Disabled friends have fun: Keisha and Billie's adventure

Disabled friends have fun: Keisha and Billie’s adventure

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Disabled friends having fun. Close-up of two Black.
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©Chona Kasinger / Disabled And Here CC BY 4.0

Disabled friends have fun: Keisha and Billie’s adventure

So I’m on my knees behind the toilet, scrubbing away like a son of a bitch, and Jake comes in and goes, “I think Keisha’s here,” and I bash the back of my head on the tank.

“Fuck,” says I, and Jake takes my hand and pulls me up to sit on the lid. “Well,” I say, rubbing my head. “Go help her with her bag or something. Do we need to move the truck? Maybe we should make drinks. Wait, I don’t know what she wants in hers. She can still drink, she said, but I don’t know how much. Should we wait? We should wait.”

Jake leans against the counter. “It looks like she’s on the phone. The Skippers haven’t even noticed her yet.”

“How does she look?” I ask. “Animated? Lethargic?”

“Fine,” he says. “The same. Hey, I know you’ve told me-”

“Oh God, really?’

“-but I forget. What’s she got again?” And I roll my eyes so hard my neck cracks.

“Help me up,” I say, and he pulls me to my feet. “What she’s got is something called Intracranial Hypertension: a condition in which the pressure of the body’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the skull cavity increases to such a degree as to become dangerous. Symptoms include but are not limited to headache, vomiting, ocular palsies, altered level of consciousness, eventual blindness, and death. Though blindness seems to be what they’re most concerned about at this point. She’s already lost some of her night vision – that’s why she drove up so early.”

I toddle out of the bathroom to the kitchen, and Jake follows.

“Jesus,” he says, which about sums it up. “Can they do anything?”

“I don’t know. She goes in for a CAT scan and an MRI, and something else next week. Do we have enough snacks? Do you think this milk’s still good?”

I unscrew the cap and sniff it, but my nose is full of bleach and Formula 409. I look for an expiration date but can’t find it. The Skippers are flopped on their lazy asses in the living room, watching us for signs of forthcoming eats.

“We really should have half and half anyway. I mean, if we’re making White Russians.”

So Jake takes the bottle from me and tips it into his mouth, and I swear the milk moves down the bottle like wet sand, and he swallows anyway. Honestly. He spits and pours the rest of it in the sink, where it collects in textured clumps.

“We really need to go grocery shopping,” I say.

“Hey,” Jake says, running the faucet. “Maybe you could refer her to Dr. Mitchell? You really like him, and he seems like a good neurologist.” He slaps faucet water over his tongue.

“That’s sweet of you,” I say. “But since Dr. Mitchell specializes in Multiple Sclerosis: A condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, damaging both the spinal cord and brain. Symptoms include but are not limited to ataxia, dysphagia, cognitive disability, muscle weakness, chronic pain, acute pain, muscle spasms, blindness, shortened life span, and depression. I’m not sure if he’d really be able to help much. Plus, she lives in Houston – they got specialists out the ass.” A fat and purple sadness lands on me, and I shake it off.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m surprised she’s coming up to visit right now, though.”

“Well, she said she wanted a break from the kids.” I’m pulling out a kitchen chair to sit in, but I stop half bent over with my ass sticking out like a duck’s.

“Oh my God,” I say. “Do you think she wants us to take the kids? I mean, you know, if something happens?” I straighten back up. “You think that’s why she’s coming? I mean, there’s her mom, but her mom’s old and fussy and kind of a crazy bitch, frankly. Remember Arbor Day?”

Jake nods gravely.

I try to sit again and miss my mark – I take a table corner to the thigh. Jake grabs my arm and lowers me down.

“I mean, we could,” I say. “We’ve got room. And I’m sure she’s got life insurance, and that would help. Would we have to adopt them? Like, legally? I assume so, right? Do you think it’ll be a problem? I mean, you know. My record.”

“Doesn’t that expire after seven years?”

“You’re thinking of bankruptcy.”

