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Eggs

H is already awake and worrying. She is dealing with a new problem. I am in love with her so I help. Tea or coffee? Tea. Pigeons have nested on the flat’s small balcony. She is outside, investigating in bare feet. The studio flat is small enough that I see through the glass doors from bed. Delicate shit marbles the railings, the tiled floor, the two plastic chairs and matching table. In her hand is a dinner knife. Urgently she scrapes off the shit. Each surface sings a little as the blade is worked across: octaves of metal up in the clouds, tiles slightly lower, plastic right through my chest. 

 

Accustomed to her ritual, the pigeons stay put. Loudly they caress each other. Synchronised with the sun, their feelings swell at twilight and then once more at dusk. Affection lives in their throats. H will sometimes shush them. Finger pressed pointlessly to her lips, as if they are children. I don’t mind their fragile heads. Bodies so large. Through the mottled glass doors their claws appear deep-sea, something starfish. H wipes the dinner knife with a rag. She turns and mouths the word tea at me, her eyebrows raised. 

 

I return a thumbs up and finish picking the sleep from my eyes. Last night’s dream settles as a memory. A pigeon’s beak methodically piercing my skin, until bloodless holes run in neat lines across my forearms. The moment of contact is nothing more than a pinch. Light hits the bed first, before shifting into the kitchen. The apartment belongs to H. Plants thrive in every corner. Walls painted a specific shade of white. She has concerns about the old electrics. A sound of crickets fills each outlet, loudest at the kettle. I close my eyes against the sun. The teabag brews too long. H will not drink it. 

 

The pigeons must feel the damp from last night’s light rain. Each flap of their wings releases small, perfect down feathers. H is irritated as they drift inside. She drops the knife into the sink and begins to sweep aggressively. Her technique is ineffective. The feathers easily escape the broom’s teeth, drawn backwards and sideways by invisible air streams. I trap six in my hands. Each fluffy edge finds another and forms a levitating clump. H peers between my fingers. What am I supposed to do with this? She watches, arms folded, as I try to drop the makeshift offering into the bin. The clump floats briefly then misses the bin’s swinging mouth. She hands me a piece of kitchen paper and I wrap it inside. The new weight sees it fall easily to the bottom. Where it lands I notice a lemon swollen with mould, the packaging of a pricey chocolate bar, two lumpy coffee filters. After five months of dating, H and I are almost living together. Momentarily the rubbish has a romantic quality. Another thing I consider telling H, then decide against. 

 

*

 

I take out my phone. On average, I read, each pigeon has around 10,000 feathers. Another sentence describes their strong muscles, another describes hearts that beat 600 times a minute. I press two fingers to my wrist but my own heart is too faint to be felt. The pulse is stronger below the hinge of my jaw. If I’m healthy, an article advises, it should move somewhere between 60 and 100 times every 60 seconds. Now what are you doing? H watches me again. I tilt my head. Just checking my heart rate. She pulls away my fingers and replaces them with her lips. You seem alive enough to me. 

 

*

 

At first only the broom and knife were kept against the bedroom wall. Then new pieces of equipment began to pile up. An eco cleaning spray and a potent bleach. A small, cordless hoover not soon after. Now two pairs of gloves, neither of which she chooses to wear, and a scouring sponge. Today she scrubs at the stains with difficulty. Honestly what do they eat? What could they possibly be eating? When I look it up she is half angry. A variety of seeds, grains and berries, occasionally earthworms, snails and small insects. Dry shit is caught under her fingernails. Well then their diet is better than mine. 

 

I lead her to the kitchen sink and wash her hands. Using a soft, green sponge I move in circles across her palms. I drag my own fingernails beneath hers to dislodge the shit. Even in water it remains hard, disappearing in pieces down the drain. H shuts her eyes. Outside, down on the street, a bus brakes. I hear the door’s pistons. Fuel drifts in through the open balcony doors. Oh I love that smell. H’s eyes flutter a little. Her knuckles redden in the hot water. I twist the sponge around her thumbs. The soap is flavoured with orange and bergamot. A gift from H’s parents. A sprig of some woody herb is set inside the fatty acid. I lift it to H’s nose. That smells good too. 

 

*

 

Often other pigeons come to watch, or talk. Contentedly they grip the railings. These visits infuriate H. The audience shits constantly. Every few minutes she flings open the balcony doors to see them off and every few minutes they return. She wants something sharp to wrap around the architecture. Barbed wire, I suggest. H is too disturbed to answer. In her mind is an idea of violence, a line she will not cross. Sharp was her word not mine but I don’t point this out. She tries cable ties, columns of Blu-Tack, a thick layer of Vaseline. Claws easily work around each of her obstacles, wings keeping balance, necks alert. 

 

*

 

Newly desperate, H brings home a cat. Borrowed from her studio, she explains. When she comes through the door of the flat she is hot. Sweat runs behind her knees. He’s very heavy, god he’s heavy. She chugs water like a toddler. The large sound of her thirst is charming. When she’s done drinking she keeps the tap running and rinses her face in the stream. Expectant meows come from inside the carrier case. Listen to that. H wipes her lips then rolls out her shoulders. He’s ready for action. Excitedly she unzips the door. 

 

The cat is called Mr Monster. She only calls him by his full name for an hour or so. Then it’s Monster, finally Mons. He sits, tail flicking, on the balcony. His back to the pigeons. Quickly he stretches out in the sunshine and sleeps. H rouses him. Come on Mons. Do your job. Do your job. She tries to spin his body around to face the couple who are mid-caress, heads murmuring in each other’s wings. He swipes lazily at her face and catches her chin. Embarrassed she goes back into the bedroom and watches the audience return. They survey Mons warily at first, then not at all. Eyes distant and bloodshot. Rotating like red planets. 

 

Would you mind feeding him? H does not like the smell of fish. She has bought tins of pink salmon. Spooning it out I find tiny circles of spine. Mr Monster looks at me expectantly. I remove the miniature bones and panic about others, feeling through the wet meat with my fingers. As I throw each piece of soft bone into the bin he follows my hand. Impatiently he paces the kitchen. His whole body responds to the sound of the fork as it chimes the edge of the bowl. Coming, coming. Mons eats delicately and efficiently, demonstrating a pleasant control over his own appetite. 

 

In bed he idly prods my chest. Occasionally a claw catches on the thin cotton of my t-shirt. I wince as if he has drawn blood. The dream in which my forearm is lined with punctures has not quite left me. I catch myself stroking my skin as if it is damaged. H, always on the lookout for my pleasures, takes this on as her duty. As we lie together I feel her fingers trace upwards from my palm, following the same line of phantom injuries. The sensation is so light it is unbearable. Still I lean into her, make soft sighs, push out my lips a little. Her perception is too acute to be moved against. Happily, we legislate our desire. 

 

*

 

Mr Monster is returned to the studio. H calls a taxi this time and I ask if she is sending him back alone. Of course not! She is wearing shorts and sandals, toenails painted green. In you get. She unzips the carrier case. He sits alongside the open fabric door and watches as she gestures at him, mimicking entering and exiting with her hands. In you get. Still he watches. H moves on all fours and pushes her head inside. Like this, see. In you get. Distracted by a ray of light, Mr Monster saunters towards the balcony doors. One eye remains on our scene. You try, H asks. On all fours I put my head inside. The warm smell of animal distress has lingered in the soft walls. I don’t think he’ll go back in here. H shrugs. Well I’m afraid he doesn’t have a choice. 

 

*

 

In 1995 psychologist Shigeru Watanabe trained two pigeons to tell the difference between a Picasso and a Monet. When this worked, he took the experiment further. The pigeons were shown ten drawings by school children, some good, some bad. Each bird only showed interest in the drawings that had already been classified as good by a panel of experts. At first H laughs happily at this story. What do you think they would make of my work? She looks at me across the pillow. H creates complicated ceramic sculptures. Small and twisted. She is joking, but painfully so. I struggle to find her hand under the blanket. 

 

*

 

H leaves the flat for coffee. I stand on the balcony and watch her body disappear down the street. She can feel my gaze. Twice she turns around to blow a kiss. My turn to clean. One bird balances on the other bird’s back. They’re not mating but rearranging. I gasp as one takes off. One foot is missing, the other knotted. The remaining bird weighs out a song in its chest. I hear notes bump up against bone, slip towards feather. They are not cute. H’s word: cute. Not cute enough, maybe, to feel mutually beneficial. In H’s mind, she gets nothing and the pigeons get the balcony. I scrape and scrub the shit until she returns. 

 

Successfully I match the intensity of her cleaning efforts. H is grateful. Feeling good, I suggest planting tomatoes underneath the railings. Bird shit is an excellent fertiliser. H frowns. You spend too much time on your phone. But think about the symbiosis. Involuntarily I am pleading. That wouldn’t count as symbiosis. H removes the green nail polish from her toenails. Cotton wool squeaks cleanly between her fingers, across her skin, against the small bottle. Imagine, they would get the balcony, we would get the tomatoes. I still don’t think it’s a fair swap. Under my breath I say symbiosis again. I love the sound, the rubbing of small vowels against the s. Here help me would you. I spread open H’s toes. She paints on a light pink varnish in neat, even strokes. 

 

*

 

I name the pigeons without telling H. Peter and Paul. She would be furious that I had made them gay. Queerness, to her, is a unique and special thing. Only a select few are allowed in. I couldn’t help but find them camp. The sheen of their bodies, each eye alive on the horizon, a manoeuvring at once awkward and confident. Paul comes and goes with new additions for the nest. Sharp, supple twigs bolster the outer ring. He brings large feathers lost by other birds and pokes them tenderly around Peter, fluffing the interior. An inbuilt expertise permeates their relationship. I think I am envious, but can’t be sure. 

 

*

 

H believes I am still grumpy about the tomatoes. You can do it if you want, you know. She presses her foot against mine in the bath. I don’t know how to reply. Accidentally my silence guilts her. We should do it, I’m serious, I’ve always wanted a garden anyway. Eyes wide, she looks at me without blinking. H seems like the type who would garden. Her back is straight and strong, head the right shape for a floppy, elegant hat. Flowers and vegetables would no doubt grow easily in her presence. 

 

OK fine I’ll plant tomatoes. She nods happily. Yes! H holds my hand. We are glossy with soap. Imagine, we can order some of those heritage seeds. My hand is squeezed tighter. In her mind the vines grow without issue. They are tall and bathed in light. There are no pigeons, no Peter and Paul, no bird shit. Instead there is heavy, sweet fruit in strange homegrown sizes. Already she has cut them down, sliced their swollen shapes, laid them out on a platter. I agree with her. Yes, perfect. She drinks her wine fast. Perfect. Her front teeth blossom maroon in the candlelight. 

 

*

 

I prep an organic chicken. Sharp and skeletal feathers are strange across the thigh meat and crown. The softer part of each one is worn ragged, as if sucked. H calls to me from bed and lists tomato cultivars. There are 11,005 in total. Adorno, Alicante, Beefsteak, Better Boy. I had expected more romance. Instead each name is more pet than lover. We settle on Better Boy, Dad’s Sunset, Mr Stripey, Aunt Ruby. She orders the seeds. I pull the chicken skin away from the meat and push in lumps of butter and garlic. Each feather is removed and replaced with rosemary. She pays extra for delivery so the seeds will arrive as soon as possible. After hitting ‘buy’ she applauds and I join in. A couple is a permanent in-joke. 

 

*

 

Peter and Paul, I realise, are preparing for babies. Paul is insistent, and the gentle preparation has been in honour of Peter’s pending eggs. I tell H. What?! She peers at their nest. Now the lining has thickened. Peter thickened, too. His chest puffed out, neck disappeared. These pigeons will never end! H bangs a fist against the balcony doors. Neither Peter nor Paul flinch. She bangs again. Three more pigeons sit on the balcony railing. Their heads barely move at the thud of her hand against the glass. To H, they choose not to leave. She sees only their poor decision making, their defiance. I need a better plan. She speaks into my shoulder. A better plan. 

 

*

 

H comes back buoyant from the studio. She has sold a little work and wants to celebrate. She casts a brief eye out the balcony doors. From her backpack she removes a bottle of champagne. It slips from her fingers and rolls across the kitchen floor. I wash a pair of matching vintage glasses, wiping at cloudy lip marks with my thumb. Come on. H lies on the tiles next to the champagne. Come here. I get on my knees and crawl towards her. She aims the champagne at the balcony doors and pops the cork. The label is simple, indicating something expensive. 

 

So what sold? She presses the edge of the bottle to my lips and pours slowly. Doesn’t matter! A better plan has arrived. She pulls out her phone from her pocket. Her head touches mine. Look. On the screen is a clumsy website promising Best Replica Bird Eggs. A little banner claims each one will be unique, each one perfectly and expertly handmade. The style is old fashioned, all cursive. There are charming drawings of rare kinds and the odd blurry photograph. A bird in flight, a head too-closely zoomed in on. 

