Rachel Ward


Every morning, she stroked the winged maxi pad stuck to the teenaged daughter’s wall as if it were a rare bird. Once, she belonged to the dead bird society, but that was before she knew anything about cats and dogs and how she hated the word kibble and loved the word toilet. Three days ago, the orange-spotted koi suffocated. Of all the pets, the only one she touched was made of plastic and puffed cellulose.

She’d been hired because the dad wanted her to sleep in his bed, and the mom didn’t want to rent a carpet cleaner.

The kitchen was a potion-maker’s delight. She and her first had had this skill when they were twelve and loved anything bright that smelled bad. Her first had come from Mexico; she had a bulging mouth and troubles they were too young to understand.

At night, she transported the potion in a Ziplock bag to various lawns of the neighborhood, pouring a little into the grass. She and her first had used film canisters, because they lived by the Kodak factory and the sidewalks had been littered.

Eventually, she arrived at the ferry station. Two station attendants were chatting inside an illuminated glass box. The one with glasses reminded her of the man who’d molested her in middle school.

She banged on his door.

“What can I do for you?”

“I am looking for a bird.”

He glanced at the other attendant, who was playing tic-tac-toe on his knee.

“What kind of bird?”

“A white bird.”

Their mouths moved in a way that made her feet want to be touched. She took off her jelly sandals.

The attendant with the glasses opened a drawer. He folded an envelope into a crane and held it out to her. “Is this your bird?”

It wasn’t, but she took it anyway.


At the house, she coaxed the station attendants to the backyard. She sat on the edge of the lounge-chair, dipping her feet in the koi pond. The water was viscous and warmer than her body.

They stared at the luminescent belly of the upside down koi. One of the attendants placed her crane on the surface of the water and they all watched another koi swim up and kiss it.

She slid her hands inside the Ziplock bag; the potion was mucousy. She and her first had done it this way; that night they read The Thorn Birds and stole the baby thermometer from the medicine chest.

The attendant with the glasses pulled her foot from the water and began deep-throating her toes. Her eyes shut and “she, too, is a sacrament” moved through her body like it had when her face was pressed against the pink wall and she could hardly breathe. In the dark, the other attendant was eating her other foot. Far above everything, she could see Cassiopeia.



*Vanessa Norton* is a writer living in Oakland, California. Her stories appear in the anthology *Sex for America: Politically Inspired Erotica,* edited by Stephen Elliott, *Drain*, *Revolver*, *Wag's Revue,* *Hobart*, *Whiskey Island, Gigantic, Sporklet, *and elsewhere. Sometimes she skins seals that were already dead when she found them.




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