PLUCKED by Faye Brinsmead

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.

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.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower