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Cuckoo Bird

The living room was rearranged when Mike came downstairs the next morning. He was groggy because he hadn't slept well, and he first tripped over the sofa and then bruised his knee on the television stand. It was sheer good luck that he didn't smash the TV. Mike rubbed his eyes and stared. The sofa had been on the west wall, below the window. Now it was floating a foot away from the east wall over an area rug that had been in the study. The throw pillows from the family room were arranged against one plaid armrest.
The woman was busy in the kitchen scrambling eggs for breakfast. It took Mike a moment to remember her name. Trisha. That was it. And her daughter Cindy was evidently still asleep in the guest room. "Good morning," Trisha said brightly without turning around. "Would you like sausage with your eggs today?"
"No thanks," Mike heard himself say. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes again. The morning sunlight was terribly bright on the white of the cabinets. "I--you moved the furniture."
"It looks so much nicer this way, doesn't it? I came up with the idea during the night, and I couldn't wait to try it out."
Mike's mouth said, "Yeah, looks great." He shook his head, got angry. It took an effort to get angry. "But you can't just go around moving people's furniture! I only let you and your daughter in for the one night. I think you'd better wake her up and move on before I call the cops."
Trisha dumped a perfectly cooked mound of eggs onto a plate. She set it on Mike's dingy blue tablecloth and smiled up at him. "Hurry up and eat your breakfast. You'll be late for work."
Before he had time to think properly about things Mike found himself sitting obediently in the hard wooden seat before the plate and spooning egg into his mouth.
The house smelled like roasted chicken when Mike got home. Cindy had her homework spread out on the spotless red and white checked tablecloth and had her legs curled under her on the fluffy seat cushion, puzzling over the intricacies of ninth grade math. Trisha was setting the table around the scattered books. She paused to give Mike a peck on the cheek.
"Hello darling. How was work today?"
Mike felt momentarily dizzy. He found himself looking around for a patch of dirty blue. He couldn't think why.
Trisha stared at him with concerned eyes. Her wet hands dripped onto the white and
black squares of the floor tiles. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah," Mike said absently. "Work was fine. Dinner smells good."
Mike sat up in bed with a gasping start. He was sweating and breathing hard. Trisha stirred next to him and he immediately felt bad for waking her.
"What's the matter, honey?" she asked drowsily.
"Dream," he mumbled. "It seemed like a nightmare while I was in it, but now it just seems strange."
Trisha sat up and flipped on a light. Mike didn't remember ever putting a bed stand on that side of the bed. But he stopped thinking about it when Trisha leaned into him and put her head on his shoulder. "Tell me about it?"
"It's kind of hard to explain. It was mostly just pictures of the house. But lots of things were different. Little things. The furniture was arranged differently, the tablecloth in the kitchen was blue instead of red and white." He didn't mention the missing bed stand. "Things like that."
"How strange," Trisha murmured.
"And then I was coming home from work. It was snowing, and you and Cindy were homeless people sitting on my doorstep to keep out of the wind. I invited you in for the night so you wouldn't freeze to death. That's what woke me up."
Trisha sat straight so suddenly she accidentally shoved Mike a bit. "Homeless! Mike, did you snack before bed again? You know the doctor said--"
"No! I just--I don't know. It was weird. That's all. Who knows where it came from."
Trisha relaxed and settled back down into the blankets. "Well, I'm glad it's not true," she said, turning off the light.
"Yeah, me too." Mike stared into the darkness. There was just enough light from the street lamp outside the window for him to see the family picture perched on the dresser. It was old; Cindy was only ten. She and Trisha were bundled against the cold at some ski-resort somewhere. Mike wasn't in the picture. He must have taken it. He wished he could remember that trip.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

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