BIRDS AREN’T REAL by D.T. ROBBINS

My girlfriend tells me something’s off in our relationship. Says we’re missing a spark or magic or whatever she calls it. 

I go, Oh, you wanna see magic?

She goes, Yeah, idiot, I just said that. 

So, I wrap an old t-shirt around her eyes and lead her out into the field behind our apartment. It’s all a big surprise. The ice chest is full of beers and pastrami sandwiches and the chocolate cookies she baked last month. I put a slice of bread in a Ziplock bag with the cookies to keep them fresh. The cookies stay moist and soft, and the bread gets dry and ugly. Success!  

We’re walking for a while when she says her feet hurt. There’s always something to complain about, isn’t there? A little foot pain never killed anyone. Sometimes you’ve gotta pay the price. Magic ain’t free, you know. The hum of electricity gets louder, ricocheting off the clouds the closer we get. 

I tell her we’re here and take the shirt off her eyes. See? There they are, I say, pointing. Just look at those things—all perched up on the powerlines without a goddamn care in the world. Dozens of them in rows, twisting their necks and heads, fluttering their wings, cooing, cooing and cawing, cawing. 

She goes, The fuck is this? 

I go, It’s magic!

Those are just birds. 

I drop the ice chest, hear one of the cans spray open inside. Just birds? There’s no way you’re serious. If you’re being serious, you’re out of your mind. 

She stares at me, then the birds, then me. 

I put my hands on her shoulders, look at her real seriously, and drop the motherfucking truth bomb: Birds aren’t real. 

A hawk circles above us. It swoops down, grabs a rat or snake or something, flies off with it into the blue picture screen above us. 

Wait, she says. You mean, like, we’re living in a simulation—the Matrix or something?

I shake my head no, gulping one of the beers that busted open in the ice chest. Not at all, I tell her. People who think shit like that are just weird. I mean the birds aren’t real. 

She reaches in the ice chest, grabs the Ziplock bag of cookies, and walks back toward our apartment. So much for magic, I yell. 

I’m six or seven beers deep, watching the birds chill on the powerlines, watching the clouds pass, listening to the wind and the electricity intertwine and envelop me in my own little cocoon. 

One of the birds asks, What’s your problem, dude?

I sit up, swig my beer. I don’t have a problem, I say. 

Thirty or so of them all turn their heads to me like the ticking of the long hand on a clock.

The powerlines stop humming. 

They go, Oh yeah? Then why’d you tell her we’re not real? All their beaks move, one voice, stereo, super cool. What’s your angle, friend? We’re as real as you. 

Horse shit! I’m flesh and blood. My heart beats like a steady drum. There’s poison in my veins. When I sleep, I dream, I nightmare. You, you’re a fraud. And you know it. You’re an illusion of the mind. And you can’t convince me otherwise. 

The birds levitate from the wires, fly in a furious circle. Their feathers fling from their bodies, become liquid, like hot magma, forming an ooey-gooey black blanket, snuffing out the sun. They cover me, a big bubble of darkness and energy. It sort of reminds me of that Pauly Shore movie, Bio-Dome, but better. A hologram of my girlfriend rises beneath me. She looks super pissed. Very realistic. Her hips start shaking and her eyes roll into the back of her head, shine bright neon pink. I’m into it. 

Dance with me, she says. 

I throw my hands in the air, I don’t even care. My legs move this way and that, shaking my shit like I know what to do with it. 

She smiles wide, wide, wider. Birds with wings of fire fly out from behind her teeth, straight at me like bullets. I duck and cover. The echo of their screeching—radio static. I look up at my hologram girlfriend. She flaps her arms, flies away. 

I stand there, not knowing who I like better: my hologram girlfriend or my real girlfriend. My feet are warm. I look down, I’m standing on a powerline. It sizzles like a plate of fajitas. My tennis shoes are melting. The skin around my toes goes drip, drip, drip. I watch it fall into the abyss below. A tornado of birds surrounds me, screaming: It’s not real. You’re not real. They’re not real. It’s so not, not! We’re not real. What is real? Are you really surely real? Who, then? For reals? 

One of the birds comes and sits on my shoulder. It’s heavy. Like, weighs-as-much-as-I-weigh kind of heavy. I can’t hold my balance, slip, and fall into the abyss. I land on a giant slice of white bread, sink inside. A giant hand reaches for me, grabs a giant cookie, retracts. I’m in the Ziplock bag. Light expands and I see my real girlfriend sitting at our white IKEA kitchen table, crying, with chocolate smeared at the corners of her mouth. I never noticed how messy of an eater she is. I shout her name. She doesn’t hear me. My insides shrivel, dry out. My tongue turns to crust. I am dry, dead bread. Her hand reaches in, grabs me. Our kitchen walls scroll by like a movie in fast-forward, then I’m falling down, down, down. I reach the bottom of the trashcan. The lid closes and it’s back to black. 

I can’t open my eyes because one of the birds crapped on my face. It smells like a nursing home or a bar right after closing. I wipe it away with the shirt my girlfriend left before she went back to the apartment. The ice chest is upside down, ice spilled over and melted. Empty beer cans everywhere, suds on the lips. Sandwiches gone. The powerlines hum quietly. Stars shine down on the wet grass. And those fucking birds? They’re still there. I pick up my things, head home. 

There’s a note on the counter. It says, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry. There’s leftovers in the fridge. Take care of yourself. 

I crumple the note, throw it in the trash, next to the rotten piece of bread. And there I am.


D.T. Robbins has work in HobartMaudlin HouseX-R-A-YBending Genres, and others. He's founding editor of Rejection Letters. Find out more at dtrobbins.com.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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