Faye Brinsmead

Faye Brinsmead’s flash fiction appears in journals including X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review and New Flash Fiction Review. One of her pieces is forthcoming in the Best Microfiction 2021 anthology. She won first prize in Reflex Fiction‘s Spring 2020 Flash Fiction Competition and second prize in the 2021 National Flash Fiction Day Micro Fiction Competition. She lives in Canberra, Australia, and tweets @ContesdeFaye.

PLUCKED by Faye Brinsmead

The firebird came with excellent references.

Polite. Super-tidy. Throws herself into housework. Mows the lawn like she’s skinning a wolf.

Plus, there was the exoticism. Her shimmering plumage trailed over my Ikea shelving and hand-me-down brown velour sofa. Evenings, as we slurped insta-noodles and binged on Netflix, she fanned out her tail until the dim room was full of jeweled eyes.

She didn’t know if she belonged to the peacock clan.  Maybe. Her golden beak hooked the last gluggy spiral. Her family wasn’t big on that.

On what? I asked.

Um, family.  I’m kinda on my own. Of course, there’ve been loads of princes, golden apples, magic stallions and whatnot. 

We went clubbing. Men. One glance, and they went up in smoke. We scooted from roller-disco raves to deep rap moan-athons, pursued by smoke alarms and singed buzz cuts.

No matter how late we teetered home, she’d spring up at dawn and scrub, scrub, scrub. Whatever needed scrubbing. The bathroom sterile as an operating theater.

On Netflix nights, I got the feeling there were fewer iridescent eyes.

Driving to Ikea for a laptop table, we had a tire blowout.

Keep calm, she said. Ease off the gas. Hazard lights on.  

As she bent to change the tire, I saw holes in her rump like cigarette burns. A heart-shaped patch, bare of feathers. She felt me looking, angled it away.

I got serious about a guy I met at a sauna party.

You’re leaving me to wing it alone? she asked.

I wanted to protect her from combusting men, but, you know, hand-holding and strawberry candles and fluffy duck cocktails in the bath.

She came skittering home at 6 am, whammed the bathroom door. Sauna guy and I were still awake.

She’s been in there for, like, an hour, he said.

I hoped I was hallucinating the trail of red specks.

But the feather. Its bloody quill scribbling on ashen floorboards.

She couldn’t hear me knocking. What with all the scrubbing.

I got a ladder, climbed in the window. Peeled the rubber gloves off her blood-streaked claws, swabbed her wounds.

Why? I asked her three remaining tail feathers.

Nothing. Everything. All the wanting in their eyes.

We washed her plucked feathers and hung them on the clothesline. Lay on the wet grass beneath them, wondering how to stitch them back on.

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The robo-guppy came in a tank with LED lighting, soothing ocean sounds, and coral reef background wallpaper. Proven stress-buster, Bernie said, handing me the box. There was some study in some journal. After 10 weeks of fish-watching, 75 percent of the subjects flushed their anxiety meds down the john.

I took this as a hint he didn’t want to hear any more about writer’s block, impostor syndrome, the library’s overdue loans policy, or anything else connected with my PhD on Baudrillard. 

He looks sinister, I said. Those mean little eyes. Must be in on the techno-gadget revenge plot. I took Baudrillard literally in those days. 

After christening the guppy Jean, I ignored him. Maybe it was ingratitude that drove Bernie away. There were other sources of discontent: the hyperreal hair clump in the shower drain, my preference for synthetic food.

When we finally had the we have to talk talk, his reasons surprised me. I feel like the you I knew has been mummified in layers of French philosophy. Nothing you say is your own words anymore. Just some quote from some dead dude. 

Given his fondness for citing scientific publications whose names he couldn’t remember, I found this ironic. Plus, it amused me to think of myself as a postmodernist quote-machine simulating Bernie’s girlfriend. 

I let him have the TV, bed, couch, table, fridge, ironing board, and vacuum cleaner. Simulations like Jean and me are low-maintenance, I said. He declined the pop art poster of Baudrillard, saying he felt unworthy of Saint Gizmo. It saddened me to think his prolonged and free education had been a waste of my time. 

I rented a room above a pub with a fine view of overflowing rubbish skips. Relax, it’s only simulacrum trash, I joked to Jean on putrid summer evenings. I was getting into the habit of throwing witty little squibs at him. It made me feel better about my post-nearly-everything condition.

At night, Jean and I juddered to the cover-band beats of Eagle Rock and Highway to Hell. I started talking (yelling, actually) while I typed. It helped with focus, and created the illusion of an audience. 

The hypermarket turns every theory (including the theory of the hypermarket) into dentures more viscerally real, more horrifyingly alive, than the mouth that contains them.

Like a tent revivalist preacher, I was high on my own rhetoric. The less it meant, the more wasted I got.

One night, in a lull between Beds are Burning and Scarred for Life, Jean said, quietly but distinctly: You don’t understand the role of the technological object in the transition from modernity to postmodernity.

Wowsers! I don’t know why I kept up the bantering tone. Why don’t you explain it to me? Go on, fishsplain it.

Jean delivered a mini-lecture on Baudrillard’s position and my failure to grasp it. He sounded like a toothless person talking through a snorkel in a cyclone, but his analysis was relentlessly clear. I was crafting a jokey compliment when he added, Forget Baudrillard

There’s a critique of Baudrillard called that, I said. I reference it in my thesis. 

He gurgled impatiently. That isn’t a quote. Well, it is, but it exceeds the function of quotation. It’s a command. Forget Baudrillard. I’ve outBaudrillarded him. There’s a Linux PC in my brain cavity. A hydraulic pump moves my tail. If you’d bothered to unpack the remote control, you could manipulate me from 10 meters away.

The whole pub was screaming Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again. Or maybe they were lip-syncing to synthesized screaming. 

I looked up to Saint Gizmo for guidance. Forget Baudrillard, mouthed the pop art Baudrillard.

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