“Oh,” he says. “I could have sworn. Anyway, don’t you think you’re jumping the gun a bit?”

“Jumping the gun!” I shout.

I try to burst out of the chair, but it somehow gets tangled in my feet, and Jake has to catch me. He sort of wrestles me upright and then goes to grab my cane.

You’re a madman!” I say, swaying. “This isn’t something you wait on! This isn’t a situation that calls for prudence or caution or trepidation or trepanation or a carefully worded letter on business stationery!”

“Breathe.” He hands me my cane, and I bop him lightly on the head with it, then lean against the fridge.

“We’ve got to be ready!” I say, shuffling into the living room. “Hide the pornography! Cover the outlets! Make sure the guns are unloaded!”

“Done,” he says. We sit down together on the futon, and the Skippers mob us. “You know, ” he says, wrist-deep in dogfur, “she might just be coming for a relaxing weekend.”

“What if this is the last weekend she can see?” I say. “What if it’s even worse than they think? We have to make this visit count. It’s not just the I.H., either. All those tests are no good for you.”

I try to gather old magazines and junk mail into a pile to throw away, but they all escape my clumsy hands. “What if the CAT scan machine blows up?” I cry a perfectly reasonable concern. “What if they have some doofus running the MRI, and he sets it too high, and the magnets scramble her brains? It happens all the time.”

“Haven’t you had four MRIs on your brain?” Jake asks, picking junk mail off the floor.

“Quiet, you,” I say, and the doorbell rings and the dogs snap into howling action.

“Sorry I was on the phone so long,” Keisha says, coming in. She sits next to me, and instantly there’s a Skipper nose in her crotch, which she swats gently away, “I promised my mom I’d call when I got into town. I go to say goodbye, but then she starts telling me this story about something her pastor was telling them in church about the end times and the Illuminati and fluoridated water.”

I look for Jake like, “See? See?” but he’s in the guest bedroom putting Kiesha’s bag away, so I end up sharing a meaningful look with Skipper II, who promptly begins licking his asshole.

Keisha takes a Skipper ear in hand.“What kind of dogs are these, anyway?”

“Mixed breeds, but primarily Bassett Hounds: Originally developed by the French to hunt rabbits, Bassetts are dwarfish scent hounds, tracking their prey by smell. Friendly but lazy, Bassetts can be prone to obesity and should have their food intake monitored. Never put a Bassett in deep water – it will sink. Though we still haven’t been able to figure out what the other breeds they have in them are. Especially Skipper III.”

Upon hearing his name, he waddles to me, and I scratch his butt.

Keisha studies him. “Is ‘walrus’ a dog breed?”

“Ok, you’re all set,” Jake says, emerging from the guest room unburdened. “I put sheets on the guest futon, and I laid it out, so you won’t have to do anything tonight but hit the sack.” He squats to pet all comers.

“Welcome to your Austin adventure!” I say. “We can do whatever you want. I got the movie schedules for the Regal and Tinseltown, or we can order something to watch here, or we can take the Skippers down to the river-”

“I’m thirsty,” she says. “Mind if I grab a drink?”

“I got it!” I say and stagger towards the kitchen. I hear a Skipper take my place on the futon behind me.

Keisha goes, “You’re not using your cane, I see,” as I trip on a dog toy and fall against the cupboard door just right to catch the knob in my ribs. Jake starts for me, but I wave him off.

“Don’t need it,” I say once I’ve caught my breath. “In my own home, I am Master of Elements.”

“You move like a drunk sumo wrestler,” she says.

“Speaking of,” I say. “We’ve got vodka and Kahlua in the freezer, and whisky is in the cupboard with the mixers. Or we’ve got some beer in the fridge. I was going to say we don’t have any wine, but actually, I can see a bottle on the counter behind that bucket of dog treats.”

“Water’s fine,” Keisha says.

“Those are Slim-Jims,” Jake corrects me.

I squint at the bucket and then at him. “What in God’s name,” I say, “are we going to do with five pounds of Slim-Jims?”

