Jack Slay, Jr. teaches English at LaGrange College, a small
liberal arts school in southwest Georgia.
His work has appeared in publications such as
The Habersham Review and Mississippi Magazine and Strange Days.
"Big Bird of Paradise" comes as a result of watching a little too much
Sesame Street with his three young sons.
is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments,
please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All materials copyright 1996-2000 by their respective
creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be
posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
Big Bird of Paradise
by Jack Slay, Jr.
When the Children's Television Workshop called, Brad
Thaddeous accepted the job immediately. He was desperate for
work. His last role had been over three months ago, a postmodern
absurdist riff by one of those confusing British scribblers.
He'd been playing a cast member playing an audience member who
becomes so entangled in the action on stage that he steps into
the play to assume another actor's role (who is then revealed as
an audience member who has become confused earlier and taken the
role from another cast-turned-audience member).
Brad had tried to fold himself into the role, but it never
came, that magical stumble within himself. Instead, he found
himself flustered and dizzy with all the turn-arounds and -abouts
and had missed his cues, repeatedly. On the third night an
elderly woman with hair the color of bruised plums slugged him
with an over-stuffed purse (alligator it felt) when he stood to
deliver his first line; Brad, limping, had been asked to quit.
He was, the receptionist for the Children's Television
Workshop told him, her voice harsh and mechanical, the only six-
foot-seven actor on immediate call, the only one who would fit
"It won't matter, will it, that I have only two toes on one
"The big toe and the fourth one, on my right foot. I was
born that way." He'd lost the others when a bull, backing out of
the stud chute, had misstepped, the hoof cleaving Brad's toes
instantly. He'd been six.
"We really don't care as long as your foot fits the bird's."
The voice resumed its controlled distance, though it held the
lilt Brad always heard when he mentioned his foot. "Tomorrow,
nine sharp--there'll be a set in Central Park West, just short of
the Jackie Kennedy Reservoir. You know it? Good. We'll send a
script. Questions?" The stoned-bee drone of the phone line
filled his ear before he could answer.
He'd been in New York two years. If asked, he always said
it had been the cows he'd run from, the herd beyond herd of his
father's dairy farm. Life in Paradise Georgia had been a
stifling of predawn milkings and incessant lowing; his future had
been little more than an endless procession of rubbery, hand-
smoothed teats and forked, beclotted hooves. They eyed him with
their slow bovine eyes and he could see reflected there a life
His father, a man hard bent into dairy farming, was the real
reason he'd fled. He'd been old when Brad was a child and was
now slower and grayer, his body hunched almost double by the
constant stooping of dairying. Brad was his only son. He never
knew his mother, gone before he was a year old. From the moments
Brad could first remember, his father had groomed him toward the
farm, molding him into an endless, manure-scented life. He hated
it all: the drone of lowing cattle, the zing of milk against the
galvanized pail, the sharp and constant odor of cow.
When the stage called in a grade school reenactment of the
first Thanksgiving (he'd played Indian #3 -- his only lines "How"
and then again "How"), he had pursued readily. Even then he'd
recognized it as escape. He left Paradise Georgia just minutes
after the last curtain call of his senior class production of
West Side Story (he'd played Jet #3, no solo, no soliloquy),
leaving in the middle of the night, creeping past his father's
closed bedroom door and slinking his way through the pastures
heavy with the scent of cow and their massive droppings. Dipping
under the barbed-wire that marked their property, he looked back
to see the silhouette of his father standing astride a gentle
knoll, his back to him, the moonlight casting him in soft
shadows. He never turned around. The cows lowed quietly around
them; it became, in memory, the sound of his leaving.
He entered New York as Jonathan Bounderby, his birth name, a
name he had (since somewhere along eighth grade and a little less
than midway through waiting for Beckett's Godot) considered too
plain, too bouncy, too white. He changed it his second day in
the city, using Brad Thaddeous for the first time some three or
four days later. In a single afternoon he found an apartment, a
part-time agent by name of William Lomison (the name so close to
that role that it couldn't be wrong), and a role as Mr Earthworm
in a local fishing commercial. It was his first costume. The
tunic, slinkylike, was tight and claustrophobic. Breathing had
been a chore. He didn't own a tv so he never saw the final cut.
