In Captivity

Becky Robison

It wings over her at night, 1:45 a.m. precisely: the desire to own a bird. She imagines cages round and bronze dangling from her ceiling. She imagines names—Fiona for a gray washcloth girl, Felix for a neon marker boy. She imagines coaxing the creature onto her finger, and later, after trust has been established, wrapping her hands around its body. She restrains its flight. She presses her thumbs into its soft chest, feels its featherguts quiver.

It wings over her at night, while her legs twist in the ratty sheets she’ll throw away tomorrow.


But you’re moving, says her sister’s voice. Her sister had always been the practical one, and look where that got her—nowhere but inside people’s heads.

At the pet store they’d informed her that birds aren’t supposed to be kept in round cages, so she’d settled on a square one. Stainless steel, horizontal bars for climbing. Fiona swings limply on her perch. She hasn’t made a sound. Too shy, going by the cockatiel’s pink circle-puff cheeks.

The cage, three feet tall, is surrounded by cardboard boxes neatly labeled and excessively taped. Fewer boxes than before—all her sister’s things had either gone to Goodwill or to the dumpster. Her sister’s voice recites from the FRIENDS OF COCKATIELS website: In captivity, these birds can live to be twenty years old. The warning roosts in her as satisfaction, and maybe spite.


The movers said the cage could go in the truck, but she wouldn’t have it. She imagines Fiona in

the dark, oxygen-deprived, crashing into walls at every curve. Instead, Fiona’s cage goes in the backseat of her convertible for the duration of the trip, six hours due North. She has to put the top down to accommodate the cage, even though it’s only sixty degrees, and colder in Reno. She slices open seven boxes with her keys before she finds her winter jacket.

The entire route is empty desert highways, nothing but dull red mountain spines cracking into the clear sky—so blue it’s not blue anymore—and the snout of the moving truck nudging the bars of the cage in her rearview mirror. She cannot see Fiona. She imagines gusts of wind on needle bones, a body splayed against the bars, wings broken. She cannot see Fiona, does not want to see the ramifications of her own carelessness.


There are fewer palm trees in Reno, and her sister’s voice worries, a tropical bird might clash with the landscape. The movers extract the cage from the backseat. Fiona huddles in one corner, yellow crest flat against her head.

It isn’t until she brings the cage inside that she notices the eggs: three of them, beige, no bigger than cheap Easter candy. Hardly eggs at all—unfertilized, too small to cook. In her sister’s voice, the FRIENDS OF COCKATIELS website explains that for roughly twenty-one days, Fiona will guard and protect these eggs, until she realizes it’s for nothing and moves on.


Becky Robison masquerades as a corporate employee in Chicago, but at heart she is a writer and a world traveler. A graduate of University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Creative Writing MFA program, she’s currently working on her novel and serving as Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Split Lip Magazine. Follow her adventures on Twitter: @Rebb003.

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