It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and the children are frolicking–swords drawn in mock battle, maidens laying out in the green grass. Up here, above it all, the breeze takes me and I float lazily upon it, circling the joy below. The sun blazed at mid-day, making perfect black copies of the trees all over the ground, but now it falls, and the shadows are stretched. They make iron bars on the pavement.
This neighborhood was not always so serene.
A feint, the screams of children, and my mind comes back to the present as I go past their lair, the den of the thieves who took everything from me. It is not early enough for them to show their faces, the pinched up monstrosities earned through the blackening of their souls. I watched Animal Farm as a kid, my mom had some genius idea it was educational.
Seth teased me about that until the pigs put him away.
See, I was scared of the pigs. Like, deathly afraid. I couldn’t sleep for a week after watching the movie, convinced they would appear at the house any minute, blowing cigar smoke in my father’s face before they bludgened him to death. The others would flow in once our guard was down, squeaking and grunting, shitting all over the furniture, and hogtying my brother and I in our beds.
All Seth had to do was oink and I would run screaming. Though by the end he should have called me a prophetess, a visionary. For the pigs did come for us, and our guard was gone. I perch across the street from the place we called home, and wait. They call it a peace station, emblazoned in yellow on a bright blue piece of metal above the door.
They do not speak of the violence required to bring their fake peace, their fake dream.
I nip my feathers and plot revenge, remembering the night it all fell apart. I’d scored some good dope out on Route 40, and Seth was back at the house playing with his gun. It was a sawed off he’d gotten as payment from that junkie Faith who hung out at the Sheetz 24/7. We were all convinced she lived out in the dumpster enclosure, but Rafeal, the dude I sold to on the night shift, swore there was no one out there when he had to dump the trash.
Late night woulda been the best time for her to shoot up and sleep. Gotta be rank back there in the middle of the day, sun beating down on refuse and carrion, the discarded egg muffins and raw sausage that fell on the floor and got swept up into the trash bags, fermenting in the blazing heat.
I have to stop now, I’m making myself hungry.
Back to the function and riding the caboose to hell, let me tell you about our last bell. Seth had that fucking sawed off, and I’d gotten home with the new batch of dope. We were out in front of our crib, checking out the gun and getting ready to go in and cut bags. Seth’s phone was blowing up, and we knew we didn’t have much longer to play with his new toy before we needed to put it away.
Darkness started to fall on us, like it falls on me now, and I think of how my black feathers must gleam beautifully in the last rays of sunlight, like asphalt when the LSD takes your mind away and you can imagine every fantasy world that would ever matter. I wanted to see my beauty, as I used to stare at the crows outside our window while I laid all blissed out on the couch underneath.
They threw that out a day after they put Seth away. I watched them from here, trying to cry at the end of my favorite spot, but unable to generate tears like a teenage girl anymore.
I’d electrocute myself anyway, no feathery wings from eye to corner to beak. The salt stained water would fall right down to rubber coated wire. Cracks form easily in the sunshine, black safety coating sucked dry by drought and the current needed to power a land of central air. We stopped paying the electric bill that last summer, after Mom left. She couldn’t handle the traffic, couldn’t handle Seth and I trying to make names for ourselves. She tried to tell me to stop sneaking guys in, but when you’re on the first floor, slipping them in through the window was too damn easy.
The day she left began in the afterglow of love well made. Dope sex is like the Bible brags heaven’s gonna be, smooth and warm and full of burning righteousness. We felt right together, me and whoever shared my twin bed that early morning: Mike or Tim or Romeo. Sluts don’t discriminate as long as there’s a hit before and after. His name was Matt that morning, some yuppie kid down from Belair who didn’t want the party to end when his cash ran out. It doesn’t really matter what his name was.
Mom caught me with the needle hanging off my bare tit and left that afternoon. Her knight in shining armour was named Kenny. He managed to live long enough to leave her some money.
You hear all sorts of things through the wires, if you know how to read the vibrations. Good vibrations, like the seconds after you pull the sticker out, two fingers to the bite mark and head bowed down. The world wavers and you feel weightless, brain thrumming from too much dopamine. Hard to find that kind of salvation now, the soul must hold the essence of personality, because all my new body’s brain knows how to do is piss and shit. And the whole flying thing.