 

H taps and swipes. We move through detailed markings and subtle colours, through various shell thicknesses. A tawny owl egg is almost round, a peregrine falcon’s an alarming smoky red. Most are a washed-out blue, the shade of ice in a child’s imagination. I ask H to pause when scrolling past the Heron’s egg. It is a science-fiction green. Here, take it. She hands me her phone and she pours more champagne. What do you think? It’s interesting. I know it’s interesting. H tips the whole glassful down her throat. 

 

I’m going to ask him to make replica eggs for me. She turns her eyes to the balcony doors. He will make replica eggs to replace their real eggs, et voila, no more pigeons. I follow her gaze. Outside it is still half-light. The sun is no longer visible from the balcony. Around this time of evening it disappears behind the larger block of flats across the street. Each tree lining the pavement bounces pink and gold, safe in their fenced squares. H doesn’t ask what I think again. She puts on a slow and evocative record. One that we both love. 

 

Pulling me up off the floor she suggests eating dinner outside, to continue the celebration. Her family calls and she talks them through the sale. They are nothing but supportive. Off the phone she tells me, for the fourth or fifth time, that I would love her parents. For the fourth or fifth time I challenge: introduce me then. Not yet, she turns mysterious, not yet. I imagine them short and desperate with love, like me. A little drunk, H slowly sweeps and polishes the balcony. Outside the day’s heat has lingered. Champagne looks especially wet in the glass. H trails a finger through the condensation. Dinner is expensive, too. A fine white cheese, fennel, olives, baby leaves. 

 

We only manage to eat a little before H shows me her neck. Kissing her is extraordinary in the pink light, pinker by the second. Will this count as fucking outside I wonder. H drops to her knees and works hard between my legs. I moan and knock a wine glass to the floor. This she likes. I knock over the other one. The shards are tuneful across the tiles. Above us the pigeons leave suddenly. H lifts her head at the sound of their wings. Her cheek rests damp against my thigh. She sighs dramatically. Some privacy at last. 

 

*

 

The future tomatoes arrive. A small package. Through the brown paper the seeds feel large. I collect the rest of the post from the floor. Also delivered is a letter with a small whale logo. H laughs and tells me she is a longtime sponsor of a killer whale named Sue. I’m happy to discover there are things about her I still don’t know. The company brings together killer whales in the wild with humans, who provide a sort of life insurance policy. What does the money go towards? I’m not sure, it’s something complicated to do with tracking their well being. 

 

She places the envelope in the recycling bin. You don’t want to read it? No, Sue is always fine. I don’t tell her the seeds have arrived. The decision happens suddenly, as H turns around to cut up an orange. Between the wet sound of the blade, Peter and Paul’s coos move through the balcony doors, just ajar. Their noise is swelling. I catch her outside prodding the nest with the broom. The idea is to make the pigeons less comfortable without hurting them, to gently encourage them to leave. But all Peter and Paul have to do is flap their wings indignantly and she runs inside, holding in a scream. 

 

I laugh quietly until she hands me the broom and it happens to me, the feathers grazing my cheek as if I wasn’t there at all. Panicking about disease H washes her face in the bathroom sink. She makes me check for damage, for small injuries above her eyes, across her cheeks. I love the opportunity to soothe. There’s nothing there I promise. They don’t understand personal space, she sobs. That’s why I hate them. That’s why. 

 

*

 

H shows me emails from the man making the replica bird eggs. There is a new size to her excitement. She reads aloud lines from the emails he has sent. The ubiquity of her selected breed confused him at first. In the second email, he labels her request unique, and suggests a larger fee than usual. In the third email he explains this covers an essential period of development to get the shell thickness just right. In the most recent email he describes the first test eggs as freshly hatched from a custom mould. He dubs his experiment a success. She laughs at his use of a chick emoji. 

 

The emails have pictures attached. I look at an old man working in a garden shed, fingers dusty with plaster. A small window in front of his table has been recently cleared of ivy. Little leaf footprints have stained the glass. Beyond there is a field, flat and bright with rapeseed. On the table handwritten labels point out the different types of eggs he has made. The sole purpose of his business, she explains, is to deter people from collecting illegally. H pats my arm. Don’t worry our pigeons are hardly rare, we’re within our rights. 

