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FICTION / Eagles, Baby! / Michael Seymour Blake / Artist of the Month

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Woman outside wearing an oversized trench coat goes, “Hey, you want to buy something cool?”

I’m on my way to work and I’m still half asleep and miserable like all the other people around me on their way to work.

“No thanks.” I start walking away.

“You’re a nobody going nowhere. I can remedy that, cheap.”

I hesitate, turn around.

She grins and I notice she’s missing her front tooth and all the remaining teeth are covered with a layer of yellow grime. I follow her to a nearby alleyway. She has this stiff stride like her legs are made of broomsticks. She turns to me and opens her coat, revealing two eagles hanging like bats on either side of the coat’s interior.

I say, “Those are bald eagles.”

“Yes.”

“You are selling bald eagles.”

“Fifty bucks apiece.”

I’m late for work. Soon I’ll be immersed in the sounds of shuffling papers and sighs and the clacking of keys and the fingers typing nonsense into a computer full of nonsense. Everything nonsense. I click my tongue and mull things over.

My coworkers go crazy over the eagles. On my break I sit outside the building and people take photos and ask questions. It feels good to be noticed. I let a kid pet one of the eagles and it screeches at him. He jumps backwards. Gets a big laugh.

My wife is watching Netflix when I walk in with the eagles on my shoulders. She goes, “Oh my God what have you done?”

The eagles look massive in our 600 square foot Queens apartment.

“Notice anything different?” I ask while doing a quick spin.

The eagles shriek and my wife covers her ears.

I shout, “Eagles, baby!”

Two weeks later, while in the middle of some serial killer documentary, I blurt out, “Everybody knows eagles aren’t really bald, so why are they called bald eagles?”

I’ve been reading eagle trivia.

My wife pauses the documentary. “What?”

“Comes from the Celtic word ‘bal,’ which means ‘white patch,’ or something. ‘White patch eagle’ doesn’t sound as good, though.”

The eagles spread their wings and my wife gets a facefull of feathers.

“Better get those things away from me.”

“Down,” I say. The eagles hop onto our rug, which has been torn to shreds.

She puts the documentary back on.

“Female bald eagles are larger than males by about 25%,” I say.

 

One night, I’m eating cereal with the eagles when my wife comes home after working late at her copyediting job. She drops her purse on the floor and slumps in the doorway, staring at the wall.

“Rough day?”

“I never want to see another pharmaceutical brochure again.”

I put the bowl of cereal down and the eagles too. Named them Left and Right because they always stand on the same sides of my shoulders. As they finish the remaining cornflakes, I hug my wife. She squeezes me and I squeeze back. I push some of her curly black hair aside and kiss her forehead and whisper, “Have you considered getting a pair of eagles?”

Her arms go limp. “I need a shower.”

I know what’s coming, so I just watch her grab some pajamas and a towel from our bedroom and come back out and enter the bathroom. I run my toes over one of the million claw marks covering our wood floors. Deposit on this place is as good as gone.

“Oh my God,” she yells.

I walk in and see her looking at the lake trout in our tub.

“Eagles love catching live fish. A great thrill.”

My wife’s pajamas are laying over her feet and the towel is hanging from her fingers.          “The hell else is in there?”

“Those small shrimp things are mysids. Fish food.”

She drops the towel. “Mysids. Of course.”

Left and Right come strutting over, their talons clip, clip, clipping on the tiles. Left screeches and launches into the tub, splashing us all. Right leaps in too. Another splash.

“Again, a great thrill,” I say.

My wife moves in with her parents. Says we need a break. I buy two squirrels off some guy on Long Island and set them free in the apartment. Eagles occasionally like to dine on small mammals, but Left and Right show little interest. The squirrels scurry around all day long. They won’t leave, and I can’t catch them. Place is a disaster. My wife won’t return my calls.

Aside from being nicknamed Eagle Dude at the office, I realize not much has actually changed. I still type nonsense into the computer all day long while co-workers gossip about so-and-so being late or slacking off or giving so-and-so an attitude. Still make shitty pay. Worst of all, people hardly seem to notice me or the eagles anymore.

After a few weeks, my wife finally calls. Says she’ll move back in if I get rid of the eagles. I tell her someone who used to own two eagles is worse than someone who never owned any. “Please come home, but the eagles stay.”

She hangs up.

On the subway, I interrupt a woman who’s reading an Aimee Bender novel. I lean in and Right’s hooked beak grazes her hair. “Eagles can learn to fly as early as ten weeks old,” I say, but I hardly care and it’s obvious in my limp, dull tone.

The woman continues reading. “Heard that one like four times now.”

