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Gabriel clicks off the connection on the phone. I've been hanging around, toying with my hair and rubbing my earlobes and generally doing other useless things while he talked. It's all really his department, anyway. For someone so solemn, Gabe sure has a lot of friends. He's been eager to have a place and the time to do something like this, but it seems like half the time I only know people or help people because Gabe knew them first. Only Jesymyn, back at Hayden Heath, has really been _my_ friend. It's funny, too, because people always expect the opposite. Maybe I drew it out of Gabe a little; I don't know. I do know that I feel distinctly useless in _serious_ social situations a good lot of the time. But he's excited about this, and in a way I am too. Heck, I'm a lot excited. Nervous excited, but excited.
Gabe looks at me. "Ready?" he asks me.
"There's a girl... not talking, depressed, but eating and otherwise healthy... Other than the SCABS, that is."
"Of course," I say. I lean down and toy with my shoe.
"They want her in a home to see if she'll open up a little bit; it's been months in a large place with lots of people and barely any progress. Apparently this lady has a lot going on and she'd like to see Jezalyn in possibly permanent surroundings."
"There's an aunt and uncle or something, but they're not up to taking her. Whether they're anti-SCAB or not I don't know. Kent..."
"Kent, Wuffie, are you sure?"
I straighten up. "Jezalyn? Is that her name?"
"And you, Gabriel. You want this. I can't ask myself just about me."
He looks so dark, like always. He wears his solemnity well, anyhow. "You and your girls..."
He blinks and gives a bit of a bemused smile. "My girls? They're the ones who charm me and then claim I help them."
"But you do. You do help them. I knew when someone called saying they needed us that it would be a girl. You attract lost girls like moths to flame."
"Well, it's a simile. Get over it." I laugh at him a little, but then rub the back of my neck and look at him submissively. "Jezalyn."
Could be a good sign. I take the few steps towards my 'beest-morph that it takes to hug him, mostly because I want to but also just to buy me that few extra seconds it takes me to make up my mind. "Yeah, let's go through with it. It'll do me good to contribute to society for once."
Gabriel chuckles in that incredibly low tone that _must_ be just like something African only I can't think of it right now. My hair is teased up in front because I needed something to do, and he smashes it down probably because he knows that since I'm within range I'm going to ruffle his mane and he might as well get even.
I do ruffle his mane. "So, She-Beest--"
"She-Beest," I insist, "Do they expect a call back this evening?"
"No. Let's go to the library. I need to find out a little more about Jezalyn's form."
"Macaw." He looks down at the pad near the cordless phone's resting place. "Hyacinth macaw."
"Full-morphic. About three feet long, more or less, I think. Big, for a bird."
I nuzzle into his neck. I almost don't want to think about it right now. Every question brings on too many more. I'm sure Gabriel can handle this just fine whether I actually participate or not.
At the same time, I know I signed all the papers and did all the questionnaires and sat in at all the meetings for a reason that has something to do with me, even if I wouldn't have done it without Gabe. I used to think it had something to do with wanting to be a mother, but that's not it. Not exactly. It has to do with we SCABS sticking together, perhaps. Maybe I want one more on our side. Whatever it is, I know it's not simply because I need to make this lovely wildebeest-person happy. I would do a lot to do that. I would probably take in a foster SCAB to do that. But something else about it excites me, too. I was honest when I said we were in this together.
Jezalyn the Hyacinth macaw. "How old?"
"Sixteen, when she changed less than a year ago."
He grins. "Let's hope so."
"Awww..." I tug at his beard until he tosses his head up in irritation. "She will be. And if she's _not_, well then I'll just be sure to let everyone know that it's because you are such a poor influence on her."
"You know I will be."
Gabe sounds rather serious. Once in awhile it can be hard to tell, and this time I opt for not-joking. "Come _on_, Gabe! Who better? If anything you'll be the only sane one she comes in contact with, among our friends. You're too worried to be a bad influence. It's us blithe persons you have to worry about."
"You blithe persons are too perfect to worry. You have nothing to worry _about_."
"We worry about you serious persons."
"All right, fine. I gotta shake this funk before it starts-- I need to read up at the library. This is something I want to do, Kent. I love you for letting me try."
I kiss him. "I love you, too."
