Author: Amanda E. Phillips

“Mechaornithology,” he said, stumbling over the word in his agitated state, “is a valid and incredibly undervalued field of study.” He tapped the tri-folded letter in his lap as if it somehow proved his point.

“Field of study,” I repeated in a measured voice. He was as flighty as the mechanical birds he studied and anything too loud or too quick would be liable to scare him off. “But you wouldn’t really be studying anything, would you?” I envisioned myself ripping the letter from him and tearing it to pieces. Little pieces, too. Small enough to swallow so that he’d be forced to call up Rubicon Fowl and make them mail off another contract.

“I’d be doing a lot of good work out there.”

“You’d be trekking through a trashed city,” I said, disregarding that if I wasn’t more delicate with how I spoke to him, he’d fly away, “and winding up a bunch of clocks. You’d be leaving me. You get that, right? Those things out there aren’t even real. I’m real.”

“I’d be saving an entire population.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You’re rolling your eyes,” he said. “You always do that. You know what they say about that, don’t you?”

I widened my eyes for effect and rolled them again. I’d read the same article about eye-rolling and relationships. I straightened. “If you sign that piece of paper, it’s pretty much over, wouldn’t you say?”

“I’m signing,” he said, clearly resolute, but it was too late. I already had the contract in my hands, shoved into my mouth, eyes rolling, laughing, choking on the paper as I ripped and chewed.

He only shook his head. He had nothing to say, and if he did, he wouldn’t say it.

In the end, Rubicon Fowl didn’t require that he actually sign the contract. Sending it through the mail had only been a formality. It was just a way, they said, to give the job offer more weight, to make it feel more real.

“I love you,” he said later, the one-way SeaTube ticket pulled up on the screen of his phone. I only shrugged and quietly gloated over the fact that maybe I was the temperamental one after all.

“I’m going to be doing a lot of good work out there,” he said, taking my hands. I pulled them away, crossed my arms, and hid them in my armpits.

“They’re dying out there,” he said. “They’re running low and there’s no one who cares enough to get them back into the air.”

“Are you crying?”

“No,” he lied, the proof already pooling over onto his cheeks.

“There are other things to care about,” I said, manufacturing a frown to make him stay. It wouldn’t be enough, I knew already knew that.

“Wait for me?” he asked.
“It’s a long job,” I said curtly. “You said so yourself.”

“That’s right,” he said. “But will you wait?”

I left him below at the Embarcadero SeaTube Station without answering. He’d have to think about me not answering it over 3,809 kilometers through the watery depths beneath those choppy, uncaring waves. I imagined him out there in the Hawaiian humidity, recovering, restoring, and releasing those mechanical Belted Kingfishers and Blue Lorikeets for the next ten years so that the rest of the world could rest easy with the knowledge that these manufactured birds were not yet wiped out like their predecessors before them, all flesh and blood and feathers.

Mechaornithology had taken my husband away and, unlike the kingfishers, it hadn’t even tried to offer me a replacement full of gears and wiring.