Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

A man waits at the bus stop with a pigeon on his shoulder. He has fashioned a cape from an old T-shirt, which is affixed to the back of his jacket with safety pins. The cape is encrusted with bird droppings drizzled down each shoulder. The pigeon is not remarkable apart from the mange of the throat and naked pink around the eyes. As the bus approaches, the man exposes a string tied to the bird’s leg. “Okay, Trudy, you know the rules,” he says. With a tug, the pigeon is tucked under his jacket like a smuggled dinner roll. On the bus, I listen for muffled cooing.

“Jesus, Sam, why do you have to be such an asshole?” A woman in dark glasses drives a station wagon by a west-side park. The car is crowded with dogs. Beside her in the front seat sits a mastiff looking straight ahead, like a brooding partner pretending he is not being addressed. The dog and the woman share the same hair colour. As they pass, a watery-eyed chihuahua stares at me from the back seat.

At the aquarium, the trainer explains to the audience how she had filled the oversized waffle ball with clams, scallops and water, and then put it in the freezer. She says when the otters play with the ball, they will be rewarded with seafood falling through the holes as the water melts. “Are you ready for your treat, Elfin?” she asks, before chucking the ball into the tank where a despondent otter floats on his back. The otter swims to the ball, grips it with his paws and begins to rub it vigorously against his furry genitals — the distance to which he would otherwise have difficulty reaching. He writhes and thrashes happily in the water. “Wow,” says the child beside me.

On my desk sits a miniature palm tree with a note reading “Robert Palmer” and underneath, “Please water me on Mondays.” I arranged my pen collection to one side of the pot as a band of slim clones, like in the music video. In the plant’s leaves I find foreign cobwebs, an infestation that has already consumed the fern of my office mate. I parcel it in a plastic bag. “I’m so sorry, Robert,” I say, and dispose of the body discreetly in the cafeteria bin. On my way home, I think of it lying in the dark, bag smeared by mustard packets and gory Jell-O. Members of the pen band eventually scatter to places unknown.

In yoga class, the instructor tells us about her week spent at a “silent retreat.” She says participants were not permitted to talk or make eye contact for the duration of their stay, and she drank four litres of water every day. “It was so cleansing not to speak,” she says. I roll my eyes as we lay on our mats listening to each other’s breathing and the mutterings of bodily functions. Intestines gurgle protests in the heat. They will not be silenced.

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