He was woken by the inane sound of television and the sour taste of vomit in his mouth. Blinding white covers and clear plastic cups around him, bright expensive homes on the screen. She stirred beside him, and he decided to leave the room before she woke up. The cold clung to his legs as he stepped onto the carpet, and he crouched low to retrieve the bottle of rum he had hidden under his polished bedside cabinet. Given the presence of the cups and the lingering aftertaste that plagued his throat, he guessed there wasn’t much alcohol left downstairs.
“Pour us one,” she said, voice thick with sleep.
“Pour it yourself,” he said, and went downstairs.
On the landing he nearly slipped on an empty bottle of vodka, and swiped at it with the side of his foot, sending it spinning underneath a gleaming radiator that had never worked. Someone had scratched the hallway paint last night, a dry arc of the wall beneath cut through the beige. The wooden floor at the bottom was even colder, and he considered going back for his slippers and dressing gown, before remembering that she was there. How could he forget?
He had forgotten to pull curtains over the screen doors in the kitchen – as he entered the garden confronted him in all its awfulness, brown muck advancing on a grey patio. The only splash of colour was a dark red smear on the glass, framed by the door. The rum momentarily forgotten, he walked closer to the unexplained mark. He didn’t remember it, and yet it was obviously blood. Had he hit her again? Had she hit him again? The bloomed stain didn’t answer.
There were no mixers left in the fridge, though he briefly took hold of the milk before he thought better of it. Straight it was. He stopped, alarmed by a noise from upstairs. When he heard it repeat he shrugged. Either the television or she wanted more drink. Either way, he didn’t care. He poured the rum into a glass and felt it scourge his throat of the night’s consequences. He hadn’t found a better cure yet. He sat, and glared at the bloodstain that had dared disrupt his morning routine.
Halfway through his third top-up, it occurred to him that the stain was on the other side of the glass. He approached once more, and brought the rum with him. The door was unlocked, and he shouted a curse at her for forgetting, doubting she could hear. It was warmer in the garden than in the house, a low grey sky bringing with it a humid air that almost gave the sensation of being underwater. Or drowning. The patio slabs were warm to the touch. Just not as warm as the drink.
A plane droned somewhere, though it was lost to him. He touched the bloodstain and found it drying, the slightest impression of red left on his finger. Pointless, he thought. It could have been there for hours. There was no sense in standing outside in his boxers when he could be restocking the drink cabinets. And yet, he looked down anyway.
It was a small bird, a fading ball of light blue and black with a stubby triangular beak. The legs were curled inward, claws hanging uselessly, while the head was twisted sharply down towards the chest, as though it had feebly attempted to brace. He prodded the corpse with his foot, feeling absurd as he did so. He knew it was dead. The slight movement caused a scurry of ants to depart from around the body, marching hurriedly into a gap in the wall. Into the house, he noted grimly. He wondered if the noise of the bird hitting the glass had come to him in his sleep.
He knew he shouldn’t pick it up, remembering enough about birdflu from years ago, but after swigging from the bottle and mulling it over, it didn’t seem to matter. The body was ridiculously light, and as he rose back up one wing flopped out to full length, pointing limply back towards the ground, and he tucked it back in.
Hoping one more drink from the bottle would help him decide what to do next, he raised it to his lips, and paused, gazing up at his bedroom window. She was in there. Still sleeping probably. The urge to hurl the bird at the window rose up in him, a malevolent satisfaction already blooming at the thought of another victory in their nonsensical war. The humidity was suffocating, and the tiny feathers irritated a sweaty palm. He took another drink, the bottle slick in his hand, but lukewarm. The sweet taste congealed like honey, and when he tried to wash it down with more, he found there was none left.
The bottle dropped to the floor with a dull sound, and a whisper as it rolled over flecks of dirt and the air caught its mouth. He watched it disappear into the hedge at the end of the patio and looked back at the bird. As quickly as it had come, his malice had gone, buoyed off into the wet air. The clouds were darkening overhead.
The bird did not make a sound when it hit the patio for a second time. The wings unfurled and spread, and he left it there on its back. The foxes would get it, or the rains would wash it away.
Either way, he didn’t care.
Scott McNee, University of Strathclyde. 3rd Year. Journalism and Creative Writing. Got published once. Has yet to shut up about it.