In Kathryn M. Barber’s “Sorry About Your Bird,” Libby and her wife Claire leave Claire’s grandmother’s funeral with an unexpected passenger: Captain, a parrot Claire’s grandmother had kept for years, whose favorite phrase is a string of obscenities. Dive into this wry new addition to our New Voices catalog below:
Avery hangs between us, notes in silence we can’t see or hear, can only feel. Sometimes when I look in my rearview mirror, I think I see the back of her car seat, her small feet kicking up the seat, her curls spilling. Avery is why she wanted to move out of the city. I couldn’t bear to leave the porch that sat over the crisscrossed streets, the windows that framed the Batman building, the way the lights of the buildings looked like glittered stars that were closer, almost touchable.
When Claire’s grandmother died last week, we dropped everything, spun our tires fast as they would go from Nashville up to Roanoke, Virginia, spent the last few days with floral arrangements, sinking a coffin into soft summer ground. The only time I feel lonelier than being with Claire these days is when we’re with her family—the way they pretend I’m just a friend, refuse to acknowledge the wedding bands on our fingers, like if they ignore it long enough, the years we’ve spent together will evaporate from beneath them, and us, too.
Claire’s granddaddy died before we even met, and since then, her grandmama kept this green and yellow parrot named Captain. He practically lived there on her shoulder, whether she was stirring a pot on the stove or planting daises in the front yard, that bird was there. She took it with her everywhere, and Claire joked that even the parrot knew what a sass mouth her grandmama had because the phrases it repeated most often were bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT and bless your heart —Claire’s grandmama had done a lot of bad-mouthing, as her mama put it. In her will, she left Claire the bird, said she wanted her only granddaughter to take care of the friend who’d kept her company since her husband died, and Claire’s mama had made the biggest fuss I’ve ever seen when she packed that damn bird in the backseat of our car, sent us back to Tennessee.
“She’ll get knocked off balance if she can tell you’re moving,” Claire’s mother explained, throwing a sheet over the cage. “You gotta cover her up, like this.”
And then she hugged Claire’s neck, whispered something in her ear I couldn’t quite hear, way she always does. She squeezed my hand, still wouldn’t hug me, not even after four years of me and Claire being married. Just: “Good to see you, as always, Libby.” She blames me; I know that—blames me for her daughter leaving home and moving to Nashville. For the two-year-old body we’d laid in the ground last November. This was the first funeral we’ve gone to since we buried our own baby. Burying a grandmother and a daughter in the same twelve months—well, I just can’t be mad at Claire if she’s mad at me right now.
We’ve barely spoken on the drive home from Roanoke. For ten long hours, asphalt and sky stretch in front of us, remind us of everything we’ve been running from. Every now and then, that bird in the backseat under that sheet squawks out bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT, bless your heart bless your heart. Claire shifts in her seat, tucks a loose lock behind her ear, and faces the window. I just drive, press my foot down harder and harder, anxious to put as many miles between us and her family as I can. Claire loves me, I know that. It’s not a phase, much as her mama would like to believe , even if I am the only woman Claire’s ever been with—she loves me. And the only times I ever doubt that, fear that one day I’ll wake up and she’ll just be gone, are the times I have to look in her mama’s face, know she wishes “better” for her daughter. Better than me.
bullSHITthat’sbullSHIT, Captain says. I change lanes at the interstate intersection. We’ve been quiet for almost three hours, not a word, and for a moment, just a second, I miss the buzz of her family because at least it isn’t this silence between us that creeps up now and then, stays a while. Bless your heart. I want to smack the bird for mocking me. I want to ask: Why in the hell would your grandmother leave us her bird, Claire? Of all the things she could’ve left us—bullSHIT, BULLshit.