Illustration by Ella Corder
Birds Aren’t Real
It’s 1:30 a.m. but the birds are still chirping. Nobody’s really sure why, and it’s a topic of thinly great discussion. Five post-adolescent figures hunch in a treehouse that was designed for 5-and-unders, and smoke fills the atmosphere. By the postures of their still silhouettes you can see that some hold cigarettes, some hold marijuana blunts in that funny way you have to hold a marijuana blunt, some hold both, in a twisted young-adult Venn diagram.
“I just don’t see how the government could possibly pull that off,” said Nosawiir Creim, squinting and blinking through the smoke tirelessly and not without a little melodrama.
“Listen, you don’t have to believe me, Creim, okay, but just don’t come crying to me when you find out Uncle Sam has video footage of you everyday of your life since you were born. I’m telling you,” Djuane Sham said through a troubled and phlegmy cough. “Through bird eyes, and there are quotation marks there, hanging, bird eyes,” he stopped and chugged a stray Aquafina bottle, “that have been secretly recording you since birth. Every step you take. Like that song by The Police. Ironically. Tiny little drones with cameras and highly-sensitive microphones the size of an eyelash. They’re everywhere man. It’s too perfect.” He turned his nose up at the avian territory of the sky and narrowed his eyes. Two identical drops of residual Aquafina-water slid slowly from the edges of his mouth down and outward around his chin.
“Dude, Djuane, you’re talking too much. You know that when you take the third hit you talk too much. You know this.”
“Birds aren’t real, amigo, is all I’m saying, and I’m not the only one, either. I know that Poindexter, back me up here, Dexter, I know that she’ll back me up on this one. Esther?”
Some heads turned to the small, shadowed corner of the treehouse, where there sat Esther K. Poindexter, a delicate and somewhat sheltered kind of post-adolescent whose disposition was basically that she couldn’t cultivate a single nano-drop of interest in the government-birds discussion if she had had a large dose of LSD, nor if on it her life depended. She folded herself into the corner and cradled between index and middle fingers her very last Marlboro Red, watching it slowly burn and worried about wasting the burning tobacco but also worried about taking her time and enjoying it, because her bank account is so depleted and dry you can practically hear its joints rusting, and the conversation was tuned out as she worried about trying to not worry.
Esther looked around the circle in the dim light of post-night and pre-morning, looking at her friends’ faces. She liked to do this; it comforted her to do this. Analyze faces. She measured up their proportions, lined up their eyes and noses and lips, weighed out their numbers. Memorized their colors. She sometimes would go home at night after a smoking session she had told her parents was a late-night movie and feel her way through the dark house to the basement steps and go down and light a romantic but hazardous and really, for a light source, quite ineffective candle and uncover a fold-out easel and canvas she kept behind the AC unit and it had about a half inch of painted-over layers on it, the canvas did, but she would paint these faces meticulously and with great accuracy anyway, and sometimes she would stay down there for three hours or more, undoubtedly damaging her vision in the flickering candlelight, and paint faces as best she could remember them.
Djuane, Nosawiir, and Carlos were not from America which was an appreciated, colorful addition to her mental library of faces, her Epidermal Library, she liked to call it, privately. Djuane Sham was from Jordan, skin the color of Florida sand. Sharp nose but lips like Sylvester Stallone and teeth so parallel they looked fake. Black hair in ringlets to his shoulders. Dark eyes. Damagingly bad posture. Nosawiir Creim, Afghani, face in perfect sections, proportions exact. Teeth, however, were more mortal. Creim was wiry, but with kind features and soft black curls tucking around his face. And Carlos Aguacate III sat betwixt, with permed, Mexican black hair (Esther presumed this [the perm] was a determined attempt to fit in with the others and their long black Arabian ringlets) to his collarbones, and a sweet face, but his eyes were hard to measure out because of his glasses. Esther didn’t know if it was just in her head or if Carlos’s actual eyes, through the glasses, had a glass-like quality themselves. And not just tonight in the clouded treehouse; like, all the time — his eyes looked like a mirror that when you jab your thumbnail to it you can see the inch of just space, occupied by light and whatever mirror matter lives in there. Just distant, offset, an inch deeper than the coffee-bean surface. Esther watched the cherry of the Red breathe between the tips of her fingers and slowly die. She threw it into the grass below.
“Poindexter? What’s with you?” Sham said, narrowing his eyes.
Esther looked up from the dead grass.
Sham shook his head and climbed down the treehouse ladder to take a leak behind the stand-alone garage.
Creim took a long draw on his Nic, the latest and greatest vaping product in the country.
Esther smiled goofily. “Nothing!” she drawled.
The others had stopped listening. Esther slid down the treehouse slide and got mud on her bottom, and said to no one in particular that she was going to squeeze the lemon also. The streetlights shone like jaundice. Or lemon juice. The streets were quiet, in a Benadryl daze, with only a few cats and meths roaming. Esther’s footfall was silent.
Headlights blinded her every minute or so. She wondered of the passing of time. Today was her twenty-first birthday. She wondered if a birthday made a sound if no one was around to hear it. Cars passed obliviously, like she was a Glad trashbag on the curb. She thought to herself that she hated her friends and their monotony. And she hated Djuane Sham who had forced himself upon her once at a party when no one was looking. She hated her family for their stupidity and their condescension and their alcoholism. She hated the town for its poverty and gaudy ugliness, a Dollar General time capsule, a Vatican of sad, fat, divorced, insurance salesmen.
She tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. A cat scurried away, leaving a trail of scabs and piss. She didn’t want to be home, and she didn’t want to be away. A life in between, a caravan. Headlights struck her eyes again as she rounded the corner towards home, and they lit up the steam on her glasses. Wiping them on her shirt, she thought to herself that she hated most of all her eyes and her thoughts and her body, and she thought that babies come into the world like magnets, drawn perfectly and decisively to a place they deserve, a town, a socio-economic region, and of course she lived in this gaudy ugly town, because nature is balanced. She wanted to kill her mother and bury her father and drown her siblings, and she wanted to sew her friends’ lips together. She wanted to burn with gasoline every cat on the block.
And then she wanted to go to her basement, stand in front of a portrait of herself, eat the entire canvas, and swallow inch-deep layers of acrylics and oil like SugarDaddys, and then flood the house with fire and screaming. She thought briefly of the boy who hadn’t noticed her in high school. As she was considering this, she put her glasses back on, but the earpiece stabbed her in the eye quite aggressively, and the western half of the world went black as she felt blood pour down her blouse, and she thought that maybe eyeballs can pop and leak like egg yolk. She reached down to find her glasses but couldn’t see the yolky headlights which came to blind her once more, and Esther lay in the street, a flat character.