by Sarah Egelman
Krissy was a little bird with little bird bones. She smelled like baby powder, even at sixteen, and like powder it seemed like she could be easily blown away. James, with his English accent, quite possibly heightened for affect, called her his little bird and liked to hold her on his lap and feel the little pointy bird bones of her ass against his thighs.
James had moved to town last year and immediately began working his way through the 11th grade. He lived on base and had grown up mostly in England though his father’s most recent station was Germany. He was tall with a wincing squint but refused to wear the glasses his mother picked out for him. His sister, Mariah, saw the weak ugliness in him that most people did not. She was horrified on a regular basis to come home to find him in bed with girls who were not friendly to her at school. On the weekends when their parents went out, she would find the apartment crowded. There might be a couple on the recliner, others eating from the fridge, James in his room with some girl. Lately Krissy. Once she came home to her brother’s glare and a couple on the couch under an afghan knitted by her English nana. The girl, long wavy chestnut hair and light eyes, seemed to be resisting the hands of the boy on top of her. Mariah felt compelled to help the girl, a girl she didn’t recognize, but was unsure how to do so. She turned on the living room lights as she walked through the apartment. The couple sat up, sweaty and out of breath. Strangely, the boy seemed fine with the interruption while the girl, face flushed and hair tangled in the back, scowled at her and got up to find her cigarettes.
There is something to be said for being a little bird. To be fit into a large warm hand. To have bones so light they are hardly bones at all.
Krissy’s hands were tiny, like a little girl and her fingers were slender and always a bit cold. Late summer she and James spent nights in the empty dirt lot behind the airport called the Mesa. By midnight most of the kids had gone home but Krissy remained, under James’ arm, shivering in the chill that promised autumn. He brought her fingers to his mouth, expelled his hot breath to warm them. It was only in this moment that Krissy allowed herself to feel a contentment with James.
They went to different schools, and Mariah was thankful for that. She hated to see her brother being pulled down the crowded hallways by the latest girl and hated the dirty looks she got from his ex-girlfriends or those he had insulted or rejected. On the other hand, she was curious about Krissy and wished she could observe her more often and more closely. Without an audience, James was quieter, even taciturn. He was never cruel to Mariah, only to the girls who, for reasons beyond his sister’s comprehension, clamoured for his attention. After school their apartment was almost silent as they did homework across from each other at the kitchen table. James conjugated Spanish verbs and plodded through Algebra II homework and his mind was on his little bird. Would that he could keep her in his room all day. She could wait for him to return. She could wait all day and he could take her into his hands and feel her heart beating against her bones.
Mariah was surprised to see that the Krissy held her brother’s attention for so long. She watched her as closely as she could when they all sat in the living room watching TV, when they went to the mall to walk a slow circuit, when they went to parties on the Mesa and drank warm beer. She noticed that Krissy’s hands never fluttered but flew and slapped at her brother’s shoulders when he grew loud.
The curtains in Mariah’s room did not block out the light of the streetlamps or the headlights of the cars sweeping past. She lay awake at night and thought of Krissy and thought of birds and feathers and bones and sleep fell slowly and heavily upon her as she breathed in the smoke that lingered in her hair.
Wouldn’t it be nice to crack those hollow bones?
So late at night on the Mesa and Krissy and Mariah are stranded, hoping James returns to pick them up. Somehow his car is too full of other teenagers to take them home at the end of the night. They share the dregs of a beer, their faces gritty with dirt because the winds have picked up. Mariah can see a strip of city lights on the horizon and she isn’t wearing a jacket. Her jaw shudders with the cold. Krissy is calm and still, her eyes dark as they scan the road for James’s return. Mariah doesn’t like living here. It never rains and everything is sharp. She takes Krissy’s hand, stronger, more solid than she had imagined, and together they wait.
Sarah Egelman is a community college professor, book reviewer, and writer of short fiction living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sarah is interested in telling stories that are about real emotions that push the boundaries of realism.