It’s effortless for my claws to let go of the cracked rubber tubing, thoughtless to extend my wings and raise up, up, and away. But my soul, what I used to call my mind, swear was mine, and abuse all the time, my soul won’t let the talons let go, won’t let my feathers find an updraft. My soul is caught here, on the wire, in this neighborhood, and I can’t be free as a bird now.
The blue and white pulls up, County Sheriff emblazoned in gold on both doors, and I let my wings flutter, a shudder at the pig’s presence. He’s alone, slamming the door, strutting up the sidewalk to my apartment.
Their lion’s den.
He opens the door to the main hallway, the tinted glass blinding me for a moment with a glimmer of the sun. The heat is fading with the day. Birds don’t sweat, or cry. Only mammals. I learned that much in school.
Seth stopped going after his freshman year, said high school was more of the same. I struggled on till Mom left, then all motivation was gone. My teachers were tired of me nodding out in class anyway, I’m sure.
I didn’t start getting high on the supply till that last year, the year the pigs killed us. Life was okay and I kept my nose clean except for a puff here and there, but I never cared for Dad as much as they did. Seth didn’t understand what he did to make Dad leave, and Mom never explained it was all her fault. She poked and prodded that man right on out our door. Though he did deserve it.
Seth didn’t like to talk about the whole thing much either, kept it locked deep inside himself where I am sure he prayed Mom wouldn’t find it. He’d talk to me though. I was too shy to tell anyone on him.
Even my Mom. We were best friends until Dad left, until Seth fell apart. She did try to fix things for him, told me once he was the reason she went looking for a man. That reasoning didn’t work out well for any of the parties involved. She never even brought the man home, he didn’t want a chick with kids and she lied, she lied like everyone else after driving Dad away trying to keep me from getting hurt, keep Seth from doing coke and drugs and all that jazz.
And so it all fell apart. The pigs approach, two from each end of the sidewalk, the changing of the guard.
“You see anything around Futch?” The approaching one said, shorter than his uniformed twin. He twirlled his hat with an index finger, and I could see the hair curling around his collar. It’s getting dark, and all I can see is how his hair color reacts to the light, but I would recognize the back of his head anywhere.
Charltan. I watched him sneak around the apartment that evening, gun out already though we hadn’t done anything violent. Seth would’ve told me if something like that went down, we would’ve been prepared. Instead, I came out of my nod when that curly haired asshole stumbled into the window. I guess he was drunk, the pigs must think they’re so great cause it’s legal. I think they’re cockheads, just like Seth taught me.
I will not wait for the sunrise. This is the one I’ve been looking for, you know it now, I’ve shown you all the signs. He came up behind me that day, the bump and wobbling glass my first warning. I sat up, grabbed my knife from under the cushion.
The blood pounded in my veins, ultimate calm and utopia turned to the rush of adrenaline that comes when you know life has thrown you another brick in the wall, another obstacle you’ll be forced to overcome. I slunk towards the front door, knowing they came for us, but not knowing why.
I was always careful. You have to sell to friends, vet people, feel them out. The knife was a present from Seth after my first struggle with trust. Jeremiah turned on me in an instant, no longer the happy camper bouncing on the corner of my bed, instantly a viper clutching at my throat. My clarinet is broken now, snapped off clean at the barrel after connecting with his head.
Back then I still played, still tried to open up to some god through my music. The drugs were only a means to relax, a way to get to that place where dreams are gold and nothing matters but your fingers and the notes on the page, your senses all engaged, your life calm and golden.
That changed. I got a knife, and Seth got a gun, and violence became his middle name. I guess they did come for a reason. Still didn’t give them the right to try and take my brother away from me.
I reached the door, heard the crunch of boots on the last of the dead leaves of winter. The world spun as they banged. My whole body vibrated with the force of their authority, but I did not open it. I waited, patient, hearing the sounds of rustling bags from the back room, the flush of the toilet. Seth came up to the other side, gun held in hands darkened by the shadows from the rising sun. I nodded, let my knife catch the light.
He opened the door.
The pigs stand below, still talking about whatever trumped up crime they plan to fight tonight. I want to launch myself at them, but bide my time. There is only one who needs to feel my wrath, and he is better picked alone.
Charltan will feel my beak this night.
I’ve said this prayer over and over again, nights spent worrying over my plan, knowing all he needs to do is bat me away, send my hollow bones flying to the pavement. This needs to be done right the first time.
