Jailbird by Jay Kenny

In high school, Jailbird keeps a cut-throat under his wing, tucked in with the leaves and twigs for the nest in his room. Jailbird uses his beak to pick up a Stanley knife from the woodwork benches, pupils dilating fiercely in his yellow-flecked eyes as the rest of the class make bird houses; he drops the Stanley into his pencil case among the lead refills and sunflower seeds, the smell of pencil shavings, the musk of a feather he lost in a fight. Jailbird clenches blades from pencil-sharpeners between his talons until they sting. He knows there’ll be more fights. It comes with the territory.

The bizzies don’t frisk Jailbird on the school gates each morning like the rest of us. They don’t know which feathers to pat down, or where Jailbird would most likely conceal a dangerous instrument. They haven’t had the training. They don’t know what the fuck to do.

Young Jailbird in our midst, waiting.

We all see it coming.

At thirteen, Jailbird smashes through the back window of his mum’s house after school, wafting loose bits of glass onto the carpet. They crack like ice on a birdbath when he lands. Jailbird’s mum helps him shed his uniform – the few bits she can actually wear – a slackened tie, specially tailored trousers – an agreement she’d reached with our headmaster. Jailbird blusters out, unclad, through the front door, blood flinging from his feathers, eating a dinner of worms in the front yard.

We think of Jailbird’s pitiless stare peering out from his primary school photos, on the shelves in his mum’s living room. Jailbird malignantly indifferent; a look as cold and blank as the blades concealed in his feathers.

His first sight – once his eyes had split their pink skins – was of such strange creatures. Five days earlier, the midwife had picked him delicately out of his mother, assuming him – with alarming confidence – to be a miscarriage, and then dropped the deformity into a tin bowl where it twitched and writhed in mucilage.

Dear god, she said.

His dad wouldn’t sleep in the same house with those dry croaks and caws, baby Jailbird pecking the bars of his cot. And how, how, he asked Jailbird’s mum, could she breastfeed that fucking thing, or was she going to regurgitate?

Years later, in the local newspaper our grandparents read, we’ll see the grainy still from the CCTV. We’ll see Jailbird’s unmistakable form, grown even bigger, ringed with a red circle, like a target. Or a cage. Jailbird’s hawkish mugshot on North West Tonight, before the weatherman reports on eleven inches of snow in West Lancashire, so wrap up!

No good, that one, our grandparents will say of Jailbird. No good.

We think of Jailbird’s mum boarding up the back window, stopping to wipe her eyes with her fingers.

Jay Kenny studied Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University. He was selected for the Playwright’s Programme at Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, and his fiction has appeared in The Cadavarine, Scholars & Rogues, In the Red and Pulp Idol Firsts. He co-edits Damnation magazine and is currently working on a novel.

Boy smoking sitting next to a chicken
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