“You said to buy snacks,” Jake says to me.

“Water’s fine,” Keisha says again, louder. “And I like Slim-Jims.”

“Just water?” I say. “Really, we’ve got all your favorites.”

“I got them at Costco,” Jake says to her.

“Nah, water’s good,” Keisha says. “I need to take my meds.”

I slap my forehead. “Duh, of course,” I say. “Sorry.” I fill a cup and bring it, sloshing only slightly over the sides. The Skippers clean up after me.

“Are you hungry?” I say. “There’s a great Mexican place just up the road.” She reaches into her purse and pulls out a Ziploc bag with four pill bottles in it, all different sizes. “Or we could stay in, order pizza or Chinese. Really, whatever you want.”

She opens a bottle and shakes a pill into her hand that is, I swear, as big as a Brazil nut.

“Not right now, thanks” She swallows her pill and makes a face. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind a little something sweet,” she says. “This stuff tastes like shit.”

“I made cake!” I say, and Jake is in the kitchen before I can get up. He pulls some plates out of the dishwasher. “It took forever, but I bet it’s going to be really good. It’s this recipe I found online that instead of using oil and sugar, you use mashed bananas: native to tropical Asia, this sweet, dense fruit provides nearly a full daily serving of potassium and can be eaten raw, deep-fried, or cooked into a delicious stew. Some historians theorize that, contrary to popular belief, the city of gold that Hernan Cortez searched for was actually a banana farm.

“I’m allergic to bananas,” Keisha says. Jake puts the plates back in the dishwasher.

“I thought you were allergic to fish!” I say.

“I am,” she says. “Fish and bananas.”

“Oh,” I say. “Good thing I held off on the tuna frosting then.”

“Actually,” she says. “I think what I would really like is a nap.”

And I go, “It’s not even noon,” like that will change her mind.

“I know, Billie. I’m tired,” she says, and suddenly she looks like it like somebody untied the knot keeping her face tight, and everything just sags. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m just bitchy cause I need sleep. Let me grab an hour, and I’ll be a much better company.” She heads off to the guest room.

“Of course,” Jake says.

“Of course,” I say. “Is there anything you need? Just let me know if you want another pillow or an extra blanket. Is the a/c all right? We can turn it up or down-“

“It’s great,” she says. “See you in an hour.” and she shuts the door.

We go to the backyard, and I’m sitting cross-legged on the ground watching Jake water the tomato plants, and he goes, “Nah, she seems fine.” because I asked him, point-blank if he thought Keisha was going to die.

“Are you serious?” I say. I try to stand, but I have a Skipper in my lap, snoring. I lean back and shove; he doesn’t move. I lay flat on the grass, and Jake comes and stands over me with the hose. “A nap! She’s in there taking a nap like she’s ninety,” I say to his knees. “Healthy thirty-year-olds do not nap.”

“I wouldn’t mind a nap,” says Jake.

“Imbecile!” I say, struggling to my elbows. The Skipper in my lap yawns and rolls over. “Her brain is under submarine pressure! Who knows how long it can survive? My God, what if she’s dying right now? Should we go check on her? How long have we been out here? Has it been an hour?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“I’ll just go look in,” I say. “I won’t wake her up if she looks ok.”

“Leave her alone, Billie.”

“This is not the time for laissez-faire!” I say, and Jake squirts my shorts with the hose. The Skipper yelps and bounds away.

“Pull me up so I can yell at you properly!” I say, and he pulls me to my feet and puts my hands on his shoulders so I can stand.

“Now listen,” he says. “We’re going to go inside, and I’ll put on the T.V. and make you a drink, and you will chill out, ok? You will sit on the futon and watch one of your godawful shows, and you will not bother our guest.”

“My shorts are cold,” I say. The day is brilliant green and blinding.

“Billie.”

“Fine,” I say. “I will not bother our guest. Unless medically necessary.”

“I’m willing to lock you in the truck.”

“Fine!” I say again. “Fine, do not open till X-mas, no peeking, but if she’s not up in an hour, I’m calling 911.”

