Elaine was done dating badminton players. George broke up with her because he wanted more practice time. Sanjay cheated on her with his physical therapist. Jason ghosted her after she refused to shoot steroids into his butt. They were psychos, every one of them.
“No one is pretty enough to compete with a racquet sport,” her roommate Josie said.
”Exactly,” Elaine said.
Elaine dated a football player in the spring, but hated his sausage fingers. There was a hockey player after that, but he was one of those religious ones who drank way too much.
Soon she was back at the bar where the badminton team hung out, laughing at their stupid badminton jokes.
“You were doing so well,” Josie told her one night when she came home smelling like Jason.
“I could only fight it for so long,” Elaine told her.
In May, Elaine went out with a badminton player named Raymond. One night, they went to a party at Fuck Mountain, the nickname for the house where all the badminton players lived.
“I’ve got some acid,” Raymond told her.
Across the room, there were a couple of guys playing beer pong with a shuttlecock.
“Anything to make this party less shitty,” she said.
Elaine swallowed a tab and sat down on a sofa that smelled like bacon. Soon the air turned warmer and the skin on people’s faces began unfurling from their skulls and fluttering out behind them. A guy named Steve came downstairs carrying a large birdcage with a hawk inside it.
“Is that bird real?” Elaine asked him, thinking it might be a hallucination.
“Is that bird real,” Steve laughed. “Good one.”
Soon the air turned warmer and the skin on people’s faces began unfurling from their skulls and fluttering out behind them
Elaine watched Steve soaked a piece of bread in his beer and toss it inside the hawk’s cage. The bird gobbled the bread down.
“It’s St. Oxbow’s mascot,” he told her. “Lancet and Healy stole it last night.”
Now the room was spinning and so Elaine went into the den and fell asleep on the couch. She woke up a few hours later with Raymond’s head resting on her shoulder and a burnt taste in her mouth. A bunch of shirtless members of the badminton team were passed out around her, all of them clutching their racquets in their arms. There was a pile of orangish puke near the birdcage. The hawk was wide awake, its creepy eyes, one brown and one blue, staring at Elaine.
”I know I’ve said this before,” she told the bird, “but I’m done with this.”
She quietly walked around the room, carefully sliding the badminton racquets out of the sleeping men’s arms. On the way out the door, she grabbed the birdcage.
It was misting outside, quiet, no one awake yet. Fuck Mountain was across the street from the river bluffs and Elaine stood on the bike path and broke the badminton racquets over her knee, one by one, then tossed them into the bushes. When she was done, she opened the hawk’s cage.
“You’re free now,” she told the bird. “I saved your life.”
At first the damn thing wouldn’t budge, but then Elaine found a stick and prodded at it until it loped out of its cage. It stood on the bike trail for a minute, bobbing its head and hissing at her. Finally it flapped its wings, lurched down the path, flew off. Elaine watched the bird get smaller and smaller until it was just a speck in the sky. After it was gone she picked up the birdcage and chucked it in the river. The cage floated for a long time, way longer than she thought it should.
Art by Guilherme Maggieri
John Jodzio's work has been featured in a variety of places including This American Life, McSweeney's, and One Story. He's the author of the short story collections, Knockout, Get In If You Want To Live and If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. He lives in Minneapolis.