The free little piggies melt off into the night, and Charlton tosses his hat up. His partner tries to catch it, but isn’t quick enough, and my nemesis slaps the fabric covered cardboard onto his head after plucking it out of the air. Both pigs laugh, and I clench my beak, clench the black wire in my talons, hurt from the physicality of my hate. They shouldn’t be happy. I’ll never be happy again.
The other guy, the taller one, he wasn’t there when they came for us, for Seth and I. He was to be feared, not hated, all energy should fall to the one who forced my hand, who forced my brother’s hand. We did not plan to die, at home or in prison.
I opened the door that day, let them in. Seth told me to, dipped his gun barrel in supplication. We couldn’t run. I knew the curly-headed drunk was at our back door, easily sliding past the old lock. The handle felt cool when I grasped it, my left hand sweating from fumbling with the locks while I held my butterfly knife flipped open in my hand. It had a green and black handle, the colors swirled together in an attempt to look like marble. Mom took it when she found me flipping it open and closed in my room one night, the rhythmic clacking helping me feel safe.
Seth gave it back to me after she left, all the fun toys always went to the first born son. Dad was gone, and I needed protection. That day my brother did. I finally got the door open and he came forward, so far I could not see him anymore, frozen, holding the door, watching his back.
There is no one to watch my back tonight, no one to succor me on the night of my revenge. The other crows do not speak to me, with words or signs, and I lost my slowed vocal chords when I lost my life. The one who took it from me breaks away from his partner, goes off into the night. I lift off from my perch in a brief flutter of wings, and I catch the look of his new friend as I bank in the soft breezes of the night to chase my prey.
He isn’t the guy Seth shot that day. I didn’t see him, but somehow I knew. We didn’t mean to hurt anyone, we’d talked about how we would deal with a raid. I’m sure everyone thinks I was my brother’s bitch, but it isn’t true. He trusted me more than anyone, he told me.
And now I chase the one who put him away, who put me down. I stared at his badge that day, the last name printed right over his heart. No badge would save him from me. We set off through the neighborhood, following the amber lit walks under trees whose trunks made bars on the sidewalk this afternoon. I shelter in their leaves, behind him, waiting for him to turn, give me a shot.
A beak to the heart would have to suffice. That is where his bullet hit me, clean, knife raised to defend my brother’s back after that first fateful shot from his sawed off. The sound broke through the apartment, woke me from the trance of holding the door. I read the name Charlton, on a uniformed chest that slinked towards my brother’s back.
The shot fired. His mouth opened and I heard him scream.
Seth knew it was over then, he put down his gun, the clatter broke the silence after that scream of agony and I saw the gun at my brother’s back rise and reset with purpose. The door fell from my left hand and I lunged at the gun that stared at my brother’s back and yelled.
But he did not turn in time and I felt the bullet enter my heart and I fell into my brother’s arms. The world went black shortly after, my last reality a fuzzy dream. I watched the aftermath from my perch, resurrection swift and furious. They got my brother into the car because I was too disoriented from the change in my vison. I couldn’t swoop down correctly. Almost died again, hitting the ground that first time.
I have no such problem now.
He stops, the ambient amber of the street lights reflecting off his curly hair, too long for him to ever have been a military man. My dad was in the Army. Mom always blamed the Service for his temper, but I think he was born that way. Seth could be the same, if you crossed him.
He doesn’t see me, does not know his death stares down, waiting for the perfect shot. Oh, how I would love to have a shot to the arm, one last moment of bliss. But my time is now. I have to be the needle. I have to stab his heart as he shot through mine. I struggle with the three hundred sixty degree angle of my vision, forcing both eyes to sight down my beak, the soul triumphing over the body. I jump from the branch before he turns, will my small black form to gain enough velocity to puncture him.
The form gets closer, the blue of his uniformed shirt racing toward my face, my beak racing towards his heart. I can tell in the moment before impact that my aim is true, my revenge sweet and about to be fufilled. The blue crashes into my eyes as my forehead hits the bottom edge of his badge and in that moment I feel his hot blood soak into the feathers around my neck.
My moment of joy is short lived, my body wrenched violently from its purchase and thrown to the pavement of the street. I can feel the hollow bones crush, know my time of mourning and flying death is over before the flashing blue and red lights overtake us and the world turns black for a small time.
I see the new partner’s polished shoe for a moment, above me, before I die again, crushed against the ground.