“Deal,” he says, walking me inside. “I’m going to take the Skippers for a jog.” He drops me on the futon and goes to the kitchen, and pours a slug of vodka into a can of Mountain Dew: Originally developed in Tennessee during the Second World War, Mountain Dew continues to be the choice beverage of machinists, stock car racers, bored teenagers, chain-smokers, and ladies of ill-repute. Mountain Dew glows in the dark. Its negative effects on testicular size and function have never been proven in a court of law.

He hands me the can and says, “Be good,” as if I am ever anything else.

With Jake and the Skippers gone, I can finally relax and enjoy the quiet and marvel at how clean we got the tile, a shining white contrast to the fuchsia thong I now see crumpled in the corner under the T.V. stand.

“Goddamn it,” I say, but not too loud.

I set my drink down and slide off the living room futon and crawl over. I can’t believe we missed something like that! Honestly, I don’t even know how it got there unless maybe one of the Skippers got it out of the hamper, or maybe I got undressed out here one night and just forgot. But that couldn’t possibly be true. Could that be true? Could my memory really be getting that bad? And I’m halfway under the T.V. stand with my underwear in my hand, worrying about my brain when Keisha says, “Have you lost weight? Your ass looks smaller.” and I fucking bash my head again.

“Ow,” I say. I stuff the thong in my pocket and slide it out on my belly. “Has it been an hour? I haven’t really been paying attention. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“Nah,” she says. “I just needed a little catnap to recover – work’s been crazy this week. I’m sorry I was so cranky. What’re you doing down there?”

“There was a thing, under the T.V.,” I say. “A dog thing. A dog toy. I was getting it for them. The dogs.” Smooth.

“You let the dogs play with your underwear? Kinky.” and I look down and see the thong sticking out of my pocket.

“Jeeze, I’m sorry,” I say, re-stuffing. I climb back onto the futon. “I thought we got the whole place picked up before you came, but I guess we missed some things. I’m sorry. I really wanted it to be nice for you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I’m just glad to be here. Where is everybody?”

“Jake took the dogs for a walk. It’s just you and me.”

“Good,” she says. She picks up the soda can and sniffs it. “I was hoping we could talk, just you and me.”

Oh God, here it is, the Talk. “I can make you one, if you want,” I say, nodding at the can. “Or I could just get you a soda or more water if you want.”

The guest bedroom isn’t that big; We’ll have to get bunk beds, obviously, and we’ll need to find out what school we’re zoned for. We’ll have to buy food, good food, nutritious. Oh God, what’s nutritious food? Carrots? We can’t just feed the kids carrots! They need protein and minerals and essential oils and whole grains and beta carotene!

“Are you hyperventilating?” says Keisha. I take the can from her.

“ It’s not like we have to drink, of course,” I say. The can’s half-full; I finish it in one swallow. “Or go out, or anything. We can just have a relaxing evening at home. Afternoon at home. It’s afternoon now, right?”

“Or, if you want, we could kick it old school,” she says and pulls another Ziploc bag out of her purse, only this one doesn’t have pills in it.

My mouth closes and opens. “Dude,” I say. “We are not nineteen anymore.”

“What’s a weekend away from the kids if you can’t have a little fun? Besides, it might be useful to kill a few brain cells, make a little room,” she says, and I look at her.

“It’s medicinal,” she says, and I look at her some more.

“Come on, it’s not like it’s going to make you any more clumsy,” she says, and I look at her, and she sighs. “Don’t worry about it. I just thought it might be a good time. Forget I mentioned it.”

She sounds like the Skippers look when we give them a bath.

I put my hand on her leg. “You had me at killing brain cells,” I say and watch her eyes light up.

“Dude,” I say.

“Bro,” says Keisha.

We are riding in the backseat of the truck like royalty as Jake flies down the interstate. He speeds unconsciously and constantly. You might not realize you can get a pick-up truck going over 130 miles an hour, but you totally can.

