She calls us her little treasures. Her hair smells of the bonfire. We watch the star-studded sky with our sharp-sighted eyes, touch the cool grass—just my little brother L and I, that is. K, the beautiful accident, won’t happen for many years.
Dad, his black moustache even blacker in the dark, takes a stick to retrieve another potato from the cinders. Mum helps us remove the coal-tasting crust to reveal the fluffy interior.
From a pile of old planks, through the deafening chirping of crickets filling the garden, comes the squeal of rats. They’re dying from poi—
—nting to a piece of paper on a crayon-littered floor, K shows me a planet populated by birds. Her curls remind me of DNA helices. Earlier that day, she exhumed her beheaded doll and reburied it under the willow. I wonder if plastic can turn into a fossil.
I am twenty-three, listen to death metal, and my hair is dyed ruby red and woven into plaits. This evening — in what will start as a trivial conversation — Dad will call me a monster. When he gives us a lift to the station tomorrow morning, he’ll know he messed up, but he’ll be too proud to say I’m sorry.
For now, though, the sun is setting and I’m looking outside the window at what remains of the family barbeque. On plastic chairs facing the enormous roses, Mum is talking to L. She’s doing her best to make him come out to her. The harder she tries, however, the more he resembles an eel wriggling himself out of her hands. He’ll never tell them the tr—
—easures can be found in unexpected places. K, a sad plump child a second ago, now a slender woman in her mid-twenties, lines the living-room carpet with L’s childhood drawings: a series of Smurfettes in the sea, all scribbled with a blue ball pen and giving off their best Birth of Venus vibe, waves on top of waves on top of waves in the background.
We’re having a blast, forgetting for an instant about K’s university across the continent, L’s alcoholic boyfriend of twelve years, my rented flat I share with my loving, if slightly bossy, husband.
Mum is not in the scene. She must be vacuuming or washing dishes or shopping or crying silently in the corner. Dad, his moustache now silver, watches us from across the room. He doesn’t say a word, but he beams with pr—
—ancing about the TV screen, sporting feathery gowns and fluttering lashes, drag queens are putting on their best show, but no one’s really watching. Mum seems to be counting needles on the Christmas tree, K’s head resting on her shoulder. L is texting the doctor. I’m sitting with Dad’s laptop on my lap, staring into a file named Things to deal with after.docx.
Dad is now so small, but he seems to fill the entire house. From my parents’ bedroom where he’s lying, he seeps into the vestibule, then branches out to the corridor, bathroom, K’s bedroom, living room, kitchen and — over the stairs — to the remaining bedrooms and the attic filled with dusty furniture, never-used doors, bags of toys that haven’t been played with in decades.
The tumours have it nice and cosy in his belly, collecting all the treasures: carbohydrates, proteins and fats, vitamins and oxygen, minerals and metals, drinking blood like a smoothie. The fluid in his bag has turned brown. We fear his colon might have burst, letting out fe—
—athers pirouette in the air and fall onto glittery waves. I’ve been dead for millions of years. Birds have taken over the planet, occupying all the niches. There are flying birds, swimming birds, slithering birds. Birds the size of a mammoth and as small as insects. Birds that spend their entire lives in the clouds and birds that live in the blood of other birds.
Where our house used to stand, there’s a gigantic floating nest surrounded by a shallow sea. The beautiful monster of a bird that resides in it, rosettes of peacock-like feathers around its head and paws, lets out a rattling screech. It tilts its head, eyeing the twilit sky, the yellow swarms of mosquito-sized tits, the enormous water lilies that are home to fluorescent mushrooms.
Finally, having preened its feathers for a bit, it stretches its spine, clumsily crawls out of the nest and plunges underwater — where its grace is endless.