To accompany our interview with author Noy Holland, we’re pleased to feature a brief excerpt from her novel, Bird, which comes out in November 2015. This section takes place very early in the narrative, and contains the first conversation between Bird, Holland’s protagonist, and Suzie, Bird’s best friend who exists throughout the novel as a voice on the telephone.
— Benjamin Woodard
HE DAY BEGINS. NOTHING WILL STOP IT.
The phone rings in the dark. Word finds its way along—no matter how far out you live, no matter what you say.
For years now, Bird has said it, for all the years since she has seen Mickey, all the things she has thought to say. “I wish you’d stop,” Bird says.
But this is Suzie. Newsy Suzie. Her voice high and bright, “It’s me.”
“Me too,” Bird says. “I was sleeping. You have no fucking clue.”
What Suzie has is the next word on Mickey. She has a new name to give Bird. She has had the names down the years, a trade sometimes. Beatrice. Once a dancer, Brigitte, a girl who painted. Rosemarie. Country girls, exotics. Clara, Angelina, Racine.
“That’s enough,” Bird tells her.
“Oh it isn’t. I keep you posted. Early girl news. He moved.”
Moved, moved again. He thought to marry. He’d marry another, think of that, just as Bird had.
“He’ll never marry,” Suzie says, “he’s like me. She would have to swear to die in three months’ time of an incommunicable disease. I don’t care who—Racquel, Ruby Lou, Victorine. He’s like me.”
Suzie lives among the samplings. The saplings, and the fathery men. Men and boys and girls. Ship to shore; hand to mouth; bed to bed. Not for her: the leaky tit, the pilly slipper. The dread of the phone that rings in the dark: It’s your turn next to suffer.
“You hear nothing,” Suzie claims, “you can’t stand to, not a whiff of the world, a radio show. You cringe at the least of the news.”
Which is true. And the rest of what Suzie says? This much is true, too—that the feeling is forever gone from Bird, god willing: of disappearing, of ever again being alone. Lonely doll. “Remember,” Suzie insists, “the sentence you get to finish? The dream you’re not wrangled from?”
The next first kiss to fall into.
“The old looseness, come on, you must miss it. You miss it. Your brain makes a drug to subdue you is all. Look, I see it. Suzie sees it. Those babies are everywhere at you, needing anything they find. Your every living tissue, sugar, is pressed into service—gone.”
Bird makes her slow laps as she listens—kitchen, wood- stove, dripping milk, her shirtfront sopped, stewed in sour juices. She holds the phone out away from her ear: Suzie’s on a tear. It’s a club, Suzie claims, and she’s not in it, thanks. No, no thank you, honest, she’s not signing up to stew. Talky, stewy mother-club, virtuous, how little sleep and still she— look at her!—still she’s cheerful. Seems to be, look at her, cheerful. Or maybe she’s just smug, Suzie says. Clubby, you know, needed, every last speck of the day. Mama near. Little wife. A little respite comes, a little breath: nobody needs her! But she can’t quite believe it, or let herself step outside.
“When’s the last you stepped outside?” Suzie asks.
Or: “When’d you last look at your backside? That’s the flapping you feel when you walk, sugar. You need to walk, sugar. You need to move.”
He moved to France. Moved to pecan country.
Wise boy, getting out, flee the season. Winter coming on.
Oh I could help, Bird thinks, at least she thought it then. Pecan country. Pecans, best little nut. She could toss her smelly boots out, toss her stinking hat. Lie among the trees, among the shadows. She would like that. Watch the tough nuts fall.
She thinks of a boy in Kansas hung up on a swing, cripple boy, a boy they saw once, a little rope swing, a log on a rope, among the shadows. Among the signs. She and Mickey drove a Drive Away out, setting out from Brooklyn, dark, when the stars lined up how they sometimes do and anything you look at, everything’s a sign. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP, the sign says. It says, Move while you still can.
The dog was dead, the ragtop towed. The up-neigh-bors tub had fallen through. A rat sprung a trap and came at them, hissing, its haunches caught, dragging the thing down the hall. Glory days. Dirty dark-bar days. A mouse ran up Bird’s sleeve and nipped her.
Her mother came to her in dreams. She was dead but in dreams, she lived.
I smell fire, she said, your toilet froze. I made you my nice kitten soup.
Her mother set a bowl down before Bird. The kittens simmered there, plump, unfurred—her mother always plucked them first, their bodies small as peas.
Her mother sang: the tune of the plastic shopping bag the wind had hung from a tree. Old winter wind. Old mother dead. Mickey slept and slept. Bird carried his child, tiny yet; they called it Caroline, little Caroline, which had been her mother’s name.
— Noy Holland
Copyright © 2015 by Noy Holland from Bird. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint.
Noy Holland is the author of three story collections, Swim for the Little One First, What Begins with Bird, and The Spectacle of the Body. Recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the MacDowell Colony and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, she teaches writing in the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.