“It’s called a Crew Cab because you can fit your whole crew in it,” I say, answering a question no one asked. “Are you writing this down, babe? This is important.”

“Got it,” Jake says. We hit traffic and slow down.

“The wildflowers are so pretty,” Keisha says. She is looking at a clump of dandelions erupting from a massive crack in the sidewall.

“Dude, for real,” I say eloquently. “Listen to me: we have wonders untold that make your wildflowers look like something the dog ate and barfed and ate again, man.”

“We got a real big Whole Foods downtown,” says Jake.

“Food sounds good,” says Keisha.

“Are you both insane?” I say, with kindness and love. “Are you KGB versions of you, come to kidnap me for my good looks and knowledge of cold fusion?”

“Da,” says Keisha. A VW bug pulls ahead of us, and Jake reaches back and slugs my shin.

“We are not going to get food,” I say, and they both moan. “We will get food later,” I say. “Right now, I want to show you something incredible. Something that will sear through your retinas and into your brain, like, forever. If you could only see one more thing before you went blind, what would it be?”

“My kids.”

“Ok, fine, Debbie Downer. What’s the next thing?”

“Tyrese, naked.”

“Oh my God, that is a good one.”

“Who’s Tyrese?” Jake asks, and we both go, “Oh, nobody.”

“What can we give you now?” I say. “What would you like to see right now? Besides the food.”

She thinks. “I’d like to see something really bright,” she says, “really colorful, pretty.”

“I could rent a clown suit,” Jake says.

“I’ve got it!” I yell. “Driver! Take us to The Peacock Hotel!” and Jake gets over in the right lane.

“Do what, now?” Keisha says.

“You don’t know? Sweetheart, let me tell you about Peacocks: Long prized for their colorful plumage and fighting ability, these flightless waterfowl were originally introduced to the United States by Sam Giancana as a distraction from his long-standing”

“Billie, I know what peacocks are,” Keisha says. “What’s The Peacock Hotel?”

“It’s a park,” Jake says.

“It’s a park,” I say. “A park where the peacocks roam wild and free among the irises and lilies and the koi that swim in the ponds and eat the popcorn that you smuggle in to feed them.”

“And it’s called The Peacock Hotel?”

“No,” says Jake.

“Some people call it that,” I explain.

“Nobody calls it that.”

“I call it that.”

“There are not many people,” Jake says, “who speak your language.”

“Fine,” I say. “Sweetheart, let me tell you about Mayfield Park: Established in 1922 as a waystation for bootleggers to age their bathtub tequila, Mayfield Park retains all the original charm of its gardens and quaint stone cottage while also providing a spacious and lush habitat for peacocks, woodland creatures, and ornamental fish. There’s also a pony.”

“There’s no pony,” says Jake.

“It sounds perfect!” Keisha says. “Do they have a snack bar?”

“Even better,” I say. “They have snacks for your soul.”

“They’re busy today,” Jake says.

We pull up into their little parking lot, and he’s right; they’re absolutely packed. We see people getting out of their cars in suits and long fancy dresses, and then Jake goes, “I think it’s a wedding,” and he’s right. About a hundred yards away, past the koi ponds and the live oaks, there are a couple dozen white folding chairs with a couple dozen white people in them, fidgeting and swatting bugs with their programs.

“It smells like Neiman Marcus out here,” Keisha says.

“My dudes,” I reassure them. “It’s so no problem. They’re like two hundred yards away. Three hundred. We will simply remain quietly on this side of the park, observing fish and fowl.”

“Gate’s closed,” Jake says. “’Reserved for Private Function.’”

“We will simply remain quietly outside the gate,” I say. “Observing from a distance.”

“It would be nice to see the peacocks,” Keisha says.

“There’s nowhere to park,” Jake says, which is true, and so we begin an animated debate about the merits of him dropping us off – for just a little while! – so we can see the peacocks and maybe whatever flowers we can see over the wall (which I think is only about five feet anyway).

“Come on,” I say.

“Nope,” he says.