That had been two years ago and a little over five years
after the first folding.
Even now Brad couldn't think of a better description for
what happened. He'd been 12 verging on 13 and his body and mind
had been riot with change, much of it angry and confused. The
machines were down that day and Brad, then still Johnnie, had to
milk by hand. The teats felt like worn-out and empty gloves,
soft and used. The cows, most of them great shuffling jerseys, a
handful of holsteins, irritated him in their gentle mindlessness.
Tired and late for rehearsal, Brad lay his forehead, pale and
dotted with pimples, against the heaving flank of an ancient cow
and listened to the slurp and dings of his pail slowly filling.
He folded into the cow.
A sweet prickling bloomed in his mouth and he rolled the
mash over and over again between teeth now huge and flat. The
cud loosened and he swallowed. Deep within him, a rumbling vexed
and swelled in one of five gastronomic chambers, the lowest one
it felt. Below that, he felt a gentle tugging, a sensation that
filled him with comfort and warmth, a loosening. He nodded back,
his head tremendous, barrel-sized, and through eyes that felt
ridiculously large, saw himself huddled small and wet-looking on
a three-legged stool, his head seemingly sealed to his own steak
flank of cow. He was, simultaneously, both cow and himself
within the cow.
Brad had snapped his head, his real head, back in disbelief.
The cow stared silently back at him. Brad stood shakily and
backed away from the heifer. Before leaving the barn, he hawked
deeply and spat out a wad of thickly-chewed grass.
From that day the folding came and went. It was a kind of
internal looping, a turning inside-out as if he was being pulled
through a velvet keyhole. Mostly he folded into the herd, once a
dog (yap! yap! yap! happy happy! yap! yap! a flea! yip!), several
times nothing objects, a chair (cold, inferior), a shoe (soft
and, surprisingly, love). Confused at first, Brad in time, as he
had with his two-toed foot, accepted it as the oddly missed cue:
something you took as it came and worked into the surrounding action.
He tried to explain it once to his father, measuring his way
carefully through his father's reproachful gaze. "It's like this,
Pop --" But his father's bemused consideration -- and beneath
that, Brad was sure, his disappointment -- turned him away. He
kept quiet after that, harboring the folding within himself.
When Brad showed up on set Wednesday morning, he spotted the
costume immediately, far more yellow than he remembered from his
He was scheduled to film three scenes, all in front of the
bronze Wonderland statues, all with children. Working with kids
was an unfamiliar role and his stomach rolled slowly in his
nervousness. He would have been more comfortable with a herd of
"You the Bird?" A squat man with pig eyes stormed up. He
stared up at Brad, his face fluttering with tics. He hardly came
up to Brad's chest and seemed a man very much in a hurry. He
asked, almost shouting, again: "You the Bird?"
"Yeah, yessir, I'm Brad Th--"
"BIRD'S HERE! PLACES!" The man produced a miniature
megaphone, almost a toy, and blasted his voice through it. "GET
THE KIDS ROUNDED!" He turned back to Brad. "Why are you still
standing there? Get into COSTUME!" The last word received the
megaphone. He rushed off, all shout and flurry.
A little dazed, Brad walked over to the costume lying across
an old table like some beached yellow whale. He picked up the
wings, wide skinflaps of feathers. It was heavier than he had
imagined. The beak, the color of banana, was as long as his
forearm; it bent slightly in the middle. The eyes, oversized
ping pong balls with black dots painted in each center, looked
crossed. He found a zipper running down the back.
"Hi," a small voice said behind him. "See you met Lew."
She smiled at him, this dainty woman, and it was brighter than
the costume. "He's directed a lot of the Street this season.
But man, he's tight. Unfortunately, you may get used to him--
just watch out for that voice-gun." She stuck out her hand.
"I'm Allison, I play Gina. We have a scene later this morning."
Brad took her hand. "Hey, I'm Brad. Thaddeous." He felt
his face go hot.
"So which is it? Brad or Thaddeous?" She laughed, a sound
like glass chimes, the kind his father hung from the apple tree
"Well, both. Call me Brad." He smiled and felt his head
"Here, Brad, let me help you with the costume."
