The girl in the apartment next to yours has married a bird. She shows you the wedding photos over tea. The tea is lukewarm, and much too sweet. You smile at the photos anyway — the neighbor girl in an ivory dress with a stain that she tries to hide under her hands, a bird perched on her shoulder. You don’t know much about birds. It could be any kind of bird at all.
You look beautiful, you say.
It was a secondhand dress, says the neighbor girl, shuffling through the photos. Do you think that’s unlucky?
It had to be white. I saved myself for him.
She smiles in a nostalgic way as she stirs her tea.
I mean, there were boys, she says. You know.
I could have, but I wanted to wait for the right one. She taps the stack of photos with her fingernails. I did. I think I did.
All the windows in her apartment are opened. She has removed the screens. Papers are held down by salt and pepper shakers, the television remote, empty mugs. The neighbor girl seems to only drink from mugs. You wonder if her husband drinks from them too. You imagine him perched on the edge of one, bird toes curling round the lip, dipping his beak into the liquid. A breeze stirs the papers, and one piece flaps up and down, like a bird’s wing. Outside, there is a cooing of pigeons.
The neighbor girl tips her head in an avian way. She says: He’ll be home soon.
Do you always leave the windows open? you ask, and sip your lukewarm tea.
He has to be free to come and go as he pleases, she says. It wouldn’t work otherwise.
You say: I had a boyfriend like that once.
She says: If you love something, let it go.
Look, she says, and pulls your hand to her belly. You see?
Under your hand, there is a stirring within her, something that could be a fluttering of wings, a scratching of talons.
She says: It’s a miracle, isn’t it? Don’t you think it’s a miracle?
I do, you say. I do.
Cathy Ulrich doesn't think a secondhand wedding dress would be unlucky at all. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Booth, Lunch Ticket and Superstition Review.