“You don’t ask a snake why it slithers, it just does.”
I angled the throw from my hip, like how he taught me, forefinger and thumb wrapped tightly along the short edges. I wound up, then released. Watched it as it skipped along the brackish pond and lost it somewhere about ten feet away.
I ignored her, just as I’d ignored her silly statement. She was filled with riddles and I wasn’t in the solving mood.
I bent over for another one, hoping for a smoother one, maybe a pale pebble of some kind, when I saw the ivory skull of a bird instead. My hand hovered above it, the contrast of my black-brown skin to the tea-stained white fascinating me into silence. It was a big bird, had to be, considering the size of the skull. The beak was long, the upper mandible slightly hooked, nostrils like uncovered tear drops.
“What’chu got there?”
I heard her rising from the banks and I panicked a little, swiping at the skull and shoving it deep into my hoodie pocket before her heavy, ungainly steps could reach me.
She treaded hard for a dead girl.
Her cold reached me just as I dipped again for another stone. This one was sharper than the last and I’d grabbed it too quick, a jagged edge digging deep and hard and fast enough to smear blood along the rest of it.
Reminded me of my first fuck.
She kissed her teeth and I grit my jaw.
“Makes no sense, hiding shit from me,” she said. “Just don’t break it.”
And suddenly I was warm again.
I was alone when I walked back through the sliding door, but the television was on full blast. Some daytime talking head was shouting affirmations of self-worth and self-preservation when I pushed the dial in, the overly made-up face collapsing into a horizontal blue pill before completely fading into a sandbag-settling silence.
To spite my mom, I walked through the rest of the house with my muddy sneakers. She wouldn’t buy me new ones, despite the new year and a growth spurt, so I only hoped my sore toes found as much satisfaction in this momentary vengeance as I did. I had no idea where she or her boyfriend was, but I didn’t give a shit either. Moments like this were rare and I had every intention of living in it.
I kicked off my sneakers and left them in the threshold as I pushed open the door to my room and shimmied over to the table that served as my desk, my bed being my chair. I stripped off my muddy jeans and tossed them in a corner and plopped down, bare-ass, on my comforter, carefully removing the skull from its polyester and cotton blend nest.
My hand shook as I laid the bone on the peeling varnish, turning it slightly so the tiny baby-yawn eyeholes could stare at me. I stared back for a solid minute before I felt a shiver hammer its way down my back and I felt compelled to push it away. I didn’t, just got up instead and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. The drawstring had to be pulled a little tighter and I was doing just that when the air shifted, fluttered really, then trickled past my left cheek.
I shut my eyes and listened to the rustling, listened as the plumage stretched to glorious lengths and heights and in that moment I could see it, I could feel that bird gaining life and its desire for freedom.
I shouldn’t have opened my eyes.
I should’ve let the theatre of dreams keep playing, keep going, keep projecting those pleasant beautiful images on the backs of my lids, but jealousy got the best of me. Pure envy made me open them, made me turn around to see the horror that was reality.
I didn’t see much after. The plumage got in the way. So many feathers. So dark and full and opalescent as it caught every ray of sunshine that had dared to enter my tiny room.
It was upon me before I could even gasp in with the awe I felt, with the tinge of regret I’d known was bound to happen at the discovering something so sacred.
The hook of the beak took my right eye first, let me watch as the contemporary dinosaur sat on my chest and devoured the jelly as if a treat it’d been waiting forever for.
Then it lowered itself to me, the tear-drop nostrils snorting thick spurts of air, the yawns of its eyes much larger now, more like an adult or an abyss.