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I Used To Love Caged Birds

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I used to love caged birds.

Until Maria tweeted that morning.

 

It started with a dizziness, when I made a sharp left from the hallway towards the bathroom, to scrape a blade across my cheek, as I do each morning.

 

Maria, perched in her swinging cage above the kitchen balcony, chirruped again.

 

For nearly twenty years, since I moved to the States and took my position at the university, I have had Maria, or a Maria descendant, or cousin of, thereof.

 

Twenty years of artificial intelligence, of algorithms, of rats finding their way through mazes and decision trees based on Bayesian statistics. Maria and her ilk, on my kitchen balcony. My constant companion.

Marie tweeted and now there is a twitch, a sharp niggle under my breastbone.

 

The blade slips across my cheek.

 

I swear under my breathe, "chikushou".

 

Years of living here and still, the Japanese curse is the best.

 

Scarlet on steel, I am bleeding now. I have been bleeding for a long time.

 

Sometimes I felt lonely, but there was never enough to tempt me.

 

From the time I arrived, the American colleagues with their smiles and slacks and shiny teeth were tolerable but of no attraction. Women never held an attraction for me, strange creatures, bumpy and messy and unpredictably shrill. Women had no wont of me.

 

No one has wont of me.

 

I am a silent fixture, a loose button that might fall off an old shirt at any moment. You would never notice and you just don't care. I am the old man, the Japanese laboratory technician, here for years, tending to the rats after their maze run, disinfecting the electrodes, resetting the logic gates.

 

Who should care for I?

 

No one does.

 

Not I.

 

Maria is chirruping and I am staring at my face in the mirror.

 

Hands clench the sink.

 

On my right cheek next to the ear, a globule of blood is slowly clotting, threatening to drip but thickening so fast it is merely a motion of death, suspended in time.

 

My dark eyes are dull with age but bright with the moment, curtained by matured eyelids in a wizened Asiatic face, aged in laboratory lights.

 

I am staring back at I.

 

The twinge is getting stronger now.

 

Maria is chirping hysterically now.

 

My knees feel like they will give. I close my eyes and gather all the strength I can, willing my legs to hold me up.

 

I am shuffling back to the kitchen. I must reach the telephone. I must call for an ambulance. I cannot die like this.

 

Maria is cheeping and the telephone, the telephone is within my reach.

 

My chest, the pain, like an elephant trampling over me...

 

I am picking up the phone. I am dialing. 911.

 

"Hello, hello, 911" says the voice on the line. "How can I help you. Sir. Sir?"

 

Maria is tweeting, she is tweeting like a hysterical woman, she is chirruping like it's the end of the world.

 

I try to speak. Nothing comes out.

"Hello, hello" says the voice at the end of the phone.

 

I am opening my mouth, I am rasping.

 

There is a train, it is riding up my arm and down my chest and I am trying to get the words out but Maria is singing and I am sinking, sinking into the ground.

 

I used to love caged birds, but now I am no more.

(c) Ariella Berger. All rights reserved. The characters in this story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. With the exception of sharing a direct weblink to this post, no part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted electronically or mechanically, including my photographic means and recording, information management storage and retrieval, without permission in writing from the author. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement will be pursued.