Phillipa didn’t seem like the sort of person who kept a seagull in the freezer. I was looking for ice at three in the morning when I found it, right behind the microwavable meals and fish sticks. The tap water at her house had this gassy tang, like residue from a pot of boiled broccoli; I thought making it cold might help.
The beak caught my eye. There were red lipstick markings near the tip, in the shape of a smile. The bird’s head was stuck to the roof and its feet were encased in ice, all the way up to its chapped, inverted knees. And its wings were spread, like the bird was trying to fly home when death turned its lights out.
I looked down and felt my bare feet turning numb on the linoleum.
My sense of where this day would go, or how I’d reign myself in enough to get through it, seemed to melt into the pattern of brown squares across the floor.
The streets lights shone in through her blinds, creating shadow-tracks on the wall. It wasn’t dark enough for me. She slept on the far side of the bed with her face wedged between her slender arms, her back slightly arched. I watched her twitch and move around for a moment, then sat down and pumped her shoulder back and forth, gently.
“Phillipa, wake up.”
She raised her head; her eyes rolled open; blonde locks hung across her face.
“Why are you keeping a dead seagull?” I asked, in a hushed, calm voice.
She tried to focus for a second but sleep, or the lack of it, was taking her back.
“Hey,” I said, with more urgency. “Tell me, please.”
“There’s a seagull in your freezer.”
She sighed, surrendering. “It’ll take too long to explain, Dean. It’s nothing.”
I started to argue when she pushed me off the bed with more force than I expected and told me to leave.
It was cold and eerily quiet outside her front door. I wanted was to go back inside and solve this seagull mystery and crawl into bed, but that was out of the question.
Timing is everything. I should have waited to ask her about the bird. It might have come up naturally over scrambled eggs and coffee.
- The rest of this story will be available in an upcoming volume of short stories.