It smelled of dust, the dry acrid odor of haylofts. It also
had a bad case of birdmange; featherless patches worked their way
across the back, exposing pimpled and wrinkled material, like
chicken skin gone bad.
"Front to the camera," Gina told him, laughing. "Carroll,
who usually works this costume, couldn't come in today.
Something about food poisoning, a bad duck someone said. Kept
the usual costume, too. This'll have to do."
The head was narrow and hot; inside, it smelled like someone
else's sweaty head.
"Look through the hole behind the beak. And when you nod
your head this way--" her hands firm through the feathers guided
him-- "the beak will look like you're talking."
The wings fit fine, but the feet, clumsy and orange with
claws, were too small. Brad took off his shoes and socks to give
himself a little more room. He felt, but couldn't really see
Gina staring at his toes. He shoved his foot quickly into the
birdfoot. The right one was still tight, rubbing against his
heel and two toes. Gina zipped him up.
"You look good, Bird!" She seemed to be smiling but through
the beak's peek hole he could see only the top of her head, a
bright feathering of brown hair. The costume was a coffin, hot
and tight, like he'd been swallowed by a giant worm. He wriggled
against the itch of the fabric and forced his breathing to a slow
pant. This was worse than Mr Earthworm.
"Here comes Lew again." Brad tried to draw her into the
tunnel vision of his sight, but Gina was gone; instead, he found
the director standing in her place, a windmill of flailing
megaphone and arms. He looked, Brad thought, like a munchkin on
a bad hit of acid.
"Let's go! Let's go!" Pinwheeling directly at Brad the
little man aimed his megaphone and fired: "PLACES! Bird, over
there in front of the Wonderland statue, behind the table. LET'S
GO LET'S GO!"
Brad hurried over, the orange feet clodding loudly; they
were like thick wet sandbags and the right one was hot against
his toes and heel. Behind a small table with a red and white
checkered cloth, Alice loomed monstrously atop a gigantic
mushroom; the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit capered to either
side of her, their shadows falling over Brad and the table like
black water. Taking his mark, Brad found himself amid a swarm of
hyperkinetic moppets, a hive of energy and syrupy fingers. They
fell on him, tripping over his feet, tugging his wings, clutching
and digging at clumps of molting feathers. A tiny hand caught a
brief hold of his beak and bent it further into its sad angle.
Brad yelped and stepped back, stumbling over a birdfoot. His
head thudded hollowly against Alice's outthrust elbow; the
costume's head gave a little, slipping slightly to the right. He
flung a frantic wing wide and wild and caught a birdlike hold on
the Hatter's face; Brad clung to the nose until the world
rebalanced around him.
"QUIET!" Lew's voice, a dark red exclamation mark,
bludgeoned through clatter and kids. They fell into a prompt
order according to size, and Brad, through the tunnel of beak,
could see a boy and two girls. They stood underwing, quiet, a
stairway of towheads.
"In this scene we do the difference game," Lew said, his
voice now megaphoneless. "Bird, do the motions, the beak, the
wings, the whole bit. Kids, watch and smile. Everybody got it?
Everyone's seen the script? Good. Okay, in three--"
"I don't know the words. They weren't in the script I got
last night." Brad could feel sweat sidling down his neck and
back; his wingpits were soaked. The costume itched, everywhere.
He was an anthill of bites and scratches.
The director gaped at him.
"Don't know the words? Don't know the words?" One of Lew's
eyeballs went askew, bulging. He stomped toward Brad. "YOU
DON'T HAVE TO KNOW THE WORDS! WE DUB, YOU FREAKIN PARAKEET!"
The megaphone's bell capped around the end of the costume's beak.
"JUST FLAP YOUR FREAKIN WINGS AND CLAP THAT BANANA BEAK!" Lew
stepped back and threw the megaphone to the sidewalk where it
ricocheted into the grass. The director jumped up and down three
times, his feet slapping loudly; small, locomotivelike grunts
popped out with each landing. His mini-tantrum completed, he
marched back to the cameras. An anonymous assistant had the
'phone back in Lew's hands before he was seated in the director's
Brad watched, bemused: his first director's tirade; the big
leagues, he thought. Lew reminded Brad of his father, and for a
second he could see him, alone with his herd way down in Georgia.
