Mating Song

by Kelly Barnhill

Two hours after the first and only time they ever made love, Ro kicked off the sweaty sheets, slid into the cold, downy hairs unfurling over her arms, her long hair flapping at her sides like wings. "Come back," Andrew said, his eyes avoiding the twin smears of blood on either thigh, the knee-shaped bruise just below her hip. "I had a bird that I loved until it died, though mother told me it learned the secret of its latch, and flew away." Andrew wanted to tell her that all mothers lie - or perhaps that love is a lie, or that a lie of love is justified if it results in the ultimate and undeniable truth of skin upon skin against skin, of shirts and socks and skirts molted away and fluttering prettily to the ground - but he thought better of it and said nothing, and noticed instead the way the lamplight fell across her widening arms, the scritch of her toenails against the blue tile floor, the way her body seemed suddenly light and soft as feathers. He closed his eyes and, waiting for her to return, dreamed of blue eggs in fiercely protected nests, of love songs warbled sweetly to the sky, of migration and water and wings. When he woke, his bed was covered with long feathers and foamy down, his skin deeply etched by the talons of a bird: a love poem that he would never read.


Kelly Barnhill's work has appeared in Underground Voices, The Sun, Postscripts, and Polluto, and a first novel - recently purchased by Little, Brown - is set to be released next year.