A fourteen-year-old boy was caught giving head in the park latrine last week. Allan told me that McKinney told him that it was the new kid in town, Jeffy. “Cops busted his little fag ass,” McKinney laughed. I didn’t know Jeffy, but I imagined he must have looked a lot like me: nipples like pink gumdrops, shoulder blades that sawed through the back of his t-shirt, thin hollow bones. Wetting whistles in the dark.
We returned to the park after a few days. McKinney dared each of us to go in and to “holler if you see a cocksucker.” There were four of us and when it came my turn, I made as if I didn’t want to. “C’mon chicken-shit, what are you afraid of?” McKinney asked. His voice cracked under the pressure of his words. “You know there’s nobody in there. Just for five minutes.”
“He’s just a kid, Mick.” Allan said.
“So was Jeffy!” McKinney laughed, and everyone did. The nervous air shivered and clung to the napes of our necks and when I told them I’d do it, Allan held the door open for me. Inside, piss, water and dirt tracked over the linoleum tiles and I found a trail of bird tracks that were identical to mine. They lead to the last stall in the bathroom. All of the doors had been removed a few summers ago and the toilets were like unwashed cups lined on a sideboard. The left partition wall had a hole level to my waist. I stuck my nose through and it smelled feral like my dreams.
I finished four minutes before they called me and splashed water across my shirt to camouflage the errant stains. McKinney asked me why I looked so flushed and I said, “because it’s fucking hot in there asshole.” It was the first time I’d cursed at anyone and the boys whooped. Allan clapped me on the shoulder and it made me feel like a man. But I knew it wasn’t true, not yet.
I found little feathers lacing my armpits and up my legs a few days later. They came in tufts of mismatched colors. The internet said it had something to do with glands, uropygial or pituitary or both. I ended up taking care of it with a pair of Mom’s sewing scissors and running Dad’s razor over the stubbled quills. That evening at the park, I found McKinney and the others turning a stolen pack of cigarettes in their hands. “It’s my Dad’s.” McKinney whispered, as if his old man could hear him under the shadow of the underwood. He passed them out, one for each and Allan told me, “you don’t have to.” When I replied, my voice lilted into a chirrup, “no shit, Captain Obvious,” but McKinney and the rest didn’t notice. They warbled smoke out of their throats, laughed and struck poses. I tried smoking mine and it felt like I had swallowed a lit match. Allan didn’t say anything.
After everyone left for home, I circled the park looking for twigs and branches, gathering them in my arms. I’d never built a nest before and there was only one place I wanted to call mine. I broke the sticks up with my beak and bound them together with saliva. Someone walked in just as I placed my lips around the circumference of the hole, wondering how it felt to have a stranger slide into my esophagus. I hid in the foundations of my nest as he entered the stall next to mine. I nearly abandoned my post to flight, paranoid of the vice police or someone I knew, until I heard the visitor unzip the metal teeth covering the seam of my meal. An eye widened through the aperture. Its owner quietly trilled, “you beautiful boy, sweet little bird.”
I started furbishing my nest and shucking my corn in the park latrine every afternoon. Sometimes I’d return to find it used, torn and vandalized, but each facsimile was easier to construct than the last. A few older birds occasionally migrated to my corner, brushing my chest with their feather tips or forcefully arrogating my mouth and ass. I took all comers, and every stranger that squeezed through the two partitions of my stall found me wanting.
We saw less of Allan. McKinney suspected that he’d found another flock. He went unshaven now, walked around town with downy cheeks, arms and legs. We spotted him at the community pool with a boy McKinney identified as Jeffy, bronzing his thickening limbs and preening his new mate. It wouldn’t be long before they decided to build an aerie together. “Fucking queer!” McKinney squawked, but Allan paid us no mind. He stood poolside, his plumage a sharp array of contrasting colors, strong in the open daylight. We unanimously agreed to repudiate him, knowing full well that he’d chosen to leave us.
It burned when I spilled into the toilet now. I attributed it to my glands. My parents started asking questions about my late hours, my activities. They showed the blood on my underwear. But I didn’t need to live in their roost anymore, I’d made my own home. That night I snuck out while they slept. I flew to the park and found someone in my nest swallowing crop milk that should’ve been mine. It was McKinney, wide-shouldered, freckled-face McKinney choking like a newborn chick as his friend croaked and wheezed, “suck it you little cocksucker, suck it.” His friend promised him he’d be back every night to feed his little bird boy. I watched as McKinney grunted all over his legs and mumbled, “daddy.” The mottled feathers on his chest were the same color as mine.
Lam Pham was born in Midland, Texas and graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2008. His fiction has or is set to appear in Mud Luscious Press, JMWW, apt, Fractured West, The Good Men Project Magazine, Foundling Review, NAP and more. He is a volunteer reader at PANK Magazine and blogs at http://lampham.posterous.com.