all down with a glass of sparkling water. His wife would remind him to keep his elbows off the table while his daughter laughed at his transgression. On the wall, the hands of a plastic clock would move as if coated in heavy syrup. Henry would collect dead animals from coast to coast if he could slip into yesterday and relive the past for a few minutes.

Across the street, he watched a tiny girl kick a soccer ball with her dad. It was sweet, the way he let her score a goal between two trees by just being out of reach from blocking the shot. Almost, but no save. The underdog prevails. Her celebration dance was wild and beautiful. Her smiling father didn’t need to relive anything.

The man decided to wash the dishes. It had been a few days. The sink was a menagerie of one: plate, cup, fork, spoon, pan, plastic bowl, lid. Water hot but not skin graft hot. He was done in three minutes. What now?

He sat on the couch and opened the laptop, took a stroll down social media avenue. Smiles brighter than neon signs. Trips to Disney World and the Great Smoky mountains. Love-dipped Melissa sipping on a fruity drink with perfect posture Stephen. Darlene splashing around in the kiddie pool in the backyard. Walking in the park, recitals, zombie costumes, laughing the way happy people laugh. He moved the cursor to the X in the right corner, pressed the pad. Too much, too fresh, too many triggers.

He pulled up an app and swiped left, swiped left, lit a Camel, swiped left. Refrigerator, bottle cap opener, lifted, tilted, swigged. Swiped left.

Back at the window, he squinted at the sun pouring through the glass. Burn everything I’ve seen, he thought. Or everything others have seen me do. Can you do me that solid? Henry opened his mouth, chewed some sunshine, swallowed, then forced it into his organs and bloodstream. He didn’t feel normal doing this.

The birds were still hanging out. He wanted to join them, spend the afternoon with them, just some animals on a wire getting to know one another, surviving together. But what if he was electrocuted and dropped to the ground like a singed cinder block? Would they grieve for him? Miss him? Share stories about the man he was, or the one he should’ve been? No, his new bird friends would see him as a meal, an opportunity, and peck away at his lifeless body until there was nothing left.

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CHRIS MILAM lives in Hamilton, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Lost Balloon, (b)OINK, WhiskeyPaper, Sidereal Magazine, Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.

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Image: Edmond Berisha
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