Brad took a deep breath, forced his head clear. He tried to
think bird thoughts. Be the Bird, he mantraed quietly to
himself. Be the Bird.
Lew raised the megaphone and Brad, the head still kiltered
to the right, asked, "What's my motivation in this scene?"
For a moment Brad thought Lew had swallowed his tongue; then
the megaphone bounced off his left ping-pong eyeball. He heard
the eye crack, an egg snapped against a counter lip. Brad jerked
to the right and the head flew free, pulling backwards over his
face to hang by its zipper, a loose flap of feathers and beak
flopping between his shoulder blades.
The children shrieked, a henhouse pandemonium. "The Bird
dead, the Bird dead!" a bland-featured girl, her face contorted
in horror, screamed over and over. He had become, Brad realized,
the thing under every girl's bed, in every boy's closet, a
revulsion, this decapitated oversized bird. He fumbled to
reattach the head and the children screamed again as a flock of
assistants landed about them and herded the children away. The
head finally situated itself, snugging firmly into place. The
tunnel vision seemed narrower and darker, but through it Brad
could see clearly Lew's twisted face--mostly gin-blossomed nose,
rimmed eyes and a bit of the slash of mouth. Lew was amazingly
The director, his voice tourniquet-tight, forced through the
cut of his mouth, "We'll move on to the next scene."
He turned away, lifted the megaphone, and screamed, "GINA!
Gina, her hair bouncing and her teeth a row of perfect
smile, walked over and settled against the toadstool. A
shuffling herd of assistants migrated over and moved the table,
then rearranged lights and camera angles. One of them lightly
patted at Brad's headpiece with an oversized powder puff.
"Hey, Bird, rough morning?"
"Yeah." Brad felt like a capon on a slow rotisserie.
"Still settling into the role I guess, trying to get my fix on
it. This suit--"
Lew appeared between them, jamming his megaphone into Brad's
chest, dinging his wishbone. Even through the pads of bird
stuffing, it hurt. Brad took a small bird step backwards.
"Okay, you two, let's get this one right." Lew's eyes, hard
red diamonds, drilled in through the beak tunnel. A slow crimson
wave swept his face, bottom to top, and he screamed. "YOU GET IT
The blown first scene had been his fault Brad knew. It
wasn't like him to spoil a set. Even back home, on the set or in
the herd, he acted with compassion and composure, the cattle
often mooing before him, a bovine ovation for a just-delivered
soliloquy: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and--" He had stopped his
pastured posturings when he folded into an orangish holstein with
hoofrot and had seen himself through her overly large eyes, a
frantic and spindly creature with dull hair and no teats. It
didn't help that his father had seem his performance as well;
he'd turned and walked away, muttering to himself: "Acting.
Shit." The words stung.
"ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME YOU FREAKIN PARROT?"
Lew capped the megaphone over Brad's beak. Deep inside the
padding of feather pillows, his stomach gave a soft lurch and a
low gurgle crept its way up his throat. He belched softly and
tasted the eggs he'd wolfed for breakfast. The bell disappeared
and Lew's face blocked his beak vision. It seemed even hotter i
Brad slid into character, and for a split second he folded
into the Bird, a frantic, madcap yellowishness, a fruity
joyousness! He cocked his head at the director and said, "How
about a birdseed shake?"
Unfolding in the same instant, Brad heard something pop in
Lew's head; the deep red drained from his face like a thermometer
plunged into cold water. Lew screamed again, a shrill cackling
of cluttered words that even Brad, standing this close, had
trouble deciphering, something about Lew wishing he'd stuck with
The small director, both middle fingers aimed at the sky,
spun and stomped into the small crew surrounding the cameras and
lights. The megaphone rocketed out of the middle of the crowd
and sailed toward Brad's head; he ducked and it bounced off
Alice's small chest. An assistant, the same one as before, came
from nowhere to catch it on the second bounce.
