Fiction from Rosie Garland and Meg Pokrass
Understanding bird migration
The frozen men, they eat me up. I drive to the market and they swarm like autumn wasps, droning how the trees are shivering; how they want my warm honey to take the bite out of the chill. They tell me about ladies who jet to Florida every November and sit on their houseboats drinking wine in the sweet sun. They say I’m better than those prunes. They swear I was made for them and their weather.
Honey, you’re hot, they say, following me with their winter eyes. What are you doing on such a cold naughty day?
I’m fighting the urge to let one of these lonely warriors in. Frostbitten men with lopsided mouths and needy arms who want to warm their feet on my back like I’m a heater in handy human form. I quit the store before their black ice spreads. The snow finds its way into the vegetable section, into the juice aisle. The sun is a betrayal, it says hello but it doesn’t even thaw my nose and chin.
The house glistens. The grass stands in stiff white spikes. Bad ideas roam the back yard, tapping at the window to be let in. I drop the blind and turn the TV up loud. I never saw the point of bird migration until I moved this far north. Now, all I can think about is sun. I even bought a SAD lamp. The shop assistant said it would make me happy, with the knowing smile of someone who counts the days to make the same joke.
I find myself in the car park behind the bar, howling to match the wind’s banshee whine. Electrical appliances bring mechanical happiness. I need real heat, the real you, and I won’t find either here.
Ten years ago my body enjoyed the frost more than it did mute thoughts. You flapped in like a bright summer bird, and quenched my need for flight. August-coloured skin, ripe for the picking. We lay together, and I wondered if love might keep this time.
Despite your warmth, I found myself wishing for winter. Frostbite had nothing on my heart. I toughened over with sheets of ice. I had to get out first, before you got the urge for leaving. I knew you would. Mother told me my problem was never being happy with what I had, always hankering for what I didn’t.
Ten years later, the gale blows sideways off the mountains. Wild geese live in front of days like this, on their way to Florida; ghosts lingering in the sky like an afterimage. They’ve left, but never really go. They have the urge and the feathers to fly and I can’t decide if I need them here or there.
The next morning finds me packing, ready to leave. Everyone leaves, when the grass is turning down.
I say, in my next life, make me a wild goose.
Rosie Garland, named by Val McDermid one of the UK’s most compelling LGBT writers, is author of The Night Brother, described by The Times as “A delight… with shades of Angela Carter.”
Meg Pokrass is the author of 8 collections of flash and microfiction and two-time recipient of San Francisco’s Blue Light Book Award. She is Founding Co-Editor of Best Microfiction.