Squawk

When she wakes up, he’s singing. She curls up, enjoying a cocoon of warmth, wonders if she’s ever heard him sing before.

Cuppa? he says, popping his head in the door.

Yes please! She slides up, trying to keep as much of her as possible undercover. Outside the window, the sky is solid blue, and a gang of birds lines the electric wires.

Here you go, milky tea, two bonus shortbreads.

She smiles up at him.  Thanks. Hey, did you sleep on your hair?

What?  He runs his hand through his curls, but they stay wildly upright.

You know Grandma always said to leave your hair on the bedpost overnight.

He snorts. Don’t think you remembered either – look at your hair when you get up. I’m off to cook breakfast.

She cups her hands around the green mug, blows rising steam. The shortbreads are homemade, she dunks one in her tea, listening to the singing and bacon-sizzling and plate-clattering from the kitchen. This virus lockdown does have some advantages.

She looks out the window again, the feathery line-up has expanded, the Magpies and Currawongs have been joined by four Lorikeets and a couple of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos. She finds herself humming quietly, and when the Cocky on the right ruffles his feathers and screeches, she screeches back.

You alright in there?

Yep, just talking to the birds.

He laughs, but when she looks up, the birds are watching her.

She slides out of bed, keeps her eyes on them, walks to the bathroom in her fuzzy slippers. Splashes water on her face, meets her eyes in the mirror. He’s right, her hair is wild. She brushes it down, but it springs back at once. Must be static she thinks, maybe a storm coming.

On the way to the kitchen, she sees more birds on the side fence. She frowns as there is a thump on the skylight in the hall, she can see claws skittering against the opaque window, a layer of feathers like stained glass.

Kookaburras are laughing overhead, and swirls of Corellas are swooping through the garden, their blue-ringed eyes bright against white feathers.

He stands at the stove, his back to her when she comes into the kitchen.

Hey, have you seen the birds? Bit creepy…

He turns towards her, his eyes round and glittering.

I saw them, he says.

Her heart starts to beat faster, she can feel it pulsing in her throat. What’s wrong with your eyes?

He squawks, walks fast towards her, toenails scritching against the floorboards. Nothing…. he says, hair bristling, three green feathers twined through his curls.

He flings open the back door. Clouds of wild screeches and two Brush Turkeys fly in.

She looks up at him, sees herself mirrored in his eyes. Smiles, gives a Squawk.

He grabs her in his arms then, singing, and whirls her out across the step into a tornado of feathers.

Laughing, they twirl down the street, whirling together, surrounded  by birdsong.

©️Danielle Baldock, 2020.

Danielle Baldock’s atmospheric writings capture small and vivid moments of time. She has been published in Spineless Wonders’ Landmarks, Shuffle and Scars anthologies, lives in Sydney and takes lots of photos. Her favourite colour is green. She speaks semi-fluent Cockatoo. 

Of Cork and Corella

Patterns of interlocking numbers thread through Corella’s fabric in thin helixes and all I can think of is Yeats’ widening gyre and Russian roulette, though it is remiss of me to harbour such thoughts when I really mean to say that this shimmering checkerboard is just a figment of my imagination. Still, engraved bodies swell and bubble in what I can only call empty creeks where water evaporates in plain sight and memories sink out of it. High-performing modelling names this the corkscrew-effect, which I reckon is unfair on Cork and Corella.

Dominique Hecq

Plumes

As days lengthened and warmed those with feathers lost them. One by one, or in downy clumps.

Idris asked that they be sent to her. First those from friends who had suffered and survived. What others considered disease-ridden she saw only as beautiful. She arranged them onto medical things. Onto syringes and kidney dishes. Onto stands that had once held bags of plasma and anaesthetic and liquids to sustain people laid out beneath them.

She posted a group of them as an online installation, and sold the lot, when other artists were struggling to even see a clear future.

People began sending her feathers. Survivors commissioned works from their own moult. Others sent the fallen feathers of fallen partners along with pleas, and apologies in advance. She did what she could.

Idris found a larger studio.

She made plans for a commissioned installation. Five feathered rooms that would celebrate the reopening of the Museum of Art. When the time came.

Still the feathers arrived.

Idris rented a warehouse.

No date could be set.

It would be magnificent.

But it would have to wait.

RH June 2020

Half Baked (part 2)

Interest in what quickly became known as the Four-and-Twenty Theory spread rapidly. New evidence emerged of the medieval bird virus. Cultural theorists, partnering with epidimiologists, uncovered references in sonnets and in the gold-encrusted illustrations of ecclesiastical manuscripts. Clear as day, they said.

And then, because it had gotten out of hand, Simone ‘Simmo’ Pierce, an out of work comedian from suburban Melbourne, posted images of the notebook pages on which she’d concocted the idea as an idle amusement for herself during isolation. Her original post was confirmed by story-hungry journalists as the one and only source of all the fuss.

And then a strange thing happened. In a world where malicious politics had replaced certainty and truth, Simmo became a pariah, the fall-girl for a sceptical public, strained as it was by the disease. Her sin was not that she had lied, because lieing itself barely raised eyebrows these days, but that she had done so for no purpose. Outrageous. Every tenet of the new morality identified untruth as a legitimate strategic position. But Simmo had no strategy. No endgame. No purpose to her fibbing. And for that it seemed the wrath of the whole world, led by the loudest of the purposeful liars, fell upon her.

