By TESSA MELLAS
The sky full of feathers, a quarrel of wings. Plumage blooms across our windows, the glass smeared cloudy with milky streaks. The beltway a blur of sparrows. City towers beaten dizzy by doves. The ponds in the park untidy with chickadee bodies, breasts buoyant, claws branching up without leaves. A gull bursts his larynx murdering sound. Squawks rend the August heat. Wings beaten bare. The sky thrashed white. Sudden squall of quills and petals. The ones thick with mites fall fast and pierce the ground like arrows. The downy ones linger. You stand on the sidewalk and catch them on your tongue.
Roofs unhinge and houses unpage in the wind. A flurry of phone book listings. Newsprint ripped and torn by trees. Fall’s foliage stamped with Garamond font. Moths bridled to paper wings. The Book of Ruth stays aloft on exhalations. Shredded tax forms drift like milkweed seeds. I prop the aluminum ladder against the house and unclog the gutter. I piece the scraps together and read the words aloud. You pluck paper out of the sky and fill your pockets. You bury the scraps across the yard and water the little mounds. A coupon lands on your shoulder. A receipt sticks in your hair.
February early dark. Iridescent rain unthreads the sky. Raindrops gorged on nitric acid streak the sable skin of night. The streets are air-raid empty, people bottled in glass. Rain’s pounding lodged in our brain space. Comets scratched on our eyes. The furniture smells of sulfur. Carpets mildew underfoot. We wear masks to bed to block the light. We lie on plastic sheets. You slip out from under my arm and go to the window. In the glass, you swim through fire. Stars sew seams through your skin.
When the rain stops, the world is missing its flesh. We walk on its bones—bleached rock and stratified plastic that flakes underfoot and lifts in the breeze. Grit in the air. A gauzy fog. You part the webs with your fingers. Filaments catch in the hair on your arms. Up the road, a crew in fluorescent orange steamrolls the crumbling ridges. A truck pours asphalt over the plastic. A man in a visor rakes the asphalt smooth. The air smells of burnt hair and tar. You hiccup, and a petal of plastic slips into your lungs.
The skyline is burning. Towers drip and melt like candles. The sky scallops with smoke. Windows burst. We spread blankets and watch the explosions. They fracture the night and split the air with sound. The children squeal and cartwheel in the street. Their palms turn white with ash and make marks on their clothes, handprints left by ghosts. You wave a sparkler around like you’re conducting the disaster. It catches without a match.
Originally published in Washington Square Review, Summer/Fall 2011.
Tessa Mellas won the 2013 Iowa Short Fiction Award for her story collection Lungs Full of Noise. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maine at Machias.