A scurry of assistants broke from the flock and surrounded
Brad; another descended on Gina. They ruffled and fluffed his
feathers, flapped and brushed his wings, dabbed, for some reason,
at his left birdfoot. Someone fanned him with a clipboard.
Another two plucked off his right eyeball and then reattached it
with a glop of what smelled like Elmer's glue. It felt somehow
crooked, cockeyed. Just as quickly the assistants, like a gaggle
of geese spooked, disappeared.
Gina sidled over to him.
"Hey again, Gina." He smiled but the beak, he knew,
probably didn't convey it.
"Allison, I play Gina."
"Oh yeah, right." The air in the suit heated up. It felt as
if it were shrinking, wrapping him in a Saran wrap of feathers
and pimply chicken skin. "I knew that--it's just that--" It was
getting harder to breathe; the air coming in through the beak
tunnel tasted pre-inhaled. His head seemed to balloon to twice
its size, the beak becoming a vice, wedging his face into a
compact version of itself, scrunching his forehead down into his
cheeks, his chin up into his jaw.
"--just that with all the confusion--"
His legs weakened and bowed outward; he leaned backwards
into the toadstool. Through the rough down of his breast he felt
Gina's hand stroke across him. His foot hurt.
Then, as though through tiny birdlike ears, Brad heard her
ask, "Hey, you okay? Bird? Bird?" and then from even farther away
came an even tinnier voice, "All set? In three--"
From deep within his gullet, he felt something give, a
breaking as if a hollow bone snapping. Gina's face came into the
tunnel. She moved in slow motion.
"THREE," he heard.
"Bird, you don't look--"
He vomited. It felt as if everything he'd ever eaten,
everything he'd ever thought about eating, rushed out. It
funneled down the beak and gushed, niagralike, into and over
Gina's surprised expression. In the birdseconds before it hit
her, Brad saw her expression turn to horror, as if she had just
seen a giant hand coming to squash her. A wet smacking sound
filled the air. Brad doubled over, a talonlike pain clutching
and releasing and then again clutching his abdomen. Vomit
splatted across the sidewalk and into the grass with a wet meaty
sound like someone striking the pavement again and again with a
raw steak. A final pain roiled through his stomach and then,
after a final, condorish gush, the spewing slowed, slowed,
Brad remained doubled over (it hurt less), his hands shakily
gripping his knees. He hawked deeply and spit something hot and
phlegmy from his beak; it stuck to the tip, and he wiped it away
with a feathered forearm. A thick puddle spread before his feet.
Looking at it closely, he could see what appeared to be tiny
scatterings of birdseed--and at the edge of the puddle, snaking
around a clump of seed, was a halfeaten earthworm. Brad wasn't
He looked up to see Gina disappear into a crowd; he started
to call for her but assistants swarmed about him with brooms and
a hose, blocking his view and path.
Brad turned back to Alice and her toadstool and Lew filled
his beak vision. He wasn't screaming; he looked tired. A blood
pressure pump dangled from his right arm; it flopped lifelessly
as he raised then lowered the megaphone. He said softly, "Can we
do the last scene, please?" Lew looked into the beak and then up
into the sky. His face had a dreamy, distant look, the same one
Brad's father had worn that night in the pasture, the night Brad
turned his back on the farm and headed north toward the stage.
"In this scene," Lew said, "you talk about the number nine. Got
The puddle had disappeared. In the corner of his
birdvision, Brad saw an orangeness, then a yellowness even
brighter than his own trundle past. He wiped his beak again and
looked for Gina; she was gone. His stomach seemed to have
settled into place. His foot, though, ached horribly; he could
feel blisters, egglike, on both toes and his heel. An assistant
hopped over and winged him into position behind a low table
directly below the Hatter. Beside him two small figures, nehi
orange and banana yellow, cavorted above the counter as a flurry
of arms and faces beneath them manipulated their nether regions.
Brad recognized them from his childhood; even then they had
seemed little more than a constant prattling and a mean tire-hiss
laugh. He looked away and focused on a tree in the middle of the
park, its leaves browning and sparse. He thought himself into
the costume. Be the Bird.
The children reappeared and were herded into place. They
shied obviously from his ping-pong gaze, and, once, one of the
girls, the smallest, jumped when a feather brushed her cheek.
