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January 8, 2024 Fiction

Baby Birds

Miriam Gordis

Baby Birds photo

The wedding dress, when it comes, is sheer in the right light. It conveys the kind of sleaze I’m looking for, a little too sultry for a bride. I could have gotten one at Goodwill for one tenth of the price, but they all look like first communion dresses. Those are popular now among the girls I grew up with, who are all leaving their rebellious phase. In their wedding photos, their dresses match up with their pillowy white sponge cakes.

The wedding, in my head, will be spontaneous. We’ll run into each other at a mutual friend’s birthday party and fall in love on a psychedelic-fueled night, like people do in the movies. We’ll buy a ring at a 24-hour drugstore in the cheap jewelry section between the fake nails and prescription glasses. We’ll hook up towards sunrise. I’ll say: fuck a baby into me. We’ll go get a marriage license the next day. This part is a bit fuzzier in my head. I don’t know how the red tape works exactly. All of my research energy has gone into the dress which will offer the power of suggestion. If you already look like a bride, it only takes a quick alignment of cosmic inevitability to actually become a bride. Afterwards, I’ll post on Instagram something fuzzy, ironic, a little bit sexy, set to “Marry You” by Bruno Mars to show I’m still an anti-bourgeois bride. 

My husband-to-be was in love with me for one summer. We had slow wriggly sex like worms under a heat lamp. We went to the pool every day. One time, we went upstate for the weekend and swam in the river even though I read it was choked with industrial waste. Getting chemical poisoning together seemed romantic, the closest you could come to being entombed, Pompeii-style, in each other’s arms. He liked to go missing from time to time when we were out somewhere, microdosing abandonment. It gave me the same feeling in my stomach as a recurrent childhood nightmare where the floor of my grandmother’s deck had rotted, and I fell through it into empty space. 

Sometimes, in one of my fantasies, he abandons me at the altar, and I sit on the ground crying in my beautiful, overpriced wedding dress, looking more picturesque than most people ever will in their lives. 

My husband-to-be likes milky coffee to stay awake and cough syrup to sleep. He likes my shoulder blades and hipbones, the hard ridges on my body that protrude from the softness. He likes the kind of poetry they read at weddings and funerals. He posts long Maoist screeds on the internet, and sometimes I read them late at night, comforted by the confirmation that he is still functionally single. No one in a loving, healthy relationship would go online like that. 

The idea to marry him started as a fantasy. It was only one among many possible outcomes. I also fantasized about going to the beach together and burying him in the warm white sand. I would pack his limbs in so tight he couldn’t move, and then watch over him, shading him from the sun with my hair, dribbling cool water into his mouth like he was a baby bird. I fantasized about going blind and letting him lead me around, making him kiss me wherever I bumped into things, tender in his carelessness. I fantasized about dying dramatically so he’d read about it in the news. The tabloid reporters would go through my social media and dredge up old thirst trap photos of me to make my death sexier. He’d jerk off to them and cry. I fantasized about him marrying someone else, even though he didn’t believe in marriage because of the communism, and convincing me to have a threesome with them and then telling me afterwards that he really really loved his wife.

Next to all of these classic ideations of masochism, the wedding fantasy seemed like a positive direction. Even the price of the dress, which I couldn’t afford, seemed reasonable as a prop for my self-esteem. I consulted all the chatbot therapists who all encouraged me to try psychiatry and to try dating other people. Maybe on one of those casual sex apps they had where you could write out your fantasies like scripts. I tried it, writing on my profile that I wanted a man to let me pack him in sand and dribble water into his mouth. I was deluged with responses. They wanted me to spit on them, sweat on them, piss on them, sit on their faces, wrap them up in latex, suffocate them, simulate their deaths. But coming from strangers, it all felt clinical. That’s how romance works. I only want to pack my husband-to-be in sand, only want him to be my baby bird. 

At our mutual friend’s birthday party, when it comes, everyone else is dressed in work clothes. The mutual friend makes us all play party games. I’m too afraid of staining the deep white of my dress to eat or drink anything or to jostle elbows with anyone else who might spill something on me. When my husband-to-be shows up late, he looks terrible, but my heart flails wildly anyway.

When’s the wedding? he says as soon as he sees me. 

Whenever you want, I tell him. 

Can we make out first? he says.

We sit outside on the street in the fine rain. The streetlights are an aurora, a sheet of color. The rats run around us, magic and paranoid. He sucks on my bottom lip, his hands on me are swimmy. Someone walking by yells at him: she’s too beautiful a bride to be sitting in the street, and he yells back: she’s not really a bride. She’s a delusional romantic. So I try to tell him about the wedding idea, but I’m too high, and he also doesn’t believe in marriage so instead I tell him about the sand fantasy and about the men online and their slew of requests. 

What’s funny, he says, is that you’re the baby bird. With you it’s like if there was a violent apocalypse, you would be the first person to die. You’d roll over and die during the opening credits. It’s hot but kind of in a tragic way.  

He traces the back of my exposed shoulder blades lightly with his fingertips. See, here is where your wings should be.

I love you, I want to say but it’s gone already, dust settling around us. 

When I take off the dress at home, it’s all grey at the back from where I was sitting on the curb.