By Vance Voyles
Stepping out onto the starboard bow, Finley drops her purse and moves to the metal railing. Grabbing it with slick hands, she stares down at the water as waves crash against the hull. She cannot catch her breath. This was supposed to be the best night of her life, but now everything is ruined, unraveling, and shattered.
A light-mantled albatross casts odd shadows in the moonlight, drifting up and down on the sea breeze, and Finley pulls her shawl tight over her shoulders, shivering. Then, without a second thought, she climbs onto the railing and is immediately knocked back onto the deck by a fluttering of feathers. Next to her, scuttling on the ground, the lone albatross flaps its wings, spanning the width of the walkway, before righting itself and staring at Finley.
“You should be more careful, little bird,” the albatross says.
“What?” Finley says, sliding her back up against the wall.
“Jumping to your death isn’t going to change anything,” the albatross adds, digging its beak into its wing as if to scratch an itch.
Finley shakes her head and stares at the bird, incredulous.
“What’s the matter, little bird?” the albatross says, ruffling its neck feathers. “Cat got your tongue?”
Little bird. That’s what her father calls her. His fierce flyer, jumping without hesitation. Little bird’s got to fly, he’d say, but he isn’t here now, and flying isn’t an option.
“What did you call me?” she asks.
The albatross coos, shifting from foot to foot, saying nothing.
Finley shakes her head. “Get ahold of yourself, Fin. You’re talking to a fucking bird.”
“Talking to birds is normal,” the albatross says. “It’s when the bird starts talking back that you need to worry.”
“But…” Finley says, shaking her head. “No.” She stands up and grabs the metal railing, suddenly more aware of the cold. She hugs herself and stares out at the dark horizon. “I’m fine. Everything is fine.”
“Didn’t look fine to me,” the albatross says.
“Stop,” Finley says, refusing to look at the albatross.
The albatross hopscotches down the deck and plops down in front of her. “From where I’m sitting, little bird, looks like fine jumped ship a few miles back, am I right?”
“No,” Finley says, stepping back. “You’re wrong. I’ve just had too much to drink. Any minute now, David will be here, dropping down on one knee to ask me to marry him, and we’ll have that honeymoon in the Maldives, just like his boss offered when he was giving us the grand tour.”
“Is that so?” the albatross muses.
“It is so,” Finley says. “We were in his cabin, and he—”
“Is that where you are now, little bird?” the albatross asks, interrupting.
Finley looks around and is surprised to find herself standing in the cabin. “How did I get here?” she asks, but the albatross doesn’t answer, because it isn’t an albatross anymore. It’s a miniature elephant, standing on a bookshelf looking at her, bobbing its painted blue head up and down, up and down. “He brought me in here, didn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t know,” the elephant says.
“He did. He wanted to show me the picture again. He is very proud of his villa. It’s in the Maldives, but I already said that, didn’t I?”
The elephant blinks slowly and smiles a sad smile.
“He offered to take me, well, us, David and me. But I think he just meant me, don’t you?”
“I do,” the elephant says, nodding its head.
“That’s what I would have said. I do. To David, I mean.”
“You still can.”
“No,” Finley says, wiping a tear from her cheek. “Not anymore. Not after what happened.”
“And what is that, exactly?” the elephant asks.
“He died, didn’t he?” she says, looking to the bookshelf, hoping to see the elephant nodding, but it is gone. And suddenly, she is falling. She was standing, and now she is not. And now the elephant is on the nightstand, and she is laying there, trying to breathe, staring at its pale blue eyes.
“Are you okay, little bird?” the elephant asks. “Would you like some water? I have some.” Then it raises its trunk and sprays the room with it, but it isn’t water. It’s slick, and dark, and smells like old pennies.
“Is this blood?” Finley asks, looking down at her dress and the dark crimson stain.
The elephant blows a muted trumpet in response.
“Did I do that?” she asks. “Why did I do that?”
The elephant blinks glossy eyes at her, and stamps at the nightstand. “Maybe you thought you had to. Don’t you remember?”
Finley turns away from the elephant, closing her eyes. She doesn’t want to remember. Not again. David’s boss above her, red-faced and thrusting into her. And she cannot move. Cannot breathe. She claws at the comforter, wanting to scream, but he will fire David, and then David won’t ask her to marry him. No Maldives for the honeymoon.
And he is breathing hard over her, smelling rotten like sour bourbon, and her fingers find the curled trunk of the elephant, and she grabs it and smashes it into the side of his head.
The elephant shatters and shards of porcelain dig into his neck. And the blood. There is so much blood. And she is screaming, but no sound is coming out. And there is no one breaking down the door. No one coming to rescue her.
“Are you okay, little bird?” the albatross asks. The albatross is back again, blinking shiny, black eyes at her, and she is back on the starboard bow, stepping onto the railing. “You shouldn’t be up there,” the albatross says. “You don’t know how to fly.”
“Don’t I, though?” She says, balancing on the top rail. “I think I do.” And then she is flying, kiting across the night sky, with her arms spread wide, searching for something, or someone. Whatever lies beyond the dark horizon.