 

*

 

In the middle of the night I rescue the whale letter from the recycling. I think of Sue in the open ocean. Long scars shine across her back, as if etched in plastic. Small eyes only able to be seen one at a time. In the dark of the kitchen I watch a nature documentary on whales and learn that we share a common ancestor. Our eyes work the same way, all beautifully complex receptors and ganglions. Sue’s brain is in there, blinking through the ocean’s light shafts. The narrator prefers the word intelligent. He says it twice, tenderly, as the camera zooms in on the whale’s pupil. I open the letter. It is written as if from Sue. A common font has been used everywhere except for Sue’s signature, which has been done in thick black calligraphy. Included is a small photograph of her fin protruding from the water. The square crop makes it appear forlorn. Around the edges, I remind myself, would be the rest of the ocean. Sue is fine, Sue is always fine. 

 

*

 

The main problem, H realises, will be disposing of the real eggs in an ethical way. She is angry when she discovers articles filling my laptop screen, multiple tabs opened in response to the question: ‘Do pigeons experience grief?’ It is my responsibility to carry the answers: piteous cries, eternal searching, drooped posture, listlessness, death. Suggestions happen at random. After sex, she wonders whether we should simply hide the eggs. Bury them in the bottom of the bin, or in a nearby park. Before her morning run, she jokes that we could find another pair of pigeons and swap them out. Halfway through a phone conversation with somebody else she pauses, covering the mouthpiece with her hand, to hear my thoughts on tossing them into the city river. 

 

The Internet is not much help. Forums only focus on rescuing abandoned nests. Meanwhile Peter and Paul close their eyes more often. I read that incubation does not start until the last egg is laid. H puts on swimming goggles and pulls a hood tight around her face. She holds the broom out in front of her and quickly jabs the nest. Peter and Paul seem to increase the weight of their bodies. The nest barely moves. H tries again. Her own body is clenched, working hard against her desperation. This time she holds the broom underneath the nest and slowly tips it to one side. Peter and Paul flap their wings, trying to alter the descent. They are forced to hover mid-air and then land, panicked, on the railings opposite. H ushers me over to count the contents. Five eggs, tough and pale. 

 

*

 

The replica eggs arrive, unnervingly similar. H is ecstatic. She emails a picture of all five nestled in her hand with the line THEY ARRIVED!!!! I wonder why she does not just get rid of the real eggs and leave the nest empty. Peter and Paul might be encouraged to take their grief elsewhere. Now is not the time to change your mind. H kisses my cheek. You see this way is better, this way they won’t grieve at all. What happens when the eggs don’t hatch? She refreshes her inbox. I don’t think time works that way for pigeons. It isn’t linear. She refreshes her inbox again. Eventually they will just give up on the replica eggs. By then, it will be winter. 

 

*

 

Outside dawn is a hairline fracture. The room will soon be large with summer light. I light a candle then blow it out. The scene does not require more ritual. H holds a replica egg to the sun and slowly turns it. Amazing, what he’s done, just amazing. She offers me either the job of tilting the nest or the job of removing the eggs. Love, or at least falling in love, is to be eternally implicated. I choose to remove the eggs. This is what I have already rehearsed. 

 

OK then here is the plan. H’s mouth is full of toast. I will go in first and jab. She swallows. Presses her forefinger to the plate to trap each last crumb. Then you take the real eggs and I will put in the replicas, deal? Deal. Each crumb is sucked free. She puts the replicas in the pockets of her tracksuit. Three in the left, two in the right. Do you want a pair of these? A second pair of googles is offered. No. Suit yourself. This time she pulls up her hood, tightens, and snaps the goggles over the top. What do you think? Very good. Isn’t it though? She begins a performance, dancing awkwardly, swinging her hips, flicking each pocket of eggs front and back, front and back. 

 

*

 

Pointlessly I carry the eggs carefully. H is jittery behind me, twice stepping on the backs of my heels. I balance the five eggs on the kitchen countertop. They wobble and skid across the smooth surface. The palm of my hand is still warm. Peter and Paul did not seem to notice. Already they are settled on the replicas, the nest swaying slightly from the broom’s impact. Without warning H brings a serving spoon down upon each egg. She wipes up the syrupy insides with toilet paper. The breaking sound is small, masked by the force of the serving spoon against the plastic. I expect a smell, however faint, but there is none. 


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is a writer based in Glasgow. In 2020 they were runner up in the Ivan Juritz Prize. They are interested in the way text holds onto, and releases, the queer body.

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