Corbin Rutherford Scaggs fell off the roof of the single-wide trailer he shared with his mom and older brother Tommy. His wrist was fixed with five pins and a titanium plate and the surgeon prescribed him Percocet, but it didn’t really matter because Tommy took the pills with him when he skipped out again.
Corbin gave Tommy a month to come back before he moved his brother’s belongings out of their bedroom. He tied everything up in three black garbage bags and tucked them under the trailer, moving a broken section of lattice skirting and dragging the bags behind him as he crawled underneath.
Corbin drew up the blinds and opened the window. He breathed dusty sunlight and pulled the dry flies out of the window track with the fingertips of his healing hand. He threw them out the hole Tommy had knifed through the screen. He climbed up the ladder to the top bunk, Tommy’s bed, and stripped the sheets. He looked at the brown stain, dark at its center and fading though a spectrum of tans and yellows as it spread. He fought the mattress with his bad hand and finally got it flipped over. He lay down on the clean side of the bare mattress and stared at the collection of boogers that dotted the ceiling like stars. Corbin made his own constellations: The Scarecrow, The Fist, The Owl.
. . . . . . . . . .
Corbin pulled his sheets from the dryer and brought the clean bundle to his nose, smelled for the bold promises of the dryer sheet box.
“Hey Corbin! Come see!” Corbin looked through the window and saw Janie Myers calling, waving him over a few trailers down. She was still holding that beat-up teddy bear, the bear Corbin was fetching for her when he fell off the roof. It was Tommy who’d thrown it up there.
Corbin tossed the clean sheets up top his new bed and went out to meet Janie. The teddy dangled in one hand and a pellet pistol in the other. Next to her stood the Davis brothers, Jessie with a Daisy bb gun and Rusty with a stick. On the ground in front of them was a pigeon without eyes or a beak, bleeding, flapping a good wing and a broken one. Its legs were broken in half.
“This thing won’t die!” Rusty said. His mouth hung open after the last word, slacked and then curving into a grin packed with crooked teeth.
“Who’s turn?” Jessie asked. He was a small clone of his big brother. Specks of pigeon blood dotted his face.
“Give Corbin a turn,” Janie said. “He can kill it.” Corbin watched the bird flop and then picked it up, held it firm as the bird pecked blindly at his hands with its gaping mouth hole.
“Kill it! Kill it!” Rusty said. Corbin looked at Janie and then at the boys. He left with the pigeon.
“Asshole!” Rusty yelled and raised his bb gun. He pumped it quickly and shot, barely aiming, missing. He pumped the gun again, but Corbin was inside the trailer before he took the shot. There was a metallic ping as the bb hit the aluminum door and the bird startled, flapped out of Corbin’s hands and fell to the floor.
Corbin found the old Ace bandage from under the bathroom sink and wrap up the bird. “This’ll keep you still.” He said. “Warm too.” He left the immobile bird on the small kitchen table and went to the freezer. He pulled a double orange popsicle from the icebox, ripped off the paper and melted the whole thing under the kitchen tap. He found some clear tape in the junk drawer and went back to the bird. He held a popsicle stick to the bird’s legs for a quick measurement and put the stick in his mouth. He shook it between his clenched molars until it broke to length.
“I’m sorry. I know it hurts.” Corbin straightened the leg and held it firm to the stick. He fumbled with his free, bad hand and pulled the tape from the roll using his teeth again. He dropped the roll and wrapped the tape around the stick and leg until it was a tight splint. He did the same with the other leg.
. . . . . . . . . .
Corbin dug with his hands under the trailer. The dirt was cool and damp from the shade and the perpetual slow leak from one of the pipes that ran underneath the trailer. He found a small earthworm, and then another. He put them into a plastic cup as he found more of them. Soon the cup was filled halfway and he crawled back toward the open lattice. Rusty and Jessie squatted at the entrance, watching him. They had their bb gun and stick.
“I want the bird back,” Jessie said.
“Well I ain’t givin’ him to you so you can kill him.”
“He’s ours,” Rusty said. “We found him on our porch.”
“He’s nobody’s,” Corbin said. He looked at the bb gun in Jessie’s hands. Jessie smiled and raised the gun.
