In March of this year, Adam Stanzi’s bird committed suicide. The Oriental Greenfinch, having shown, in Adam’s opinion, very few signs of an ill disposition, escaped from her cage, and, after repeatedly slamming her head into Adam’s only window, fell to her death.
The event occurred after morning coffee. Adam, fresh from the shower, was towel drying his hair, when he heard a series of deep thuds coming from the kitchen. He ran in, just in time to see the bird propelling herself into the glass.
The moments that followed were blurry. Adam was certain that even as she fell he could hear her singing. He did not notice the dabs of blood her head made on the window, nor did he think of how lethargic she had become over winter, how she had begun to pluck at herself shortly after the New Year. Instead, he thought of their morning together. Handfed birdseed for her, Columbia Dark Roast for him. It had seemed as if it would be the first day of spring, but then Lucy was dead. Her yellow-tipped feathers lay haphazardly among old pizza boxes, paintbrushes and cigarette butts.
Adam did not even consider the fact that she was simply trying to get free. She loved him, he told himself over and over, as he searched for his best corduroys and the only button down shirt he owned that was not stained in the armpits. He called Richard, his married friend, and asked him to meet him at a bar on 2nd Avenue. While waiting for Richard, Adam attempted to keep his mind off Lucy by sketching the barmaid.
“Can I get you something?” the woman had asked.
“I’ll have a Harp,” he answered, reaching for a cocktail napkin.
The shadows of her face fell smoothly from his ballpoint pen. He felt quite fortunate that she looked so tired, because her eyes—somewhat beautiful, watery and gray—came easier above the darkness. Her mouth, like the bow for an arrow, also came easily.
“Hey buddy,” Richard said, patting Adam hard on the back, “You look like shit.”
Richard, who had taken a job in advertising after he and Adam finished art school, took off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. “What does it take to get a drink around here? Hey, sweetheart, why don’t you bring me a vodka rocks?”
Adam wondered why he had called Richard. Richard of the cleft chin and straight liquor. Richard of the upper eastside and the anorexic wife. Richard wasn’t going to give a shit that Lucy, the bird Adam loved, perhaps the only being Adam had loved since he met Richard five years ago when they were twenty-two and full of piss and dreams, had killed herself.
“What’s going on man?” asked Richard.
“Oh, you know, nothing really. Just hadn’t seen you in a while.”
“Yeah? Well you sounded like a maniac on the phone and you look like shit.”
“Thanks. You already mentioned that.”
The crowd began thickening, and the barmaid’s black shirt rode up to show her belly. Adam thought of how warm she must be.
“Great rack, huh?” said Richard, chewing on his tiny red straw.
“What?” said Adam.
“I mean, you’ve been staring at her since I got here, you must’ve noticed her tits.”
“Richard,” Adam said, “Lucy’s dead.”
“Lucy who?” Richard sounded almost sympathetic.
“Lucy Lucy. Lucy, my bird.”
“Your bird? Your goddamned bird?”
“No. Not my goddamned bird. My bird. My Oriental Greenfinch. My perfect Oriental Greenfinch who sang me songs every time the morning came. My perfect Oriental Greenfinch who perched on my finger in the afternoon.”
“Don’t get so upset, man,” Richard said, signaling the barmaid for another round. “I didn’t mean to call it a goddamned bird.”
“Not it. Her.”
“You know what I think you need? I think you need to get laid,” Richard winked as he headed for the restroom.
Adam watched as Richard walked towards the back of the bar. He felt a surprising amount of satisfaction in the way Richard’s pants spread across his ass. Adam had never had to worry about gaining weight. He was, perhaps, too thin. Lithe, he liked to think.
“You doing okay?” the barmaid smiled.
“Me?” Adam asked pointing to his chest.
“Yeah you. I heard you telling your friend about your bird. I’m sorry.”
“It sucks,” she said, setting his beer in front of him. “This one’s on me.”
She started to walk away, but then turned again to face him. “Oh, and thanks for the drawing.”
Adam looked down to where he thought he had left his cocktail napkin masterpiece. “No problem,” he said.
“Do I really look that tired?” she asked but left before he could answer.
Something about her collarbone reminded Adam of his wife. Not his wife, because he wasn’t married, but the only wife he’d ever had. It was before he moved to New York. They lived above a diner in Baltimore. He was twenty; she was twenty-three. She slept with her socks on and ate spaghetti straight from the pot. She read his palm and giggled when she told him he would live a long and miserable life. Then she was gone, not even leaving a note. He’d never even known she was unhappy.
“I’m gonna go,” Adam told Richard when he got back from the restroom.
