Every year, students and their selected papers attend The National Undergraduate Literature Conference, this year taking place in Oregon. As sort of a preview to the conference, here is an early viewing of the short story that Junior Devon Clements was selected to read.
Bird of Paradise
By: Devon Clements
Jessica had loved birds for as long as she could remember. Her childhood bedroom had been awash with the vibrant color photographs she had clipped from magazines or printed from her elementary schools library, featuring everything from the stunning bold plumage of tropical parrots to the everyday humble, yet nonetheless beautiful washed out browns and reds of Sparrows and Robbins. She distinctly remembered spending countless hours, dime store binoculars pressed close to her eyes, in the backyard of her childhood home, scanning the dense deciduous foliage for any sight of the avian creatures. Even throughout her teenage years, through the loss of her mother to cancer, and her father to a motor vehicle accident; which Jess explained was unintentional, yet in reality, was due to her father’s crippling alcoholism which had set in at the loss of his wife, Jessica had retained a love and fascination for the birds of the world. In fact in her most honest and self-aware moments she accepted that the concept of flight was no doubt a strong sub-conscious attraction to the bird, for its ability to at any given moment leap into the air as if God himself were blowing upon their fragile wings and travel to another place, another land, another life. Though tragedy had struck her twice in her short existence she had refused to give up hope and had gotten deeply involved in extracurricular activities her senior year of high school, mainly focusing on raising awareness of the habitat destruction of the Amazon due to the savage use of palm oil by the large, and as she would be quick to point out, heedlessly greedy corporations of the world. These forays into public awareness raising were ultimately futile, and as she grew older her hope in a world change faded into a hope for policy change and eventually dissolved into a cynicism, which if left unchecked would consume her. College was never on the short list for Jess, after graduating from her un-prestigious, Midwest public high school she remained at her waitressing job at The Round-a-bout café, rarely venturing out of the small town she had lived all her life.
Years went by, as they tend to do, and Jess remained in the same insignificant township her only change in that of her profession, having lost what childhood hope she had once retained to the dark, dreary, and ultimately futile, pursuit known as life. Her joy now came only as flickers, snatches of a forgotten dream dosed out to her in the smallest of increments. That first drag on her smoke break, the exhausted sigh of relief as she slides into her old Dodge Neon accompanied by the mechanical click as her key slides perfectly into the ignition. She has learned to not only appreciate these moments, but to truly cherish them, as one would cherish a child’s smile opening his first Christmas present, the glint of true unadulterated happiness present, if only for a second. Jess still thought of birds, obsessively at times, but her only true and complete devotion to the creatures was through her dreams. As each night would arrive she would eagerly close her eyes, the soft cotton of her pillow caressing her head like the warm down of a mother hen, and she would began to free herself from the human filth of her life. As the physical space of her room left her, its stark white walls melting into the brightest tropical auroras of the rainforest, Jess would finally feel peace. She would spend countless hours gliding through the sky, her feathers allowing her to soar ever higher. The far off oceans and lands that in her waking hours were far beyond her reach could now be as easily attained as if crossing the street. Time, distance, speed, these were all things of the real world and within Jessica’s sub-conscious sleeping brain, nothing was impossible.
Slowly, in time with the degradation of her last remaining shreds of happiness, these fantasies broke into her waking world. Without her realization Jess found herself more and more absent minded, she was free of the despair and hopelessness of her stagnant, routine thoughts, and was instead allowed to exist in a world of fantasy. As those who have ever experienced a true and all-encompassing drug addiction will know, once the substitution of reality becomes a daily option, it will soon become more than a habit, it will transform into a way of life, a mantra repeatedly circling the mind of the user, leaving little room for anything or anyone else. This was the state of Jessica’s mind as she sat, motionless, her eyes trance like, seeming to see everything, yet at the same time nothing at all. The pounding bass of the music around her barely registered as her boss Joseph Olsen approached her, a large bald headed man exhibiting the outer characteristics of a person who once sought to be in one of the countless biker gangs which stream across the south, but has now retired into a resentful and exhausted nightclub owner. His brow dripped sweat as he hoisted some form of buckled harness over Jess, clipping it together behind her back. “That’s my girl, my sweet girl” he whispered into her ear as he tightened the straps on either side of her bosom. “It’s your time babe, your time to be the star of the show” he chuckled into her unhearing ear. Joseph attached the final part of her elaborate vest, a large matte silver carabineer that fit snugly into a hook at the rear of her new piece of equipment.
As the cable, which was now connected to Jessica’s vest, began to pull snug and slowly drag her off the stool and into the air, she remained oblivious to her surroundings. The pounding music surrounded her body as it dazzled amidst countless neon lights, illuminating her frame to the satisfaction of the men below. She climbed ever higher, and as her weight began to distribute she slowly began an ellipse through the air. As she passed an enormous mirror her eyes came in to focus and she looked. Before her was a women in her late 20’s, all signs of joy replaced by wrinkles and scarring which belonged to a women much older then she, yet, her body remained a picture of feminine attraction and was scantily clad in a small red and orange thong, the straps of which twinkled in the florescent lighting, above that her breasts barely concealed beneath a similarly bright top lay just below the straps of her harness. Her hair was arranged in a provocatively messy set of curls entwined with faux feathers, most likely synthetic and produced in a large coal burning sweat shop, inhabited by the lowliest of Chinese day laborers. This was the picture presented to Jessica, but when she allowed recognition into her vision she gasped as she span, weightless through the air, what she saw before her was the mesmerizingly beautiful plumage of the creatures she had loved all her life. She closed her eyes once more, the cat calls and jeering of the men below her replaced by the chirping and cawing of the rainforest, and as she continued to swing above the sexual and barbarous crowd below her, she let herself go and at last had become what she had dreamed of her whole life, a bird of paradise.
Devon Clements. Class of 2018. English Philosophy major. Missouri. Soccer. Coffee. Historical Fiction. Edward Sharpe. Of Human Bondage. Travel. Moleskine. Pens. Vans. United Kingdom. Trees. Gym. Literature. Sour. Northwest. Theatre. Explore. Skateboard. Run. Cats. Blue. Finishe