The Manchester Review
Chris Killen
The Bird Room (extract)
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Paintings of small birds. Wrens, robins, chaffinches, budgies (lots of budgies), birds like that. All bright yellows, reds, browns and greens, except for the pigeon. The pigeon is grey.
      I’m on the sofa. She’s sitting next to me. She has her legs crossed. There’s about this much         space between us. Will’s in the kitchen, making cups of tea. This is the first time they’ve met. It is my idea.
      ‘This is Will,’ I say.
      He’s stood at the front door in his dressing gown. Late afternoon. The dressing gown is speckled with paint and fag ash.
      ‘Hello, Will,’ she says.
      ‘Hello,’ he says.
      ‘Will, this is Alice.’
      He invites us in and we follow him down the hall and sit in the living room. Will disappears into the kitchen. After a while we hear the rising bubble of a kettle. We aren’t speaking. She’s busy looking at the paintings. I’ve seen them before.
      ‘How was your holiday?’ I shout.
      I shout it a bit too loudly.
      How was your holiday? hangs in the air. It becomes louder than the kettle. We sit on the sofa listening to it. She has her legs crossed. They’re crossed away from me. How was your holiday? becomes unbearably, excruciatingly loud. If all the birds in all these paintings began to sing, suddenly, they would still not be louder than How
was your holiday?
      I want to say something else, anything at all. I can think of nothing to say. Alice doesn’t help me out. She thinks How was your holiday? is funny.
      Eventually Will comes back in with the three teas – his and hers in one hand, mine in the other. He’s so tall he has to stoop as he enters.
      ‘Sorry, did you say something?’ he says, handing me my mug.
      I can’t bring myself to repeat it.
      ‘How was your holiday?’ she asks.
      I want to pour the boiling tea over myself. I want to pour it over my head and my crotch.
      ‘Yeah, it was alright,’ he says. ‘Got a bit weird at the end though.’
      He doesn’t elaborate. He waits for us to ask. He’s talking to her really. I’m just listening. Eavesdropping. And now he’s looking her over, probably wondering what her tits look like. He doesn’t know she has big nipples. He doesn’t know she has a big nipple complex.