THE CUCKOO

By Martin Dodd




Theresa stands at her kitchen sink staring at the window that darkness has turned into a mirror. Her reflection shows the sadness in her eyes and the determined set of her mouth. She whispers an answer to her thoughts, “Quiet. Please, quiet.” But memories persist—fearful memories.

* * *

Adrian had said, “My roots, Liebchen. I want to go to Germany. A short visit.”  

She felt a twinge, a ripple of misgiving. “What about your classes?”

“The Dean agreed to a substitute professor. It is only for a month.”

“Can’t I go with you?”

Adrian smiled as he lifted her chin with his forefinger, so that her eyes met his.  He spoke soothingly. “A man turns fifty but once. Memories of youth beckon, and your beauty would distract me. I shall return invigorated.” He chuckled, “Listen to me. I have turned poet. Perhaps I will escape old age.”

Theresa didn’t resist. From the moment she first walked into his classroom five years before, enthrallment negated any risk of disfavor. Doctor Adrian Jäger, tall, trim, with blue eyes, a neat beard, and fierce intensity turned chemistry into a study of the divine. Every female student was infatuated with him, but little, shy Theresa bested the rest. She became his lab assistant and paramour, elevated, proud. The small windowless room where he stored chemicals and equipment served a trysting place for boiling passion.

Magical, mystical, masterful, Adrian transformed lovemaking into adventure. She granted his every sexual request and, to his expressed delight, offered her own. Mesmerized and overwhelmed, a week after her graduation, Theresa moved in with him to keep his house and grace his bed. She needed no one else; Adrian filled her life.

There were others. She knew it. She expected it. The confluence of young women seeking reflective power and the male need for the hunt is damnable, but un-dammable. Theresa dismissed his wanderings as fleeting flirtations; temporary dalliances that never lasted longer than a week or two. She felt content and complete that the hunter returned to her.

Yet Adrian’s appetite grew more demanding. Pretending another woman participated in their lovemaking shifted from occasional to often. Theresa wanted to please, but felt uneasy as the fantasy partner waxed from a nameless, faceless woman into a passing acquaintance, and then a friend. When he followed make believe with a post-coital “What if?” Theresa cried. Adrian’s assurance that he was “not serious” did not comfort her. She begged, “No more, please.” The threesome fantasies ceased.

Adrian brought two gifts back from his homeland. One was a cuckoo clock, beautiful and pendulum driven, unlike those “batteried-pretensions.” He hung and set it. “See… listen.”  

The doors opened, and the little wooden bird ventured out and flapped its wings: “coo-koo, coo-koo.”  

He laughed. “A cuckoo for my little cuckoo.” He pulled her close. “There’s a song in my Country:  ‘The cuckoo, a merry bird, she sings as she flies; she’ll bring you glad tidings and tell you no lies’.”

The second gift was for him. Alena, his graduate assistant from the previous year, had returned to her home in Germany. Now she was back, a fact unknown to Theresa until she walked into Adrian’s office unannounced and found them standing close―too close. Startled, he backed away and began a needless introduction. 

Alena interrupted. “How nice to see you again. We were just talking about you.”

Theresa felt light-headed and blathered inanities about shopping and weather. She escaped and wandered about the campus in a state of anxiety, trying to extinguish the flames of doubt.

Later, at home, Adrian attempted a façade. “A mere coincidence. I bumped into Alena as I left the shop in München where I bought your clock.” A wave of fear and nausea rose within Theresa. “Alena wants to complete her master’s and asked for my help. She has bright potential with little resources. How could I refuse?”

Barely above a whisper, Theresa said, “No.”

“What, Liebchen?”

“No, Adrian, you could’ve said, no.”

He forced a laugh. “If I did not know better, I would say you are jealous. But, surely you…” His voice became a droning background to her angst: He’s lying. He’s lying.

Life changed. There were late hours at the University. “Research, Liebchen. My research.”

“With Alena?”

He glared at her and stated a strong denial, but their fervid relations cooled. Day by day,
Liebchen” went, followed by other now hollow endearments. His “thank you” became a nod. Within a month, she realized he had replaced “Theresa” with an impersonal, and often accusative, “you.”

