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Fight or Flight
Words by Megan Collins
Image by Gretchen Gales
*Editor's Note: Previously published in 3Elements
When he was six, his mother had called him a “dumbass bastard” for trying to save that bird. She’d been smoking a cigarette in bare feet when she saw him pushing his toy truck towards their concrete steps. The bird, motionless on its yellow bed, looked wet and inside out, but Davey swore he saw—sometimes at least—the beat-up body breathing. Two decades later, however, handcuffed inside the interrogation room, Dave understood that the shaky rise and fall he’d seen that day might have come from his own desperate breath.
“Who do you think you are? Doctor Asshole? Think you can fix all the shit out there? Yeah, why don’t you fix your son-of-a-bitch father? Tell him to send us some goddamn checks.”
Davey’s mother flicked her cigarette into the dirt and marched towards her son. When she reared her leg back, Davey flinched, instinctively covering his face. He felt nothing, though—only heard the plastic clacking of his truck, only opened his eyes to see the bird flying through the air before it thumped without resistance to the ground, definitely broken, definitely dead.
“Now, scrub your damn hands. I didn’t make you dinner just so it could get cold on the stove.”
As Davey watched his mother stamp back inside, slamming the screen door behind her, he noticed his little sister in the window. She had Old Mr. Buttons tucked under one skinny arm and she was staring at the dark carcass on the ground. She seemed confused for a while, but then, as if coming to some conclusion, Sadie nodded her head and turned around towards the kitchen.
Slipping a finger between the metal cuff and his left wrist, Dave wondered what look was on his sister’s face now as she, his only phone call, sat outside in the station’s waiting room. Whenever he’d spoken to her after her shifts at the club, she’d always written the man off as “a harmless prick.” But every night, there was another story, another semi-stalking, and Dave’s hands had learned to curl effortlessly into fists.
Sadie would laugh. “I mean it, Davey, it’s nothing. He’s the kind of guy Mom would have called a ‘dickless perv.’ Just stay on the phone until I get home, though, okay? Not that I think he’d do anything. This way I just won’t have to talk to him if he shows up.”
But last weekend, on Easter, the two of them eating Chinese in her apartment, Dave had found the stack of notes. Then he’d looked at Sadie, saw her giggling as she tried to suck an unruly noodle into her mouth, and his bones went cold.
The hunting knife was all he had of his father. Dave usually just used it to cut vegetables or open packages. Still, his life had taught him this: where there are birds, there are predators. Even heading towards his cell, he knew he wasn’t sorry, wasn’t some dumbass bastard. He’d try to save the bird every time.