“Dude,” I say.

“I’m not sure exactly what you two got into while I was gone,” he says. “But I do know you’re not dressed for a wedding.”

“My shorts have dried!” I point out.

“It’s been a long time since I saw a peacock,” Keisha says.

“An opportunity that may not soon come again,” I say and give the rearview mirror my most meaningful look, smolderingly intense.

“You ok?” Keisha says to me. “You’re not going to throw up, are you?”

A car pulling up behind us honks, and Jake sighs. “Fifteen minutes. That’s it. I’m going up the street, around the block, and coming right back. You understand me?” and me and Keisha nod.

The Peacock Hotel is really a little stone cottage and stone-covered walkways surrounded by a little stone wall with a wrought iron gate that’s now closed. We walk up to the gate like clumsy, curious children, Keisha in front and me with my hands on her shoulders, and this is how I discover that she is not just short (shorter than me, at least) but exactly perfectly too short to see over the wall. She presses her face to the gate, but the angle is all wrong – I can tell she can’t see shit.

“It’s pretty,” she says softly, and it just breaks my heart.

“Don’t you worry,” I say. “I have a plan.”

“Billie,” she says, and I say, “Just wait here. This will be great,” and I flop myself onto the wall and pull myself over before she can say anything else.

The peacocks, the whole magnificent flock of them, are pecking at the grass near the wedding, enchanted by food and the thrill of being photographed by a man with white-framed sunglasses and a pointy goatee. I hate him instantly. He reaches into his pocket and throws out another handful of seeds (or whatever the hell they eat) at their talons (or whatever the hell they’re called), and the peacocks flutter and peck more.

I hear Keisha stage whispering my name through the gate, and I use a big crack in the wall to pull myself to my feet.

“I’m going to get one of them to come over,” I whisper back to her. “I will entice him with charm and shiny objects.” Surely I have some coins or my keys – something shiny – on me somewhere.

“Get back here, now,” she whispers in answer.

I lurch towards the nearest tree and lean against it. I see, before me, enough trees to make a zigzag path to the peacocks. Once there, I will lure a peacock away with whatever I have in my pockets, guiding it quietly back to the gate so Keisha can see it, then I will flop back over the wall just in time for Jake to pick us up and take us to lunch which, I admit, sounds fantastic right now. The insufferable photographer has moved on to harassing a stately gray couple in evening dress. The wedding party is facing away from me, towards the river that flows just beyond the far wall. The coast is clear. It is my time to shine.

I can still hear Keisha furiously whispering as I make my way towards the birds, but I am undaunted. The wedding party is ahead on my right, the cottage on my left, the peacocks in between. I lurch ‘n’ lean my way closer. Now I can see the wedding in more detail. The chairs are nearly all full, and the minister is talking with a pudgy man stuffed into a tuxedo who is (I’m guessing) the groom. He is pink as ham and sweating – I’m sure the pictures of this wedding will be much prettier than the humid reality. Just looking at the man makes me itchy; I am not a dress-up kind of girl.

“Chickie!” I say softly as I approach the peacocks. “Chick chick chickie!” The peacocks look up and then resume eating.

“Hey, lardos!” I hiss. I kneel down and crawl until I am almost close enough to grab a bird. Their feathers shimmer like motor oil in the sun, and I put a finger out and brush it against one. It is weightless, a stab of pure color. “Hey fatties, that food sucks!” I tempt them. “I got something way better!” and I reach into my pocket and pull out the only thing in it: the fuscia thong I found under the T.V. stand.

“Motherf-” I say, and the music starts, and everybody gets up.

For just a second, I freeze – I’m kneeling down, maybe they won’t see me. Then I hear the mumbling start, and I know I’m busted.

“Hi, folks!” I say. I try to stand but overbalance and sit down hard on my ass. The music stops. “I’m so sorry to interrupt y’all’s affair – and it looks lovely, by the way, just great – but I just had to do a brief inspection of these birds because what it is, is that I am actually the chief ornithologist. Of this place. This park. The Peacock Park.”

