Like I’m supposed to, I show up on the High Holidays and go to grad school and graciously accepted the 18th-birthday nose job from my dad who cares way more than I do that I be available and palatable for matrimony, that I be sexy. Like I’m supposed to, I do what I can for my family.
I long to be alone. I want to feel emptiness both in my gut and surrounding me. I want to be near nothing but the vibrating atoms. A coworker peeking around the wall of my cubicle just to make small talk makes me break a sweat. Having someone else’s arm even a foot from my own on the table in class makes my mouth go dry. I struggle to get to sleep at night, my blankets sticking to me, knowing there are other people in other apartments on the other side of either wall, that it’s 3 a.m. and the streets still aren’t empty.
I want to be Miriam in the desert, walking three metro blocks ahead of the men and the children and even the other women, leading the way but not caring if anyone follows.
My mother asks me to pass the macaroni. It is dry and crispy like she forgot she wasn’t supposed to be making kugel. She is the one who told me when I was nine that it was time to tweeze my unibrow. I pass her the macaroni.
Everyone but Dad has bleached blonde highlights in their coarse dark hair. A tablecloth with cartoon turkeys on it covers our heirloom oakwood dining room table that my mother still doesn’t know has gum underneath it from mine and my sisters’ late-night study sessions in high school and undergrad.
On Thanksgiving, there is no such thing as treif. Grandma winks as she sets down bacon-wrapped asparagus. She is the one who took me to Victoria’s Secret at twelve and let me buy thongs, a secret from her daughter-in-law. My Aunt Dinah brought green beans flavored with some kind of pork fat, a subtle nod to our Southern roots. When I was two, she told my parents I’d do well to date her neighbors’ son Micah in the future, because though he was also two, he would surely grow up to be a doctor just like his father. She was the most shocked when, in my first year of undergrad, I instead brought home a Mika, who was an upstanding and pious Conservative Jew, but a woman.
I go to the bathroom to put my head between my legs. Before I get that far, I notice marks on the side of the medicine cabinet, scribbling little drawings from my sisters and myself over the years, ugly little stick figures. I can’t tell if my parents have just missed this spot during their repaints or if they’ve left them there on purpose, but the latter seems too humanizing to allow.
When I return to the living room, everyone is done eating. My sister Laina, the youngest, has her knees on the reading bench and her chin on the windowsill. “Oh, gross, there’s a dead pigeon in the street.”
“That’s not a pigeon, dear,” my father says, looking over his glasses out the window, showing his age. “It’s huge.”
I have a look for myself. It’s a gruesome scene, a tumbleweed of blood and feathers. I hate seeing dead animals in the street, especially birds, their natural power of flight, the one thing making them superior to humans in design, taken from them so quickly, immediately followed by their death. Dad and Laina continue to stare. I want to look away, being the only person in my family who sees birds as beautiful creatures. The others see them as vermin comparable to rats. But before I can look away, I see movement in the tumbleweed.
“Miranda, where are you going?” Dad demands as I unbolt the door and head out into the busy street.
My crossing would have been the peak of physical comedy had my real, actual life not been in danger. Three lanes of traffic I cross, taxis and civilian Lexuses slamming on brakes and beeping. No one is stopping for the bird. Instead, cars straddle over it. I stop short in the fourth lane and a line piles up quickly. The cacophony of horns rings over blocks and blocks of holiday traffic.
The bird looks up at me and I see, shocked, that it not only isn’t a pigeon, but its polar opposite, the strong, agile, huge falcon. Its enormous eyes, unlike a pigeon’s cold beads, stare up at me. I smile down at it. I will be its savior. But the animal just sharpens its stare, clearly wishing I would just fuck off and let it die with valor.
The lady from the raptor center says I can call to check on him whenever I want, but that he will surely be fine. Perhaps never able to return to the wild, perhaps never able to fly farther than a few feet, but he will live for sure.
“What a blessing,” my mother says as the raptor lady closes the doors of her van, the falcon not even caged, he is so weak.
What a blessing, but the tears won’t stop coming.
Zoë Däe is an emerging writer from North Carolina who is working on her first novel to avoid other pressing responsibilities. She lives in the mountains with her wife, dog, and four cats. Her work has appeared in Sixfold, The Peel Literature & Arts Review, and Atlantis Magazine. You can find her on Twitter @zoughey.