“Whaddya mean you’re gonna go? I got playoff tickets for tonight.”
“I’ve just gotta go.”
The night was colder than the day had let on. Adam wished he had a jacket. He wished his bird was alive and he hadn’t left his cigarettes on the bar. He wished he would’ve said more to the barmaid, told her she was beautiful, told her he thought she would be warm, told her she had the collarbone of the only woman he had ever loved. At the very least, he wished he had asked her name.
By the time he climbed the four flights to his apartment, he realized he was hungry. Lucy still lay on the floor. He unbuttoned his shirt and placed it over her. He didn’t know what to do. He walked back and forth across the room. He picked up the phone.
“Yeah, can I get a delivery?” he said to the person on the other end. “Thanks.”
When the pizza place had first started recognizing Adam’s voice, he was flattered. Flattery grew to pride. For months, he bragged of how the pizza place knew his voice. He couldn’t believe he lived in a city of eight million people and could be recognized by simply saying “Yeah, can I get a delivery?”
But this night, with Lucy lying on the ground and Adam bare-chested and cigarette-less, it seemed pathetic. He wished he could call his wife, but that was ridiculous and even if he could, she’d laugh at him. He thought about calling his mother, but he knew she’d cry too hard. She was the one who had encouraged him to get a pet in the first place.
“It must get so lonely in that city,” she’d said and sent him an article about how people who have pets live longer, happier lives. At first, she had been disappointed with his choice. “A bird?” she’d asked.
“Not just any bird, mom. An Oriental Greenfinch.”
“I just thought you might like a dog. A cat, even.”
After a while, she settled into the idea of Adam owning a bird. “How’s Lucy?” she’d ask. “Why don’t you bring her home to Ohio for Christmas?”
“Mom, she’s a bird.”
“Not just any bird, son. She’s an Oriental Greenfinch, and she might just be the closest thing I’ll ever have to a granddaughter.”
In the end he had rented a car and taken Lucy on the twelve-hour drive with him, stopping often for cigarettes and fresh newspaper. She sang very little, but he talked to her the whole way, telling her his mother, who would be waiting by the window for the arrival, wasn’t crazy, just lonely.
When Adam answered the door for the pizza guy, he over-tipped. He did this partly because the pizza guy looked tired from climbing so many stairs, and partly because he feared that someday his voice wouldn’t be recognized when he called for a delivery.
“You okay?” the pizza guy asked him.
“Yeah. I’m fine. Why?”
“You just look like you don’t feel so well.”
“I feel fine. Thank you,” said Adam when the phone started ringing. “I should get the phone, but thank you. Thanks for your concern.”
Adam shut the door. He wasn’t really going to answer the phone. There was no one that would call him that he would want to talk to. A slice in hand, he walked into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. He was shirtless; he had sauce clinging to the tiny patch of hair on his chest, but the sauce was new. The pizza guy couldn’t have been referring to the sauce. He looked fine. He looked absolutely fine. He needed to scrub the toilet, but he looked fine.
By his second slice, the phone was still ringing. He picked it up and put it back on the hook. It rang again. He picked it up.
“What?” he said.
“Hey jackass, if you wanna screen your calls, get a fucking answering machine like everybody else in the world. I let it ring like a hundred times.”
Richard was drunk.
“What do you want?” asked Adam.
“I’ve got somebody here who wants to talk to you.”
“Who the hell’s Georgia?” Adam asked.
“Oh, I think you’d know her if you saw her. You were staring at her long enough.”
“Not the barmaid. Please don’t tell me you’re putting the barmaid on the phone.”
“Actually, buddy, they prefer to be called bartenders these days. Right, Georgia?”
Adam heard Georgia laugh on the other end.
“Get your ass back down here,” Richard said and hung up.
Adam grabbed a sweater. He was out of deodorant, but he found some aftershave that Richard had left the last time his wife kicked him out. Adam put some under his armpits, grabbed another slice, looked for his keys and went over to Lucy.
“I’m just leaving for a few minutes, Luce. Tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do with you.” He thought about lifting the shirt to see her again but decided not to.
On his way over to the bar, he stopped at a deli for cigarettes.
“You smell good,” the deli guy smiled.
“Oh shit, do I?” Adam asked, sniffing at his armpits. “Too good?”
“No. No. A man can never smell too good.”
Georgia, Adam thought as he lit his cigarette. Georgia. What a name. His wife hadn’t been named Georgia. Neither had his mother nor his bird. His bird. His sweet, dead bird. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he’d put on some jazz. Maybe he’d buy a little coffin, or hell, he’d make a coffin. He was an artist. He wondered if Georgia liked artists. Maybe if he told her he wouldn’t make her so tired, she’d let him paint her. But the bird, how had this woman already gotten into his mind so much that he had practically forgotten about his bird lying dead on his apartment floor?