She enveloped herself in a fanciful reverie. Theresa admired the cuckoo bird, appreciative of the simplicity of the automaton performing its routine without concern for past or future. She plodded through day-to-day tasks clinging to self-deception that the cuckoo sang glad tidings: Adrian isn’t Alena’s; he will return. He is mine.

 Her thoughts advanced to last night. Adrian said, “This situation cannot go on.”

Theresa took his words as an affirmation of her primacy, a promise of return, dalliance done. She hugged him. 

He kissed her and held her tight then said softly, “There is a solution.” He paused. “Alena can move in with us. She is quite willing. We would have an exciting—”

Dazed, Theresa pulled away. “No. Please, no. I beg you.”

Adrian grabbed her shoulders; his eyes burned into hers. “Yes or you will lose me. It is your choice.” He left the house, slamming the door behind him.

Afterwards, Theresa slipped into a fugue state until she heard “coo-koo” followed by seven or eight more. She sings as she flies and tells you no lies...  Daylight streamed through the window.  Theresa sat at the kitchen table. Had she been there all night? She couldn’t remember. Slowly, she sorted her jumbled thoughts. A single thought filled her mind. Losing Adrian was too painful to contemplate. She would do what she must.

Theresa stopped by Adrian’s office at noon and told him: “Life would be useless without you.  Bring Alena to dinner; I’ll be ready for the three of us.” 

Beaming, he embraced her. “You have made me eternally happy. We will always be together.”

“Yes… yes. What would you like for dinner?”

Jägerschnitzel. What else?”

Dinner began a little awkward, but the appetizer of edelpilz and German rye went well, and the tension eased with the Riesling and light conversation. Then, the main course: an expensive Rhenish Pinot Noir to accompany veal medallions in mushroom sauce, sour red cabbage, applesauce, and potato pancakes. She would have preferred boiled potatoes, but this night was special for Adrian.

Theresa served their plates and a full glass of wine. She placed the opened bottle before him. He said, “Well done, Liebchen, a great German wine,” and drank deeply. “Ahhh, a symphony of flavors that lasts through an elegant finish.”

Theresa turned to Alena. “He’s such a poet.”  

Alena finished her swallow and nodded agreement.

After the main course, Theresa cleared the plates.

* * *

Fearful memories. Now, now they’re resolved.  Now it’s quiet. Theresa smiles at her image and the darkness beyond.  A slight movement in the windowed reflection snaps her to the moment. She turns quickly, but her dinner mates are sitting where she'd left them. “Just a minute, you two, I have a surprise. “Black Forest cake.”

Theresa carries the delightful frosted dessert to the table and sits. She cuts a piece for each of them. Adrian seems composed, but slightly tilted to the right. Alena is pinkish, a skin flush that is to be expected. The full body of the wine covered any hint of nutty flavor. Unconsciousness came quick to both, no more than twenty seconds.

Theresa lifts her glass of wine. “Here’s to us, Liebchen. Are you wondering? I tell you no lies. I got the cyanide from your lab when I visited at noon. A few seconds more and you are eternally mine.” She drinks deeply as the cuckoo springs forth and begins her nighttime song.



Martin Dodd lives in Steinbeck Country: Salinas, California. Following his retirement from community service, he began creative writing in 2002 at age 67. His work has appeared in Cadillac Cicatrix, Hobart Journal (web issue), New Yinzer, Homestead Review, Holy Cuspidor, Foolish Times, Monkey Bicycle, Over My Dead Body!, and Chicken Soup for the Recovering Soul. 

He has won, or received recognition in, various contests:  Gimme Credit Screenplay Competition (super short), St. Louis Short Story Contest, Writers Digest, By Line Magazine, Glimmer Train, Inkwell Journal, Writers Weekly, The Stoneslide Corrective, Central Coast Writers (California), East of Eden Writers Conference (2008), and NorthernPros.

His story Something Wicked appeared in omdb! in October, 2014 and Anniversary Cruise appeared in omdb! in September, 2011.



Copyright © 2015 Martin Dodd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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