Gabe stands there a minute more like a timer has been placed on his position and he has this moment to think and the next instant to move. He breaks, grabbing his stuff for the car on the way to the door, and I sneak my arm in around his waist so he doesn't forget we're going together.
Gabe is always, it seems, even in private, just a little embarrassed when I wrap an arm around him or follow him around; he gives that signature smile now, and I almost think he's going to remove me before we get to the car, but he doesn't.
I drive on the way to New York. We couldn't
possibly have forgotten anything in the
preparations of the past weeks, but on the other
hand I just know we're going to be making harried
trips to pet supply and grocery stores on many
occasions in the weeks yet to come. I'm sure I'm
going to suck at this. Gabe, now Gabe will be
marvelous. Gabe showed me in the books we were
skimming-- he found a good picture of our girl's
form, and although I was tempted to fix it in my
mind I figured that wasn't such a safe thing to
do, so I wouldn't have any preconceived notions.
Naturally, the main item playing in my head since
then has been that one photo. Behind its sweet,
psittacine face with the bright black eyes tumble
supplies and advice and all sorts of other
superimposed questions and set-ups and
difficulties... Maybe nothing will go wrong,
maybe everything will. How will we know if we've
really done our best? She's not talking, they
said. If we can't get her to respond, have we
_failed_ or is it something that was meant to be
that way? Is anything less than perfect ever
meant to be that way?
I ask around about God, sometimes, and I get the most interesting answers. Most of them have to do with there being some reason for "bad" things, but whether that reason is due to God's blessing or to God's wrath, or both, varies from person to person and sometimes even within the same person's replies.
There shouldn't _be_ young girls turned into Hyacinth macaws, should there? I tend to lean towards the affirmatives holding the burden of proof and question the ones with a God. None of them seem happy with the idea of suffering being random or meaningless. Of course, whether you have a God or not, it's not meaningless. It means something to the person undergoing the suffering. I guess the question is what it means to _God_, if anything.
There aren't supposed to be lesbian girls born into male bodies, _are_ there. Do you believe in God? What does it mean to God?
Oddly, they all seem to think that God did it, and for a reason, rather than that He _let_ it happen... Or, you get the dark reply that God didn't do it at all but demons did, and God let it happen because we asked for it.
Jezalyn asked to be turned into a Hyacinth macaw? I asked to be transsexual?
The drive is conducive to thought. Thought-voices provide the soundtrack to the images of steel, powder-coated macaw cages and pamphlets and emergency doctor and vet numbers and, solid, through the slightly smeared windshield, the road unrolling in forested and variously paved increments under the just-checked tires. Gabriel watches out the window, and I wonder what he's thinking. I don't ask, though. He'd ask me in return and I'd have to untangle all of the myriad associative ideas and attempt to give him some honest answer.
Mentally, I reach out and touch him on the shoulder, the knee. Maybe I'll get a chance at the next stop sign to spread my concentration around a little bit.
Jezalyn. No, some of the questioned God-people would reply, _she_ didn't ask, and _you_ didn't ask, and _Gabe_ didn't ask. It's mankind that's evil. Somehow Man made a choice, without the current generation's say-so, and now we're all treated to rides like SCABS and AIDS and _God_ only knows what next.
So _God_ made my body the way it was, the way I felt and grew and became when I was a child, before the SCABS. He did not make, but allowed, the-- *gasp*-- transsexual orientation, an orientation which was beginning to shimmer at the edge of my consciousness before the virus. That, and the SCABS, are the "bad" parts. The rest is good.
I didn't know, until I began my impromptu explorations into Faith, that you could pick apart God's creation like that.
I feel Gabe looking at me; I smile at him, supposing my own road-hypnotized eyes are blank as his as they refocus. "You okay, 'Beest?"
He shrugs. "Yeah."
I blink a few times. The car buzzes along, occasionally clicking over tar strips in the highway. "So."
Gabe draws in a deep breath, the kind that comes after sitting in one place too long. The reels of cut-and-pasted macaw advice and macaw possibilities and girls and SCABS and wolves and God-fearers play merrily on. I grip the steering wheel nervously, then relax before Gabriel can see. I'd best not be nervous, if he is.
"How you feeling?" I ask, not nervously.
"_You_ okay, Wolf?"
I nod, sort of.
I sigh. "Gabe... I love you."
"I know. I love you, too."
