Birds of a Feather
published by Okay Donkey, July 27th, 2018
*nominated for 'Best Microfiction' anthology edited by Meg Pokrass*
The small view on the New Mexican plain doesn’t offer much from the barred windows of cell 118, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of a bird out in this heat. These are the ones I sketch, in quiet moments to myself with a pen and paper I bought from Charlotte. Her favorite, she told me, are hummingbirds. Mine too. I draw them from memory. My garden used to attract them for miles. I would sit by the window, glass between us, and watch as they swarmed, wings buzzing and beating against the stiff air miles a minute.
I fondle three pills tucked away in my breast pocket, imagine what it would feel like to pop them in my mouth and swallow. I wouldn’t need water to chase them down, but I don’t dare take them. The little pills anchor me in more ways than one.
I think back to Charlotte’s proposal, her nonchalance in telling me how to start. I could see how it would become a habit, hiding the tiny pearls in my cheek at each Med-Line, transferring them to the secret pocket fashioned in the breast of my jumpsuit.
Charlotte and I sat together in the middle of the block, two months ago now, a sea of women surrounding us. I looked around, keeping my head low. My eyes registered the human shades coloring the room – midnight, chestnut, olive, porcelain. The rhythm of voices pulled me in and pushed me back out, a tide of small talk, complaints, criticisms, and misfortunes – secrets were the undercurrent.
I focused back on Charlotte.
She leaned in, whispering. “You know those little pills you get?”
“Share those with me and I’ll share my commissary.”
“What do you want with them?”
Charlotte chuckled, tugging at her scraggly, braided hair. “Same as you, sweetie. An escape.”
Charlotte reached out and traced the tip of her finger across the back of my hand.
“Take your time, think about it.” She smiled at me, and her eyes wrinkled at the corners. “We have all the time in the world.”
Charlotte is invincible, I’m almost certain. Like a hummingbird flitting her wings, she is unstoppable. But then again, she’s already caught.
A bird without wings at all. Just like me.