“The cassowary is closely related to the velociraptor,” Hildy tells her mother, whispering it into her ear as they sit at the kitchen table. Moments later, Hildy’s father tromps down the stairs and the orange juice in the glass sends out waves like in Jurassic Park.
He is hungover, which Hildy has heard her mom say under a cupped hand on the phone. Hildy envisions a body hung over a chain link fence, no bones, just a suit of skin. Her father’s eyes are ringed red, platelets of crust in the corners where tears are supposed to come from. Hildy thinks of platelets and crust, Earth and earthquakes, and the Mesozoic Era and giant prehistoric animals.
The cassowary is the deadliest bird in the world. Hildy has told her mom this before so doesn’t repeat it now. The cassowary is also beautiful, like really beautiful, with a blue crest an orange throat, all jeweled tones like royalty. It makes Hildy want to throw her arms around its neck. But she knows better.
Her parents met on their high school swim team. There was love there once, Hildy’s sure. She’s seen pictures. Hears something that sounds like loss when her mother tells her about their wedding.
Hildy’s father is handsome, has a timelessness about him, her mom says, golden hair arched above his eyebrow, crow’s feet, a wide smile that makes people think he isn’t hiding anything. Her dad is even handsome when his claws get stuck in their bodies. And when he tears them away, it’s worse than if his claws just stayed lodged there, in their bellies, in their hearts. But at least he’s attractive.
“Cassowaries can’t fly,” Hildy reminds her mother as her father grabs the glass of juice, opens the fridge, and immediately slams it shut.
“Like emus,” her mom says, “and ostriches.”
“No eggs,” he says.
“They were eight dollars.”
Hildy leans into her mother. “Cassowaries can sometimes be domesticated, but you always have to be careful. People in Papua New Guinea have done it.” So, Hildy thinks, all the way in Portland, they can try, but might not be as successful.
“The males are supposed to raise the children,” her mother says, and Hildy did not know this fact and so shares another she knows her mother won’t know. “They eat their own poop.”
“There are freezer waffles,” her mother says.
“Freezer waffles,” her dad repeats.
“You can just toast them.” Hildy takes a step back. There is frothy drool collecting at his lips.
“I made the juice,” her mom says. “Fresh.”
“And did the little weirdo get breakfast?” He motions to Hildy.
“Fresh Florida oranges,” her mother says. His cheeks are reddening. He clutches the glass and his knuckles look like exposed bone.
“There was a man in Florida,” Hildy says from the corner of the room. “He tried to keep one as a pet.” She backs herself farther into the corner until her back aches from trying to push her way through the wall. Her father opens the freezer and takes out the waffles, but as he does, other things start to fall; the freezer is always really full. Peas, popsicles, packs to help heal injuries. A hunk of frozen soup falls onto his foot.
“Fuck!” He slaps the freezer door shut and throws the box.
Hildy continues. “The guy tripped one day and it killed him.”
“Shut up Hil!” her father shouts. “This place is a mess,” he says. “This whole,” he motions to the fridge, to the kitchen, to his family, to the whole house, “fucking place.”
Hildy’s mother pulls a waffle from the box. Takes it to the toaster, having to sidestep her father to fit between his body and the counter. They brush against each other, and Hildy can swear she hears the fabric of their clothing meeting. Imagines static electricity like lightning zapping down and leaving a dark and smoking hole.
Her mother places the waffle in the toaster, turns the knob, and the tick tick tick of the timer fills the space.
“I don’t want a damn Eggo,” her father says. Hildy knows how this will play out: he’ll stomp out the door, and her mother will nibble the waffle in tiny increments throughout the day.
“I’ll have it,” Hildy says, squeaks really. Her father spins to face her.
“You have schmutz on your face, Eugene,” her mother says, and he turns back to her, only inches from his face. Hildy watches as her mother pulls her shoulders up, to stand taller. She was, in fact, one and a half inches taller than her husband, but you usually couldn’t tell.
“I get that too,” says Hildy. “After I’ve been crying at night.”
Her mom steps toward him, raises a nail, approaching his eyeball. He says nothing but pulls his head back. Her nails are painted red and sharp, like talons.
“Fuck you,” he says, edges his way out from under his wife’s nail, and opens the back door. He sloshes juice into his mouth and throws the glass. But it does not shatter. Instead, it hits the wall with a thud and rolls to Hildy’s foot. Juice drips from his hand.
“Fuck you both.”
Hildy and her mother listen to the sounds of retreat: the wet turn of the doorknob, the slam of the door, the rumble of the car ignition, the electric reverse of the car, the echo of fear and a new sound – what Hildy imagines is the sound of feathers molting. Then, when it is almost too much, the ding of the toaster.
“Waffle ready!” her mother says and claps. She pulls it out, hot-potatoing it from one hand to the other. She gives half to her daughter, and they sit on the floor and eat it.
“Who is the cassowary?” her mother whisper-asks.
“It could be you,” Hildy says and believes it.
JENNIFER FLISS — Jennifer (she/her) is a Seattle-based writer whose collection, The Predatory Animal Ball came out in 2021. Her forthcoming collection, As If She Had a Say comes out in 2023 with Northwestern University Press/Curbstone Books. Her writing has appeared in F(r)iction, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @writesforlife or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com.
Art by SHERRY SHAHAN — Sherry is a teal-haired septuagenarian who grows potatoes in the cardboard box that delivered a stereo. Feeling shipwrecked in 2020, she began ripping words from the heart of old magazines. Her scissors were like her, rusty and dull. The glue, too thick. Her collages resembled drawings found in a kindergarten classroom. She likes that about them; it frees her from ideas of what art should be. Her art has appeared in magazines, newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.