"Hey look!" one of the puppets, the orange one, screamed,
his voice a dull bullfrog. "It's the kids!"
"Yeah, I been waiting all day for them! Hey kids, whatcha
The three sparrowlike faces lit up immediately and, Brad and
his costume forgotten, they huddled around the two halfpuppets,
honking noses, tugging sparse patches of topnotch hair, stroking
bright felt faces. The halfpuppets stroked, tugged, and honked
back. Brad felt a jealousy that wasn't his roll through him. He
ignored the feeling, envisioning a juicy worm. Be the Bird, be
Lew talked quietly to one of the assistants. Brad inched in
closer for the scene.
"Hey, watch that oversized canary--he's been known to lose
his head! Kheh-kheh-kheh!" The laugh was like air leaking out
of the world.
"Yeah, he's a real birdbrain!"
The kids squealed in delight and three tongues, pink
triangles of tease, flapped in Brad's direction.
"Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah," they chanted. He shook his head and,
in a hatching of self, he folded into the Bird. It was an
oozing, a slow motion bending of chance and worlds and being. It
was a slow tickling, as though a thousand feathers had briefly
caressed his body, a gentle trickling, as if he were melting from
the inside. The folding was as it had always been, the cows, the
puppy, the chair, all at once and an eon wide; it was hard and
pliable and full of light. He felt as though he was being pulled
inside-out. His face was suddenly long and gravel-hard, his feet
tiny and fragile, his fingers fused and feather-light. He knew
he could soar. At the last second something else swept through
him: anger, heated and rank.
With his head moving in jerks and twitches, he found the
pair, his sight no longer through a tunnel darkly but wide and
clear, vulturine. He focused on the bright colors of the two
below him and again a cold anger rushed through him.
They'd stolen it, taken it when he was at the peak of
birdness, when the show was his, only his. His tiny birdbrain
churned in a caldron of avian abhorrence. With their petty
arguing, their stupid prattling about bottle cap collections and
rubber duckies, they'd romped clumsily in and taken all. How
stupidly puppetish! Before he'd realized it, kids from all over,
kids all sized and shaped, had clamored for these two and no
longer for the Bird as they always had before. Just like these
three urchins now, squealing and blathering. They'd taken it
all! They'd stolen his show!
"Thieves!" His scream was a harsh caw. The set fell
instantly quiet, and in that brief lull, from seemingly far, far
below, as though he were circling clouds and everyone else was in
a chasm deep, he heard a man's voice, almost a whisper, "Not
Anger ran over him in a stampede of tiny birdlike claws,
digging and stabbing into his goosed flesh. His head reeled and
his wings felt heavy and flightless. He'd been plucked bare by
their popularity--the mere thought of their ill-shaped and false-
colored heads drove him over an edge, a penguin hurled from the
floe. His foot throbbed and his stomach flipped queasily and now
even his head hurt. His beak was cracked and useless, his wings
mangy and cumbersome.
Something -- light, feathery -- snapped.
In a single stumbling move that was both fluid and clumsy he
stooped and fumbled the oversized slipper from his aching foot.
Wildly swinging the foot, he charged the duo. He shrieked their
thievery, but his voice was little more than a wild squawking, an
hysterical cawing, indecipherable to the nonbirds that crowded
around him, pressing clumsily on all sides. He was aware of
them, from the corners of his bird vision, malformed and awkward
shapes; they fled like sparrows before the hawk.
The foot, in a swing both wild and furious, caught the
yellow one just below the nose. The most pleasant of ripping
sounds came from the puppet's neck and the head sailed upward,
upward, ricocheted off the White Rabbit's pocket watch and landed
at the Bird's feet, spinning.
The three children screamed in unison. The smallest one,
the girl, pointed at the head and shrieked, "Kilt Bert! Kilt
Bert! Kilt Bert!" The other two simply wailed and jabbed their
fingers at the head.
Then their eyes, as one, lit on the foot, the one uncovered.
The two toes, throbbing visibly, had swollen to twice their
normal size. Both were covered in tiny white pustules and the
big toe had a blister the size of a duck egg.