And all she could do, in return, was laugh.

– RH

Race/Humanity

“I can’t breathe,” said the mockingbird
but the bluejay didn’t care.
And the other birds wept bloody tears
for yet another cross to bear.
There are two deadly viruses
floating in our air –
One doesn’t discriminate,
the other’s always been there.

– Seetha Nambiar Dodd

Half Baked

At the height of its global spread it emerged that the bird disease had likely struck before. The evidence had been hiding in plain sight, in a popular nursery rhyme no less. Ring-a-rosie had been a precedent. An inquiring mind wound through the same rhythmic woods until it came to the blackbirds. Four and twenty, the number of days, or near enough, the virus ran, in those cases where the transformation did not become permanent. The baking of the fever. Sixpence or rye with which to try to buy the time of some overworked physician. Even the amusement of the king struck an uncomfortably familiar chord.

12 Bar

If I had a bird in the hand
Wouldn’t let that bird fly
But those two in the bush
Seems I’ll chase til I die

Yeah I don’t wanna be chasing
No bush birds no more
Ain’t wastin my time
Got less time than before

’cause I got feathers for fingers
– I win but I lose –
I get to sing like a nightingale
But I can’t play the blues

[chorus]
Yeah I got the birdie blues
I’m so low I can’t fly
I ain’t gonna be takin
No more to the sky
Ain’t gonna be takin
No more liberties
Ain’t gonna be shakin
This corella disease
In this year of infection
Just ain’t got no excuse
For this low disaffection
‘cept those old birdie blues

(12 bar blues in E: repeat ad nauseam, continuously amending and altering to build maudlin intensity)

RH

benefits

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- Richard Holt

Co-Vid App

Unable to give a return address, I cell the tale of my successful Co-Vid application. On the dawn of the Ιός-era, I attended the birth of Corona, a name chosen in homage to my favourite beer. We clinked glasses over replays of Men in Black. The baby was quarantined. I interviewed in front of a panel of three who deemed my status as Other my best credential. The evolution of the Other is one we have all observed in recent times in sequential order from behind desks. As a non-permanent resident, I got the job of reporting on the future. No pay. Just the guarantee I won’t be deported. I should feel transported, but ground myself in the immediate future: fights over toilet paper, racist slurs, an emptying of department stores, cinemas, concert halls, cricket grounds, football ovals and swimming pools. In the foreseeable future I see bodies shutting down, schools closing and frontiers erecting electrified fences manned by machine guns. In the unforeseen future, I see Corona blooming into multiple metamorphoses past makeshift morgues and mass graves. My vision bears the mark of a sinister facsimile machine. It fails to encompass the global perspective requested of me so far.
– Dominique Hecq

Offensive

I sat at the table in the park alone. I had to be quick or I’d get in trouble. There was no one around, so I was being responsible-ish, but this was officially loitering and I’d heard the police were stopping and questioning people in the park. One woman and her kids were out exercising (a walk was within the rules) and they stopped to skim some stones across the surface of the lake. The police were on them in seconds. Executed, I think. Or perhaps deported, because someone had survived to tell the tale, after all.
The noises of the road and those of nature blended together. A random car. The sound of the waters gently lapping up against the lake’s shore. The flock of corellas that had settled back into the park. All the noises reached me and brought with them a sense of peace. I had been surprised to see the corellas. They had stripped this park bare a few years back. Most had left, some had splintered into smaller flocks. A bunch were killed when someone poisoned them. I read an article pinned to a local vet’s corkboard, where outraged citizens shrieked out, “Why would somebody do this?” and my first thought was, “I fuckin’ know why somebody did this”. The bloody things had nearly killed all of the trees, they shat on everything for a block east and west of the park and they were so goddamned noisy. They’d swept like a virus through the community. Until they were stopped.

I opened the crisp paper bag in front of me and removed the two containers. Chicken and sweet corn soup and salt and pepper squid.

Yum.

At the sound of the bag and the opening of the containers, the heads of a small army of seagulls turned my way. Now they had a dilemma. Two ten year old boys had ridden their bikes into the park and brought with them hot chips. Seagull heads whipped back and forth.

Chiiiiiiiiiips.

But then… Squid?

They could smell the fishiness.

Several of the little bastards broke away from the troop in the hope that I would be as generous as the chip boys.

They surrounded my table making little questioning sounds.

“Squ-ark?”

“Nah, mate. Mine.”

“Squa-aark…” That one wasn’t a question and sounded a little sad.

“Sorry, buddy.”

One of them glided up to the table and cocked his head at me, looking at me with one eye.

“Squaa-aark?”

“Let me ask you something,” I said. “How do you feel about being related to dinosaurs?”

He let out a low disapproving sound, turned his head all the way around so that he could look at me with the other eye and then turned away completely.

He hopped off the table, fluttered down to the ground and walked off to the boys with the chips.

From the ground another seagull looked up at me and made a noise, shaking its head.

“Was it something I said?”

– Luke Evans