Allegra Hyde


Allegra Hyde’s short story collection, Of This New World, won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award and will be published in October 2016. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Missouri Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, The Threepenny Review, and many other venues. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, as well as fellowships and grants from The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, the Jentel Foundation, the National University of Singapore, and the U.S. Fulbright Commission. For more about Allegra, visit


Why I Killed My Canary

My husband’s affair thrilled me. Seeing him skulk around—the coded phone conversations, the late nights—I felt a passion I hadn’t in years. Not for him, but for the affair itself: the heat swelling in the space between us. Ten years we’d been married, neglecting to have the children who might have filled that chasm. But now: the affair. To imagine his mistress was exhilarating, like the joyful wince of getting spanked. No doubt she was prettier than I. Younger. Studying cultural anthropology at Smith, performing violin concertos on weekends. No doubt she kept her mouth sloppily lipsticked and had pale ears like little mushrooms. “Mon petite truffle,” my husband would whisper, leaning across tables in dim tavernas. Whispering, though surveillance was improbable. The taverna was three cities removed from where I waited, half-asleep in our livingroom, my knitting needles dropped to the floor. And yet, in a way I always dined with them, didn’t I? I made my husband sweat, made the pretty girl wonder. Of course I’d heard. Of course.

What I enjoyed most, however, was imagining the moment the pair parted. Not because I liked to see them separate—this was a trial for them and I—but because of the rush of inarticulate affection such a split engendered. I felt protective in those moments. I wanted to take the affair in my arms and kiss its forehead and tuck it in at night.

I loved what my husband and I had created: this other life suspended between us.

Of course, I should have known not to get to so attached. Eventually, clandestine phone calls become more wearisome than titillating. The lunch break rendezvous more tacky than romantic. My husband would have to leave me, as he must have long promised his mistress. Or worse: he would leave his mistress and renounce the whole affair.

He left her. I could tell, immediately, something was wrong. He appeared home for dinner three nights straight, once with a exquisitely wrapped box of éclairs, and then with a silver cage containing a canary. I was beside myself. It made me weak, the way my husband petted my shoulders, stroked my hair. The bird’s propitious warbles. Cheerup-up, it sang endlessly, cheerup-up-up. I felt the void between my husband and I open wide and frigid. We had never been farther apart.

Weeks passed. My husband continued his behavior, oblivious—or perhaps spurred—by my deteriorating condition.

“Darling,” he said one night, sliding a pearl bracelet from a velvet box, “for you.”

He smiled at me shyly, even pleadingly, and I imagined him having handed a similar bracelet to his mistress. Did he feel guilty? Was the affair still on his mind? I felt briefly revitalized. I began to hope.

“The pearls are from Anguilla,” my husband murmured, “where we had our honeymoon.”

I gasped, horrified.

“You’re crying,” said my husband. He seemed pleased.

I ran upstairs and spent the rest of the day locked in my sewing room. I decided I would be as wretched as possible. I would drive him back into the arms of his mistress. Retreating to my bed, I let my hair go uncombed. My clothes unlaundered. I wept. My husband fretted. He carried the canary’s cage up to my room, let the yellow bird warble on and on. He bought more gifts. He led in doctors who I immediately sent away. It destroyed me, seeing the resolve on his face. The dumb tenderness. “Go to her,” I wanted to say. “Slip away and go to her.”

But I couldn’t admit I’d known, couldn’t ruin what little I had left.

Cheerup-up, said the canary. Cheerup-up-up-up.

According to bird experts, canaries do not require socialization with their fellow species. They also do not require socialization with humans. They have been known to die of fright.