We drive. He waits. The green on some of the lower parts of the trees outside the passenger-side window complements his blue-grey, short, fine coat in such a way that I want to take a photograph. I try to slot the image into the series of thoughts crossing my cortex anyway. Gabe.
Now we're adding one. Can we even do it? Are we ready for someone else who is hurting the way Gabriel was... is, sometimes, even now? Won't his life be emptier _without_ someone else, though? Hasn't he wanted this?
"I just don't know if I'll be good for you in this, Gabe."
"Do you want to change our minds? Say so."
I shake my head no, vehemently. "I just don't know if I can do what you need me to. I mean, it's going to be hard, isn't it? And all the equipment, and the _watching_, and the _thinking_ and... and mistakes, because I'll make them, you know I will, and I wasn't raised with other kids like you were and I never real-- I never really had any, you know, friends, as such..."
Gabe's eyes on me feel so warm as to be almost hot in their caring. It's a dangerous gaze. He's used it on his girlfriends before. "I don't care that the rest of the people in your life before Hayden Heath were stupid enough to divest themselves of your company. I don't care if you do nothing but get in the way, but I know you won't. Trust me. I want you and I want to take care of that girl."
"I want to help you."
Add into the pictures in my head the image of Gabe in the Black Box Theatre at Hayden Heath, doing everything he could to divest _him_self of our company as his classmates and Department-mates; the smells and quiet, almost menacing sounds of the hospital where the only real colors were from the visitors and Gabe's new fur and the best, and only important, scent was his dusky wildebeest-ness that I clung to and saved for identification of the man for ever afterward. Before that, the only _consistent_ identifying smell of Gabe Carter was that of blood, and never, it seemed, the same blood twice. Always somewhere on him.
_He_ never had his family turn away. He did it himself. I guess we'll all find our hate and despair somewhere. He came out to his grandmother, finally, though, and with that admission and return to his family he was letting the wall down, because they _knew_, they knew all along, and they wanted to do nothing but support him.
So, he was his own homophobe and anti-SCABS activist and with it all turned inside into the cracking and shifting he never paid the rest of us any mind at all.
But he wasn't stupid. He was scared.
Angry, and scared.
I could excuse my parents, then, from stupidity, by noting their fear.
They feared me, and it turned to abhorrence.
I look Normal. I do look... Different, but I appear Normal.
Their knowledge is what changed things, not _me_.
Gabe says, they were stupid. They were all stupid. He says he was stupid not to give in to the affection everyone tried to show him. I was _sent_ away to Hayden Heath, while Gabe ran from his family to a school willfully branded by SCABS.
Something doesn't quite finish the cycle, though. Something in Gabe's current reassurance and most welcome adoration of myself (eagerly returned) just doesn't cut the whole shape out and show it for... Whatever it is.
I can't stay quiet and road-dazed for long. Anything fiercely encouraging on Gabe's part makes me giddy. He wants me. Maybe the girl, Jezalyn, maybe she won't ruin things for us and maybe I won't ruin them for her. Maybe, heck, of _course_ life is wonderful and perfect and I might as well sing.
I sing most of the way there, excluding at stops, some of the time. Gabe tells me, sometimes, that I sing in my sleep. I highly doubt it.
Then again, dogs paw and whimper and sometimes howl when _they're_ asleep. So perhaps I do. It would be just like me. I just sing. It feels good.
The house is _huge_.
It's mostly white, like the kind you'd expect to find on a hill unless the hill were in a Gothic graphic novel. Even before we step up the gravel drive to the red stonework leading to the front doors, we hear birds. Gabriel flicks his ears, pausing as though to identify various species from among the babbling many. I don't see that he can actually do so, but his demeanor is so professional that I can't help but be impressed.
Standing too long without announcing our presence to the household is going to make me antsy in a moment, however. I unlatch the driver's side back door and remove the slate-colored, "quality, long-lasting plexiglass-fronted" travel case, ordered in the size said to fit Hyacinth macaws. We couldn't very well strap a bird into a seat belt, and I hope fervently that this will suffice, will please and not in any way offend our silent, new companion. It is, I suppose, a first offering to Jezalyn. If she accepts it, then at least any unacceptable further offers were not the _first_ impression.
I wonder how much she's been told about us. I wonder... Whether she cares, beneath the depression and the unnatural quiet, that she's meeting us or going anywhere at all.