Again all three howled and the littlest changed her chant to
"Monster foot! Monster foot! Monster foot!" With arms flailing
and eyes as wide as goose eggs, they ran a quick and frantic
circle around the Bird, Alice's statue, the head, the headless
torso and his companion; somewhere behind the toadstool the other
two picked up the chant.
The orange one screamed, something about freak canaries.
The halfpuppet, really no more than a head and arms and empty
cloth, flung itself upward and clamped itself around the enormous
beak. Its tiny arms lashed and flogged at the face of feathers;
foam fingers, three, clawed at oversized ping-pong eyes. Wings,
in a storm of molting, snatched the bundle of puppet rage and
tossed it, like a down pillow, to the sidewalk.
"Die puppet die!"
The Bird, sasquatchian, stomped a rabid flamenco over the
lifeless bundle. It sounded like chicken bones in a garbage
The blister, slicing across the ridged edge of a button eye,
popped; pain jolted through the foot and shocked its way into the
costume and through the bird fury--and Brad tumbled back into
himself, a snapping of synapse, a reversal of folding, a
sensation of upside-down butterflies dipping and swaying through
knotholes. He stood there, his head swimming through foggy and
brackened waters, looking down at the puppet carnage below his
feet. Somehow the yellow one had gotten caught in the melee.
under Brad's feet lay a battered and torn patchwork of felt and
hair and stripes. Brad turned, his arms outstretched--
--and watched his son's back dwindle into the dark pasture.
His heart welled and his breath caught in deep hitches and gasps.
He wanted to cry out to him, to beg him back. But as a father he
realized, too, that this was Johnnie's time. Just over a crest,
only his shoulders and head visible as if he were treading in a
sea of grass, Johnnie turned and waved, his hand making lazy
waves in the starlight. He returned the salute and the meadow
trebled, becoming a blur of warping shapes. His herd moaned
around him and Johnnie disappeared. His heart hammered and all
he wanted was his son and time, time, time.
Brad refolded into himself just as a shadow, dark and hairy,
fell over the puppet shambles and swallowed him, an amoeba
swilling around a microscopic morsel; he had just time to think
big before his world bowled over.
He felt himself lifted and thrown, a ragdoll. He
experienced the briefest sensation of flying and then his beak
and shoulders met Alice's toadstool; what felt like her bronzed
kneecap smacked into his face. His beak snapped off and both
ping-pong eyeballs burst. It felt as if one of his wings may
have been broken.
He lay heaped below the statue, not daring to move. He
looked up, slowly and no longer through the beak tunnel.
Towering over him, straddling him as if daring him to make any
false birdlike move, was Snuffle-uppagus. The creature, its
elephantine shadow thrown long and hard over Brad, glared down at
him, its eyes plastic softballs of hate.
"You got him?"
"Yeah, he ain't goin nowhere," the front half of the
Snuffle-uppagus called back over its shoulder. "Want me to trunk
im one good time?"
"No, just get him up and outta here." The voice was Lew's.
The trunk snaked out and twined around his left wing,
yanking Brad to his feet. The Mad Hatter's nose speared into
what remained of his tail feathers. Behind the Snuffle-uppagus,
the Street crowd stared in wonder.
Brad waved and stammered, "Hey, I'm sorry ab--"
"Shut up. Get going." The command was mammoth, hairy.
Brad shut up. He edged slowly from around the creature and saw
Lew sitting in his director's chair, legs crossed, an ice pack
strapped firmly to his head. Again Brad raised his hand in a
small bird salute.
The director megaphoned in Brad's direction: "Keep the
costume. It's yours."
An assistant took a wide berth around him and began to pick
through the remains of the two puppets. Brad loosened the Bird
collar and took off the Bird head. The air felt good, wide, and
the sun was surprisingly warm on his face. He kicked off the
other bird foot and left it where it landed.
He walked slowly away from the set, his hands already
remembering the shape of rubbery teats, of warm udders, his nose
again smelling the sharp dung scent of cow and Paradise mornings,
his mind blooming with his father's folding. Brad, now more
Bounderby than Thaddeous, tucked the Bird's beakless head under
wing; he shook his own head and smiled. "This acting guano," he
thought, "it's for the birds."