Georgia was sitting at the bar when Adam arrived. She had put a sweater on over her black shirt. A blue sweater. His favorite blue. The blue he used for the sky when he painted Lucy flying.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” he said. “Where’s Richard?”
“Oh, he left, something about getting home to his wife. I never even would’ve known he had a wife.”
“Was he a jerk to you?” Adam asked, feeling suddenly protective.
“No. Not at all,” Georgia smiled, “He was just really worried about you.”
“Maybe we’re talking about two different Richards.”
“No. Your friend, Richard. He said you were really close to your bird and that you were heartbroken. I thought it was sweet.”
“Yeah, it’s nice to know that there are men out there who feel so passionate about their pets. I mean, I have two cats and I would kill myself if anything ever happened to them.”
Please don’t, he wanted to say.
She smiled, brushing her hair from her face and letting her hand settle on her neck. God, her collarbone. It was beautiful. Soft flesh, then hollow and bone. Even the bone looked soft. Adam wanted to kiss it.
“Adam,” Georgia said, “You okay?”
“You wanna get out of here? I can’t stand sitting here after my shift.”
The two walked outside. Georgia was even prettier in the night air—her skin, milkier; her dark hair, darker. Adam thought about how he hadn’t kissed a woman since his wife. Not really, anyway. There was the bridesmaid from Richard’s wedding, but he was drunk and it was awful, so she didn’t count.
“Where should we go?” Georgia asked.
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“We could just walk a while.”
Small talk had never felt so good to Adam as it did that night, walking south on 2nd Avenue with Georgia. He liked her sweater. Thanks. It was her favorite color. His too. She was an actress; he loved movies. He was a painter; she loved museums. He was from Ohio; she was from Pennsylvania. The two states touched.
Georgia put her arm through Adam’s.
“Sorry,” she said, “I’m cold.”
“No. Don’t be. It’s nice.”
“You smell good,” she said.
“Thanks,” he smiled.
The small talk got better and better. They had the same favorite book (The Windup Bird Chronicle). They both loved pizza (though she hated olives). There was no better way to spend a Sunday, they claimed, than to sit and have coffee and read the New York Times (Adam didn’t admit he opted for a less respected tabloid).
“There’s nothing like sitting by my window,” Georgia said, “with a giant cup of coffee and a paper while the sun pours in and my cats rub at my ankles.”
“Sounds perfect,” Adam said, kissing her forehead.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “For mentioning my cats. I was trying not to because of your bird and all.”
“Can I tell you something?” Adam asked as he exhaled smoke from the cigarette he’d just lit.
“Are you sure? You won’t think I’m crazy, will you?”
“I hope not,” she smiled.
“You have to promise me that you’ll still like me—I mean, if you do like me, you have to promise me, you’ll still like me.”
“Are you married?”
“Married?” Adam asked.
“Yeah, you know, like your friend Richard.”
“Oh no, it’s nothing like that.”
“What is it then?”
They were stopped on the corner of 1st Street. Her eyes sparked with every passing car. Her mouth, the mouth he’d drawn so many hours ago on the cocktail napkin. God, her mouth.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked.
“No, you can’t kiss me. Not until you tell me what you were going to tell me.” She took her arm from him and pulled her sweater tighter to her body. He imagined the brushstrokes he would use for the curve of her breasts.
“Adam,” Georgia said.
“Adam,” she said again, “Please look at me.”
She looked scared. He didn’t want her to be scared. He wanted to hold her.
“Adam, tell me what you were going to tell me.”
He wondered what she would do if he pressed his mouth onto hers.
“Adam, talk to me.”
She seemed almost angry. He wanted her so bad.
“I thought you liked me,” she said, and he did, but he couldn’t say it because an ambulance was screaming by and he was thinking about the way her hair would smell and imagining the mole he’d find on the small of her back while they were making love on a Tuesday morning.
“I thought you were different,” she said.
He wanted to stop her from going, to reach out and grab her and tell her everything, but she was walking away. Further and further until she was his wife walking away and his mother waiting by the window and Lucy crashing into the window. She was the window itself and the sound of the sirens and she was walking away, not looking back. She was gone.
NICOLE HEFNER's work has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly, lingo, Washington Square and Salt Hill. She was named a finalist in the Iowa Review's 2003 Award for Literary Nonfiction and, most recently, was nominated for Dave Eggers's Best American Nonrequired Reading. She lives, writes, laughs, works and loves in New York City.