I shut both doors on my side and at the second *chunck* Gabe vibrates his neck muscles and shakes out of his bird-listening. We give each other one more quick look, I think, with an odd excitement and sinking feeling simultaneously, our last look before we are three in the family instead of two.
I may be just a little bit jealous. All of his other girlfriends go home after their visits, or sign off the chat channel on that Transformation List at _some_ time every night. Our home _will be_ Jezalyn's home. Yet, my fear is more for her and Gabe than it is for me. I know he loves me. I just hope she likes Theatre People-- and that a she-wolf arriving at unspecified times won't send her into a mental relapse. My seizure-transformations could be more than a little disconcerting, to someone with not much for a sense of smell and an evident lack of ability or desire to communicate.
The house has been washed or painted within the past year, and its whiteness does not diminish up close. Gabe clicks the blazing-brass knocker in its holder two or three times and we wait.
Amongst the ever-present bird chatter footsteps approach the door and the latch is undone with a rich, soft "chik" that is nearly muffled by the seals around it. What a big, expensive, quiet place. The only extraneous noise is from the birds; it could almost have been planned that way, except that their exuberance and occasional testy tones confirm that the aviaries that must be inside and also, from the sounds of it, around back of the house, are in keeping with the will and tendencies of the animals themselves. So far, I like the place. I pat the carrying case absentmindedly. If the type of lady who lives here is being shown to us accurately by her house, then if she says we will be good for Jezalyn, it could most likely be true.
"Ah, hello! Come in! You can set that down near the cages, I'll show you where. Rhoda will be here in a moment."
I glance at Gabe, whose eye-whites are showing slightly. The butler, looking pretty much butlerish and grinning broadly in a genuinely pleased greeting, ushers us along the impeccable foyer, under an arch into a large reception room with a live tree growing among various polished white and gold tables over black-and-white tile, and into a hall from which emanates a somewhat insistent voice:
"I'm TEll-ing YOoooouu, I don' WANNA STAY OUT TOonIGHT when there's a FIRE in the GRATE by your siiiiide..."
"What the heck song is that?" Gabe wonders agitatedly, obviously unsure of himself now that he's here.
"An old one," chuckles the butler, "and I'm afraid I was a little too fond of it. It's too late now, though. He picked it up from me and he has far too much fun with it to let it go."
We enter the hall and the singing stops; we are greeted instead with the sight of two enormous welded steel bird cages, one forest mottled green and the other black. The brilliant green, yellow, navy, sky-blue and touch-of-red parrot in the green cage clings to the uppermost bar in his ceiling and contracts and dilates his pupils swiftly in his orange eyes.
"Hel-LOH!" he says in a woman's voice.
"Hello," mutters Gabriel to the bird, and it makes self-satisfied clicking sounds while chewing gently on the foot it is not using to hold onto the cage.
Really, Gabe and I barely look at him after that one glance at his enthusiastic demeanor and flashy colors. The other cage, the black one, is silent and may as well be full of mere toys and equipment as with anything living, for all the motion or sound coming from it. However, there is a gentler psittacine scent from this cage than from the musk-pervaded green bird's cage, and once we focus beyond the bars, on a shape pressed up against a large cotton knot chew toy, we see Jezalyn clearly.
Pictures could not begin to describe her. Indigo feathers, black beak and eyes, and sun-yellow skin surrounding and accentuating the black. She seems to be smiling, because of the way her beak is made, and the whole face has an air of serenity and extreme sadness. If we could just fire that spark of intelligence, get those obsidian eyes brightened and alert rather than so shining with some impossible sadness.
You see, I am already bound and determined to _make_ this child happy. So there it is. Gabriel, too, is spellbound. I suppose we came here expecting to love her, so perhaps we are seeing things that are not there, things present in any person anyone likes and not anything particularly special.
But she _is_-- _something_.
Jezalyn holds perfectly still. While we stand there staring at her, unthinking for the moment of any shyness we might be sparking by gazing so unabashedly, the other parrot climbs to peer between the bars closest to our girl's cage and helpfully asks, "You gon' talk, Jez-yn?"
He speaks respectfully, but with a touch of expectance and impatient hope, again in the woman's voice of his greeting.
Gabe whispers, "Are you going to talk? Should we quit looking at you?"