“I pumped it twenty times. It’ll break the skin, might even break your jugular.”
“Then you’ll die!” Rusty said.
“For a bird,” Jessie added. “Give him back. He’s ours.”
Corbin looked at the brothers and thought about Tommy. He wondered if he was ever coming back. Now would be a good time. Tommy would snatch up both of the boys by the scruff and kick their asses all the way back home. But then he’d probably kill the bird himself.
“Alright.” Corbin said. “He’s inside. Let me out and I’ll get him.” The boys moved and the light shone in the opening again. Corbin scooted on his butt through the dirt, holding the cup of worms. He stood and replaced the lattice. The brothers walked ahead. Corbin walked up quietly behind and snatched the stick from Rusty and cracked Jessie upside the head. Rusty went for the stick, clawing Corbin’s arm. Corbin shot a hard knee into the boy’s groin and dropped him to the ground. Jessie was laid out, reaching for the bb gun. Corbin raised the stick cracked him hard across the knuckles over and over until the boy gave up on the rifle. Corbin panted. The Davis boys cried in the dirt.
“Sorry,” Corbin said. He stepped over them and went back into the trailer with the worms.
The pigeon had managed to wriggle out of the bandage and it was lying on the yellow linoleum. Corbin rewrapped the bird and placed it back on the table. He pulled out a plastic cereal bowl from the dish pile in the sink and placed a few worms in it. He added milk. He took a large spoon and worked like an apothecary with a mortar and pestle, grinding the worms and milk into a gray paste. With a tiny measuring spoon Corbin began feeding the bird’s open hole. It couldn’t swallow and the paste flowed out over the bird and the table.
. . . . . . . . . .
Rusty Davis answered the trailer door. Through the outer screen Corbin could see Jessie watching cartoons. Jessie turned around and spoke for Rusty.
“What the hell do you want? You got our bird?”
“I need the beak,” Corbin said.
. . . . . . . . . .
Corbin again removed the lattice skirt of the trailer and crawled underneath. The Davis boys followed. Corbin untied a bag and began fishing through Tommy’s contents: clothes, stiff pornography magazines, action figures, papers and trash. In the second bag Corbin found a two-piece ceramic ashtray. He removed the lid and peaked inside, handed it to Jessie. Rusty moved in to look. The tray was full of fat marijuana roaches.
“So give me the beak,” Corbin said.
“Can we have the pornos?” Rusty asked.
Inside the trailer, Corbin and the brothers looked down on the bird, the mess of worm paste and the bird’s own filth smeared on the Formica tabletop.
“You fixed his legs,” Rusty said. “Jesus, he’s a mess.”
“You guys did this.” Corbin said.
“Can we smoke this in here?” Jessie asked.
“I guess. My mom isn’t coming home till after dark.”
“We should get the bird high,” Rusty said. Jessie punched him in the arm. “Ow! I’m being for real. Like how doctors give it out in California.” He turned to Corbin. “Shouldn’t we?”
Corbin thought. “It can’t do him any worse.” He rolled the upper and lower beak parts between his fingers. “And we need him calm.”
The brothers lit a big roach from Tommy’s ashtray and took turns at it, holding the smoke in their lungs before blowing it into the bird’s eyeless, beakless face. Corbin searched the junk drawer again and found a small tube of super glue.
“That going to work?” Jessie squeaked.
“It’s what they used to close up my wrist. Same kind of stuff.”
Corbin sat at the table. The bird squirmed in the bandage.
“Hold him still, huh?”
Jessie put his hands around the bird. “It’s all right,” He told the pigeon. Corbin applied the glue in a thin strip around the edge of the beak. He held it tight against the bird.
“The tube says thirty seconds,” Rusty said. The boys held silent for over a minute. Corbin pulled his hands away slowly and the beak looked good, it held. The boys smiled. Corbin went to work on the top half of the beak, rolled it into position between his fingers and applied another thin strip of glue.
“I think you need some more,” Rusty said over Corbin’s shoulder.
“Shut up.” Jessie said. “He knows what he’s doing.”
“Both of you be quiet. Hold him still.” Corbin pressed the beak to the hole and held it tight. It looked perfect. It was the best anyone could have done.