“I’m sorry, what?” says the minister.

“Oh no, I’m sorry!” I say, getting back to my knees. “You see, Ornithology: Once practiced in secret and only by those most daring, this dark art has evolved over time into one of the most profitable varieties of…”

And a peacock snatches the thong out of my hand.

“Excuse me,” I say, and, pushing hard on the ground, I pop up into a staggered V, as if I am about to start doing jumping jacks. I reach forward and snatch my underwear back.

“Is something wrong? Why did the music stop?” A redheaded woman with a bulldog’s face comes out of the house and zeros in on me. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“Bird emergency! Just leaving, ma’am!” I say, and the peacock makes for my underwear again, so I swat it. “Back off, dude,” I say. “I’m spoken for.”

And then! And then! He takes a step back, and he shakes out his feathers, and he opens his tail all the way up. Ta-da! It’s gorgeous. Even the minister oohs and ahhs.

“Oh, this is perfect!” I say. “Come on, follow me!” and I lurch in the direction I came from over to the nearest tree. I turn back, and the peacock’s just standing there, watching me. Along with everyone else.

“Come on, pretty peacock,” I say, lurching over to the next tree. “Come on, boy!” To the wedding, I say, “Peacocks are among the shyest of waterfowl.”

“Billie,” Keisha says. I crane my neck around the intervening trees and can just see her at the gate. She is no longer whispering. “Jake’s here.”

“Oh shit,” I say. “Ok folks, again, sorry for the interruption-“ and the peacock, still unfurled or presenting or whatever you call it, opens up his beak and lets out this squonky screech like an abused trombone. He steps forward, towards me, then cocks his head. His feathers go down. Then he hisses.

“Did you hear that?” I say to Keisha. “I didn’t know they hissed!”

“Billie,” Keisha says. “Run.” and the peacock charges.

Will it surprise you if I say it’s been a while since I’ve run? Will it surprise you more to know it’s something I love? The propulsion, the blur of the landscape – these are things I still dream of. It’s a movement my body’s forgotten, but my heart remembers. That was a long, long time ago, and I’ll never be that person again, and do you know what that’s like? To get sick and know you’ll never get better? To lose everything you love about yourself and then have to rebuild from the ground up with whatever scraps you can find? I am all driftwood and rusty auto parts now, but there have been times in my life when I’ve run like a deer, fast and quiet and as sure of each step as I was of my name.

This is not one of those times.

I hit the wall boobs-first and stumble, ripping a bloody patch on my chin. The peacock pecks my ankles without mercy. I look over the wall and see Jake park the truck behind the catering van.

“I’m toast,” I say to Keisha, panting, exhausted. “Save yourself. Run over to the Porta-potties. Change your name. Pretend you never knew me.”

“Come on,” she says and grabs my wrists.

I kick the peacock, and he screeches and redoubles his pecking. My legs are shaky, sweaty, bloody meatsticks. I jump with all the strength I have left and heave myself onto the wall. Keisha staggers backward, pulling as hard as she can. I feel the peacock pecking at my shoes.

“Come on,” Keisha says again and gives me one last yank, and I slither down the wall to the ground like a freshly birthed calf.

I hear the truck door slam, and then steps, running. I am afraid to look up. My body is one long scrape. The breeze I feel tells me nothing good.

I roll onto my back and look at the wall. The peacock stands on it, triumphant. Under his talons are my shorts.

Victory: The price is steep.

I turn my head and see Jake, with his hands on his hips. His expression is embarrassingly unsurprised. Keisha is standing next to him, but I cannot see her face because she is bent over, hands on her stomach. She is laughing too hard to stand up straight.

“Jesus,” she says when she catches her breath. “Sweet baby Jesus. That’s it. Now I’ve seen everything.”

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Article by
Martha Stallman

Martha Stallman's work has appeared in The James Joyce Quarterly, The Joyce Studies Annual, The Offing, Electric Literature, and Playboy. She lives and writes in Austin, Texas.

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