I realize then how rude the staring is and turn away, embarrassed; Jezalyn is spellbinding and seems to show no body language of irritation or fear; it makes her seem like a piece of art.
"What's your name?" I ask the parrot in the other cage.
His orange eyes flash with the motion of his pupils. "Ollie," he says, cocking his head at me. "Ollie. What's yours?"
"Kent Dryer," I tell the bird, smiling.
"Who are you?"
I am about to reply to that when the same woman's voice comes from the entrance to the hall: "Hello! Ollie, they're friends of Jezalyn's. Visitors. They're the nice people who are taking Jez home with them." A woman with white hair, bleached whiter yet from the scent of it, enters beaming and ready with a handshake.
Ollie clouds for just a moment. He stares, making some breathy sound that could be either a hiss or a considering mutter. Then he brightens.
"You gon' talk, Jez-yn?"
"We'll see if we can get her to talk," I offer.
"See, Ollie, I warned you she would be leaving."
Ollie pouts. Gabriel and I shake hands with the decidely casual and at-ease homeowner. "I'm Rhoda," she says, "as you have been told on the phone, and as you can see, this is Jezalyn. She's an absolute darling, but I'm afraid we aren't doing what she needs here-- I feel she could certainly socialize if she felt she had a reason to. Jez, honey, these are the men I was telling you about. They're going to see how you like it at their apartment in Pennsylvania. They don't mind if you don't talk, but they'd like you to."
Jezalyn makes no response, although she seems to gaze at each of us in a remarkably penetrating way.
"Jez," I begin, almost finding it hard to speak with her bright black eyes so steadily sad in front of me, "I'm Kent, and this is Gabe, and we're going to Pennsylvania where we live; we came to take you with us, if you want to go. I brought a carrier--" I hold it up-- "and we have a cage like the one you're in now, only grey instead of black. Everything else has been set up just like it is for you here and you can ask for anything you want. We'd be honored if you'd consider it."
"We would," affirms Gabriel.
Rhoda waits a moment to see whether Jez will reply, or maybe just to sense how we feel together. Whereas Ollie starts, flaps, and then shows curiosity at the carrier being lifted up to the birds' level of sight, Jez makes no reaction whatsoever. Her smooth, blue feathers never shift nor ruffle and her only sign of life besides that gentle smell is a perfectly timed, slow blinking. Depressed. Deeply.
Rhoda takes Gabe by one arm and guides us back up the hall, telling Jezalyn, "I'm going to talk to Kent and Gabriel in my study, and we'll be discussing you, so if you want to know what was said just ask. I'm going to tell them about your family, Honey."
I look back at the macaw, but there is no response.
"We'll come back soon," Rhoda says, "and you can think about the offer to go with them in the meantime. Ollie, thank you for being a good bird. I'll be back soon."
"Good bird," says Ollie, bobbing happily.
As we leave for Rhoda's study, the musk-scented green parrot finds his singing voice again and begins treating Jezalyn and the entire front area of the house to yet another old verse, clashing joyfully with the other species' chatters and calls in the backyard and other aviaries.
I know what they're going to hear; what Rhoda has to tell them.
I wish she hadn't said it, even to be polite. I don't want any right to hear what she's going to tell them. It reminds me every time. I can't move. I freeze in place like I did that night, like I'm stupefied or just stupid, like there's nothing I can do now or ever.
It's over. But it's not. I'm still stopped cold by it.
And if I talk, what then? Do... Kent, and that other man Gabe, do they know enough about birds to know I'm not stupid?
That's why Rhoda brought Ollie. To show I could be like him if I wanted, to prove to me birds aren't dumb. I don't think she knows that I talked, before. When I was in the hospital, before anyone felt I was stable and safe to send... home... in the hospital, I talked to the doctors, or tried to. It's a parrot's voice, but clear. Like Ollie's but deeper.
Ollie is a blue-fronted Amazon. Rhoda will be telling them that. She'll tell them how I wouldn't eat anything but what I had to eat out of duty to keep alive, and how she brought Ollie in so I would see him eating his fruits and vegetables and treats and hear him talking and singing and maybe be stimulated to try it myself.
I was so quiet, you see, it was spooky.
It was easier just to eat what I had to. I have to keep alive, because otherwise I'll die and Rhoda would have failed and that wouldn't be fair because it isn't her fault.