He pulled his hand away. The bird followed. “Oh shit. I glued it to my fingers.”
. . . . . . . . . .
Corbin lay in his bed staring up at the bottom of Tommy’s old mattress between the support rungs. The graduated staining reminded him of a chopped tree and he counted the rings. He wondered if he should trade mattresses. The pigeon lay on his chest, still except for the up and down movement of Corbin’s breathing. Corbin looked into the dry eye sockets and wondered what birds saw in the dark of their own heads.
“You’re going to be okay,” he said as he stroked the bird’s neck. Corbin pulled tentatively, but his fingers held firm to the beak and the beak held firm to the bird. Corbin closed his eyes and tried to be a bird.
Jessie and Rusty said their dad had a gas can in the back of his truck they could get. That was a while ago. Corbin hoped the gas would work. He was thinking maybe a razor blade was a good idea when the brothers finally came back, pounding on the trailer door.
“Corbin!” Jessie yelled. “Corbin! We got the gas!”
Corbin opened the door and the sun shone in warm and bright. He squinted. He didn’t see Janie there behind Rusty until he stepped outside. She was holding the red gas can.
“Dad’s can was empty.” Jessie said. “We had to walk down to the Shell. Janie paid for it.”
Corbin looked at the girl. She tucked her greasy hair behind her ear with her fingers.
“Was just a dollar,” she said, looking at her shoes.
She held the bear under her arm and Corbin wondered when the pair of them had last been washed. And then he looked at the girl and realized she was very pretty, a grubby little beauty with head lice. Janie noticed him looking at her and she blushed. She kicked at the ground in her beat up, oversized All-Stars and waved the gas can back and forth. The solvent sloshed around inside.
Jessie had Corbin sit on the ground with his arm out. Rusty held the bird still while Jessie pulled the plastic cap from the nozzle. Jessie brought it to his nose and inhaled deep and long.
“Ever huff this stuff?” He asked. He sat Indian style where boy met bird and doused the connection with gasoline. “All right, try to work your fingers free.”
Corbin pulled, but his fingers weren’t separating from the beak. “Pour a little more,” He said.
There was a shriek and Corbin recognized it as the loose timing belt on his mom’s old Cutlass. He looked down the main drag of the trailer park and saw the two-toned beast turning into the lot.
“Oh shit! Hurry up! Man, my mom’s going to kick my ass when she sees the mess on the table.”
“I’m trying man, pull!” Jessie poured more gasoline and doused the bird.
“Ah hell!” Corbin said.
The car stopped with a squeak of the brakes. Mom was smiling. She held a red and white bucket of chicken under each arm.
“Look who I found!” She said. It was Tommy. Shirtless and hair cut short, shaved to the skin nearly. He had fresh ink on his chest, a cross, and it looked infected. He smiled at Corbin, sucked hard on his cigarette.
“First one of these I had in thirty days! Fucking DOC assholes. Next time I’m goin’ on the run. How you doing shit head?”
Tommy didn’t wait for an answer, didn’t seem to notice his little brother was glued to a bird. He stomped up the wooden porch and entered the trailer. Mom watched after him, smiling, proud.
“I’m so glad he’s home.” She turned to Corbin. “You finish up with your friends here and come in to eat with the family.” She went inside and the kids just looked at each other, waited.
“Corbin!” Mom yelled. She was outside so fast the word was still in her mouth. “What the hell did you do in here?”
Before Corbin could say anything the trailer door flew open again and Tommy came out, the last quarter of the cigarette clenched between his teeth.
“Asshole! What’d you do with all my shit?!” Tommy pulled the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it at Corbin. The fumes caught fire before the cigarette even hit his hand.
Corbin ran down the length of the park, hand and bird blazing, the unraveling bandage trailing and burning behind him. Jessie finally caught him and tackled him to the ground. Rusty helped hold him down while Janie beat the flames with a stick. Corbin watched her. She was scared, so pretty and scared. She raised the stick again and again, trying to kill the hungry fire. Corbin watched it all in the glossy black eyes of the bear as it stared back, limp at Janie’s feet.
–Story by CS DeWildt
–Photography by Manuel Estheim