Her fingers ghost over her rocky mountain lips as she tastes the rust of the run off. She smears the stains on the back of her hand and stares at the toenail poking its way through her battered sock, like the beaks of birds that used to fall down her parents’ chimney and get trapped in the walls. She could hear their cries as she slept, and see the tips of their beaks breaking through holes in the brick.
A boy falls and she sees the bird in his face and reaches to help him. A father is there, lifting the child into his arms and glaring at her outstretched hand. He hisses about getting a job and hurries off. She stares at her open palm and wonders why he couldn’t see the bird in her.
Those shrieking creatures crying out, clawing and climbing, trying to find their way in the dark back to their home.
Someone tried to give her a home once. A blue van filled with blue shirts and blue blankets and smiling faces. They took her to a room lined with scratchy beds and false hope. She was comfortable and feeling safe again, but when her two weeks were up, she was shoved out the door with a prayer and a new sense of loss.
She got two showers there. Two showers after months of grime and grease, and now, she wonders if everyone can smell the piss. The mud. The sweat. Her top is nicer. She found this cotton salvation slung over the monkey bars at a park. There’s a story there. She passes time creating the origins of the paisley pullover with the name of a school she could never afford stamped across the front.
She is smiling, when she feels it against her cheek. She wonders if she’s crying again until she hears the laughter and watches as the teenager swallows, reloading for his next spit slingshot. It hits the embroidered letters and she can’t rip the offending fabric off fast enough. The dirt and ash and sweat were hers. The sweater was hers. He had made it his now.
She is scraping the shirt against the brick wall, crying out as she tears the spit and hate and shame from the threads, when a voice taps her on the shoulder. It’s pity and high; it reminds her of blue and birds and she runs.
Her sandals slap against the concrete, drowned out by the purposeful clicks and claps of polished loafers and heels. She doesn’t like the crowds, but she has to keep moving, even if she isn’t going anywhere.
Kelsey is currently studying to become an English teacher at UW-Green Bay. There, she works as Publicity Director for UWGB’s Journal of Art & Literature, Sheepshead Review. This summer, she will be studying abroad at Oxford University, while in the fall she will be an intern in UWGB’s English department. She, and others, hope to start an on-campus writer’s circle and a student organization to promote and protect the Humanities. She wants to inspire youth to read and write so they can understand themselves, and the world around them – and maybe get a book published along the way!