It's so much harder with Ollie here. Sometimes I want to laugh at things he says and I just can't do it because it's as if a spell would be broken... I could never go back... If I go with them to Pennsylvania, there will be no Ollie. No other birds at all, and no people but those men and their friends and it will be kind of like living at-- home.
It might be quiet enough and they might be distant enough that I will never have to change anything and I can stay just like I did that night, still and alone. I don't see how I can do anything else. The world hates SCABS.
That big one, Gabe, the SCAB, has fur that reminds me of my mother. My mother had-- had a sweater that color. They said I could have a cage, and certainly Rhoda will know how much I like this knot to hold and will tell them to get one for me. I won't have to say anything, and I can crack pelleted food in my beak and get it into my crop and digest it and not do anything else.
It's disgusting, I know. I know it's disgusting to be a SCAB. Maybe Rhoda wants to give me to those men so that all the SCABS are in the same place.
No, I know that's not true. She helps lots of SCABS people. They called her when they had patched my wing and needed a safe place for me to go. She has so many birds that they call her the "Bird Lady" or the "Parrot Lady", which is why the veterinarian my doctors found recommended her, but she also does things for SCABS. She helps college student researchers and a designer to work on some kind of voice equipment that some SCABS use, only they're trying to get the vodor machinery to convey emotion.
Ollie conveys emotion. Maybe they could learn something from the animals that are clean and good, the born animals, like Ollie, instead of the BAD ones like SCABS who turned into them from the disease. I'm a disgusting animal, because I was a person first. Ollie commands a high price and is very charming, because he was a born animal. All of Rhoda's birds right now besides me are born animals, but she has helped many others. Birds don't need voice enhancement; we just need... to want to talk. But other animals, like Caitlin, sometimes they need help. They're working on different equipment for Caitlin.
Rhoda and her inheritance send Caitlin to school. I don't know if her family died too or whether they couldn't afford to keep her with medical bills and sending her to school. Caitlin changed only partway, and is in a wheelchair that she operates with her paw on an electrical joystick. She drools. I don't do anything. I just sit here. I mean, I have to preen every day because my beak itches at the base and my skin feels like it's being sucked dry by my feathers if I don't. And after the helpers spritz me and Ollie with water for our shower I need to preen. I eat. I go to the bathroom often. Birds have to.
Caitlin always tries to talk to me when she's home on vacation. They try out different prototypes of vodor and she tries to get me to talk; she drools and chuckles and teases me that if she's talking with all this equipment, doing what I could do with my own syrinx, could she trouble me for a little praise of her efforts?
I feel sick; I really do. I don't mean to make them worry about me. But, really, what else is there to do?
Maybe if I refuse to go, throw a fit like Ollie when Rhoda tries to put him in the wrong carrier, they'll decide I'm not worth the effort and they probably already think I'm stupid anyway, and they'll let me be and not get involved with me.
I wonder if Gabe has been attacked, or if he hasn't, if he thinks that he will.
He will, you know. Or Kent will, for being with him. Maybe... Maybe in the City they come from it's not like it was in my family's town. But I know Caitlin is not Rhoda's relative so she had to come from somewhere. I'm not the only one who ever got diagnosed with SCABS at the hospital outside our town, but I never saw a SCAB besides me, until Caitlin. Nobody wants to be seen with a SCAB. No SCAB should ever be seen. It's not right. The hospital should maybe have euthanized me. Then no one would have failed and I wouldn't have to keep myself alive and silent like this, endangering those men as I did my own-- my own-- did my parents ever think of _this_ when they said they wanted me home as soon as possible? They're gone, it's over, I'm as bad as I ever was because I am still a SCAB, but they're gone. Two for one. Where do other SCABS go? Won't we be killed just driving back to their apartment, if I ride with Kent and Gabe? How did they get here safely? No one could mistake _him_ for a born animal or for a normal person.
Things must be different in the City where they live... Or they've just been lucky.
But most people are nothing like Rhoda. She would never let anything hurt me.
Especially not if I stay real quiet...
Didn't my parents _know_ they would be killed? It was suicide to keep me! They should have known! No one in our town would stand a SCAB. They found out about the diagnosis. The word got around. They could have injected me with something, and two would be alive instead of one, and no one would ever hold it against them.
I have an uncle.
