Lucinda Kempe ~ Queer Birds

I sat on the back­stairs, on the top step near the screened kitchen door, wait­ing. I did a lot of wait­ing. For Maud Ellen to come talk, or my grand­moth­er, Mamoo, or Daddy when­ev­er he’d appear, or for our dogs, Wanda and Beebee. Pinning down the dogs was easy; I could pre­tend to be a dog if I had to. I did wait­ing so well I’d turned it into art. But some­times I got bug­gy. Buggy made me feel like I’d burst. And around here burst­ing spelled trou­ble in a bot­tle full of lit­tle white tabs.

Maud Ellen mate­ri­al­ized from the front yard and dropped into Uncle Walter’s chair made of plumb­ing pipes, the same chair my father hanged him­self on. She had a Don Q and her Lark 100s.

Let’s talk about bats, Mama,” I said, using the inti­mate to snag her atten­tion. I was hap­py she’d come. I had to talk quick. Everybody in my fam­i­ly, except the dogs, liked flight.

Bats?”

I like bats.”

I know noth­ing about bats.”

Why not?”

Bats are not some­thing I am inter­est­ed in.”

Why not?”

I don’t think about them.”

I do. Bats eat bugs. I don’t like bugs.”

Yes, I sup­pose they do,” she said, puff­ing on her Lark.

I bet they eat those cat­fish-sized cock­roach­es like the one fly­ing around the chan­de­lier in the front hall last night. Mamoo was so fun­ny, shriek­ing and flap­ping her arms like she might fly, too, and you bat­ting at the roach like a slug­ger. Would Uncle John real­ly throw us out for break­ing Mummy’s antiques?

Maybe we could trap a bat, bring it inside. Get it a bat house and a swing. Whenever those roach­es come along, we’ll let it loose and watch as it sucks their necks. Or maybe it swal­lows them whole, feet first—the way the French do when they eat those lit­tle birds.”

Maud Ellen stirred the air, and almost blew me off the step. She stamped out her cig­a­rette. “I’m going inside to eat a banana.”

Don’t you think a bat would eat those bugs?”

I have no earth­ly idea,” she said.

She prac­ti­cal­ly flew up the steps. I jumped up to let her pass. The screen door slapped its frame. I want­ed to tell her we wouldn’t have to be afraid any­more about bugs and Mamoo pop­ping Phenobarb to calm down. As usu­al, I’d said too much.

In her hur­ry, Maud Ellen left her Larks. I sat back down, tucked my arms around my knees and prac­ticed wait­ing again. This time I’d wait for a sign. The sky was fast dis­ap­pear­ing around the arm of the oak. That’s when I saw it, a queer dark bird with a plas­ter-white face and eyes-as-blue-as-my-blond-head­ed dolls, fly­ing in the yard. The clos­er it came the big­ger it got until it got right up in my face. I opened my mouth. It glid­ed inside. As high as a kite on white tabs, I unfurled.

~

An M.F.A grad­u­ate of Stony Brook University, Lucinda Kempe’s work has been pub­lished or is forth­com­ing in Midway Journal, Bending Genres, The Southampton Review, Elm Leaves Journal, and the Summerset Review. Wigleaf longlist­ed her micro fic­tion (2018 and 2019). Her fic­tion “I Became a Girl” was nom­i­nat­ed for the 2020 Pushcart Prize.