I exit at my stop and I’m in a foul mood. I don’t feel like going home so I walk east and keep walking. Four trains pass on the tracks overhead. There’s still some sunlight left. I see a bunch of high school kids hanging out on the corner. As I pass by, one of them plucks a white feather from Right’s tail. Right howls with rage. I try to grab him before he takes off, but he’s all over me. I feel his talons on my face and then he’s gone into the sky. Left flies off after him. I turn to the kids and yell, “The hell is wrong with you?”

“Your eye is hanging out, mister,” one of them says.

They whip out their phones and take pictures.

I reach up and, yes, my right eye is hanging from its socket.

“Come on,” a kid yells.

They run off. I pick up the plucked feather, pocket it, and then pass out.

I wake up in the hospital with a rosy-cheeked doctor telling me they had to remove my eye. My face will scar, but not too bad. I’m bandaged up and my eyelid is sewn shut. Doctor tells me it’s only until my fornices form enough to support an acrylic prosthetic or something.

Two months later and my eye is still sealed. Have some white scars down my face, but the doc was right, it’s not too bad. Haven’t seen the eagles or my wife since the incident. She doesn’t even know about it. The squirrels are gone, too. Possibly living in the walls. All I have left are three trout in the tub and a single white feather. One of these days I’ll dump those fish in a lake.

I grab a ramen packet, tear it open, and munch on the dry noodles, letting the crumbs pile up on whatever else is on the floor. It’s a mild Saturday and I head into Manhattan to stroll around. I’m in Greenwich when I see eagle wings in the middle of a crowd. I push through. Left and Right are on the shoulders of a woman who is balancing one-legged on a basketball using only her toes. The woman hops off the ball, then kicks it straight up into the air. It lands between Left’s extended wings. Everyone claps.

I step into the circle. “My eagles.” The eagles shriek. Someone in the crowd tells me to back off. “You don’t understand. Those are my eagles,” I yell, reaching for them. I must look crazy with my scraggly beard and stitched-up eye. The basketball rolls off Left’s back and the woman punts it at me in one smooth motion. It bashes into my chin like an uppercut and I fall on my ass. Cheers all round.

Later, I grab the feather out of my nightstand drawer and toss it in the trash.

I call my wife.

We meet at this Mexican spot we used to love and I hand her a bouquet of flowers.

“Thank you. Now explain,” she says, motioning to my ruined face.

So I do.

She orders a bottle of wine. “Still waiting for the world to pay attention to you?”

I scratch one of my scars. “Trying to trick them into thinking I’m worth paying attention to. How are you?”

She’s doing fine. Says she recently became marketing communications manager at some graphic design company. She also had a short story accepted by a respected literary journal.

“What else is new with you,” she asks.

“At work yesterday, someone casually described me to a new hire as ‘the guy who used to have two eagles.’ I’m basically invisible again.”

My wife sighs. “I can see you just fine, and you look pretty pathetic.”

I start to say I’ve been worse, but realize that’s bullshit, so we laugh instead.

She tells me we’re going to take things slow. I can do slow. Been doing slow my whole life.

I’m eating my sandwich outside the office when this kid points at me. “Look, mom!”

Mom’s tying the kid’s laces. She doesn’t look up. “Very nice.”

“You know what did this to me?” I say.

Now mom looks. “We don’t point at strangers, it’s very rude.”

“Pretty cool scars, right? Eagles, baby!”

Mom smiles, pulling the kid along. “Sorry to bother you, sir.”

“No bother. Hey kid, eagles can see ultraviolet light.”

They disappear into the crowd. I finish my sandwich and head back inside.

One day on my way to work, I see the woman in the trench coat again. “Hey, you want to buy something cool?”

She doesn’t seem to recognize me.

I tell her I’m interested. We go to the same alleyway and she opens her jacket like before and reveals two baby kangaroos hanging upside down by their feet from a line of rope.

I ask her how much and she tells me fifty apiece. Kangaroos might be just the boost I need, so I arch my head back and squeeze three lubricating drops into my acrylic eye, then I blink a few times while mulling things over. A single tear of aloe vera, sunflower oil, and vitamin E runs down my cheek.

Five minutes later I walk back into the morning sun, feeling good. Things are going to be better now. I can feel it. I call my wife to tell her the news.


Michael Seymour Blake’s work has appeared at Cosmonauts Avenue, Hobart, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Barrelhouse, Fanzine, Flapperhouse, Entropy, Waxwing, Corium, Paper Darts, People Holding, and Heavy Feather Review. He writes and doodles and sleeps in Queens. He does other stuff in Queens too. He is often lost.