I have an aunt, too, but she has no say. They were supposed to take me in in the event of anything ever _happening_ to my parents. The arrangement had been on ever since my mother found out she was pregnant. They sent me a card with a check, same as every year, for my sixteenth.
I have an uncle, and one time, when we were all in the car, he saw a spotted cat running into the road too late to do anything about it. There was a *thump* and a kind of a creaking sound and the motor never stopped accelerating to make the next hill, and I said, "Stop! Stop, you hit the cat!"
"I hit it, yes, I couldn't do anything about it."
I started crying. I was young then.
After a few heartbeats my aunt said, very low, "Please, Howard, it might have been a SCAB."
My father was clenching his jaw and making tight fists in the back seat. He never trusted my uncle, not as his sister's husband. But he trusted his sister with me; it never crossed anyone's mind what might happen if any of us got the worst disease.
"Howard," whispered my aunt. "It could have been a SCAB."
My uncle said, "All to the better."
I don't know what happened in the phone call
to my relatives when the doctors tried to find a
place for me, but I remembered the cat low and
running in the dark and reaching into the
headlight beams with one white leg while its
spotted body followed in what _couldn't_ be enough
time to escape. I don't know what was said. But
you see, I am here. I don't know whether my aunt
tried to do anything.
It's safer, for them, of course, if she can't talk my uncle around. The same thing would probably happen to them if I came into their home.
Nobody knew, in all the gossiping and outrage, what form it was that I had supposedly taken, and that saved my physical life. They thought I was a bird, a real bird, not a disease one. I only got grazed with a bullet, and it hurt like hot wire or a burning infection with fever. The police got there in time to save me and stop the bleeding and arrest some of the gunmen. I stayed still and quiet. The blasts and cracks of guns and light and smoke never reached me, never really. All that reached me were the screams; they were the only real thing, and they were sad, not frightening. My mother screamed and sighed my name until she didn't anymore. My father was killed instantly with a bullet to the head that came with the first spurt of breaking glass. He had gone to see why headlights were swinging into our driveway.
If I had stayed still _enough_, if I had never moved and never been ready to take home from the hospital, then my parents would never have been accused of harboring a SCAB. No one knew what I was. They ransacked the place looking for a monster, until police came. They were taken away frothing and shouting and screaming that they had had to take action-- there was a SCAB, a SCAB, didn't the police realize.
"Jez-yn, you gon' talk?" Ollie tries, switching his grammar to see if it will be more effective.
He's bright and active to look at; he likes me. I could have been part of one of the aviaries if I had been a born bird. Now I am a disease, a virus, a shape like a bird that only avoided burning and slugging to death by bullets by holding perfectly still.
I know they're hearing the story. I don't know what they're feeling about it. I suppose I should go with them, when they go. Maybe there are things to do there that I don't know about yet. Perhaps someone else thinks I'm okay besides Rhoda and her employees and her friends.
Perhaps, on the other talon, I can be silent and still and there will be no noisy, friendly Amazon and I will be able to fade into a paler blue. This color is altogether too noticeable. If someone knew I was a SCAB, they would have an easy shot.
Caitlin could never be mistaken for anything other than a SCAB. Maybe there's some way to tell with me, too.
Maybe my _silence_ gives me away.
Rhoda knows birds, and she says I'm too quiet. I don't know what to do. I can't break the spell. It's sad and dangerous not to and I still can't do it.
Caitlin scares me, the way she always travels and talks and draws attention to herself because she's so sweet. I hate to hurt her feelings. I could talk to her. I could. I can't. She has that motorized wheelchair that calls attention in and of itself and she can't even hold her own head up because it's a huge black Newfoundland's head and the rest of her is skinny and small. When she next comes home from school, I could be gone. Rhoda could write and tell her what a nice place I got. She could see it with her big brown eyes in her safe SCAB school and I would never have to look at her again.
_Is_ there a way to tell, with me?
Am I as obvious as Caitlin?
Am I worse because I hide?
But isn't she endangering people...
Ollie speaks quietly for some time, but I'm not listening and he knows I'm not. Finally he wraps one foot around a bar across from my perch, so we're sitting next to each other but in separate cages. He fluffs up and trills softly, then closes his white eyelids and relaxes.
I huddle behind the rope knot on the side where I will most be obscured from the garden outside the window.
Just in case.