From his position in the parlour, Bird could could see the long gravel road that isolated them from the rest of the town. He watched the droplets of rain race each other from one panel to the next and splatter against the glass with an oddly comforting rythm.
The orphanage was made of entirely of decaying wood, thick vines creeping up the front, and the faded outlined letters that once advertised a sanctuary for 'unwanted' children. When the children were inside, passersby barely noticed the place at all, and anyone who did assumed it to be abandoned. Unfortunately, it was not.
Bird’s eyes were heavy as he watched the rain. His muscles ached, he had found a rare moment of rest in his dense routine. Mrs. Holder had used him as free labour since he could walk, he was the only reason the building still stood.
It was his birthday.
He only knew because Mrs. Holder had been telling him since he had first opened his eyes that morning. Even as he sat before the large window in the old armchair, a rare break in his packed schedule, she reminded him. “You see this!?” She questioned as the paper jumped in front of his face. She had barged in while he was in a daze and now blocked his view of eh rainstorm.
“You’re sixteen years old, Bird!” She declared as if he didn’t already know. “’Means I can only keep you here for two more years, if I’m feeling generous!”
Bird sighed and stared at his bent knees. He’d been at Mrs. Holder’s orphanage since before he could remember, he also couldn’t remember a single time she had ever been generous.
She huffed at him before waddling around the room, moaning and groaning about how lazy he was.
What a windbag.
He stayed curled up in in the old armchair, cracking the knuckles on his bony hands. Mrs. Holder was still going on about something, but he wasn’t listening.
He sat back and let his sandy blond hair fall over his face and folded his thin arms over his middle. Mrs. Holder’s voice was a nail scraping along the chalkboard in the back of his brain. He stood up and smoothed down his hair as she continued to squawk at him. She was a short yet large woman; Bird wasn’t scared of her, despite her outweighing him by about 100 pounds. He looked into her beady black eyes and felt his face twist in annoyance.
Running through his head were the dozens of senseless chores she had assigned him to just in the past week. Things that she was supposed to be doing herself, or hiring people for. Unfortunately for Bird, he had been used for free labor since before he knew how to read.
“Oh, now you’re scowling at me!?” She scoffed, clearly enraged. “The hell are you going on about?” Bird asked angrily. She threw her arms up in frustration, the crumpling birth certificate still caught in her claws. “I could’ve shipped you away years ago! God knows they’d pay me good money to do experiments on a freak like you! But no, never! Out of the goodness of my heart I kept you here, and for what!?” She was irate.
Bird rolled his eyes and began to walk out of the lounge; he could see the rainy desert landscape outside the overly windowed walls.
She trailed after him.
“Are you listening to me Bird? Heaven’s sake, why are you acting so ungrateful?”
Bird didn’t stop, or even turn around. “What have I got to be grateful for? All you ever do is insult me and tell me to do all the housework. I’m on my own for everything else.”
Mrs. Holder stood and sputtered nonsense in shock for a few seconds. “Blow a tire?” Bird teased, looking back at her with a smirk. “For God’s sake! I could call the cops on you for this, they’d kill you in a second!” She cried. “Can’t be that obvious Genie, I got all the other kids fooled.” He replied smugly. “You’re disgusting.” She spat.
“You’re disgusting.” He mocked in a high pitched voice.
“Why don’t cha call the cops then?” He challenged. She sputtered nonsense again as Bird strolled away from her and up the dark wooden stairs to his room.
She’s finally through with me, what a tragedy.
Bird’s thick work boots thudded up the stairs. He reached the top the dark staircase and came up into the middle of a long hallway. There were six doors lining the opposite walls, each one hiding a room with their own sets of beds. He knew this because he had cleaned them twice a week for the past ten years.
There weren’t nearly enough kids at the orphanage to fill all the rooms, most of them had been empty his entire life. Especially now that all the kids were out at the park, though the rain would surely bring them back soon. Bird opened the door to the first room in front of him.
He felt like himself, for the first time in his entire life.
A small boy with bright red hair was waiting for him when he got in. “Charlie?” Bird called. “I thought you went with the others to the park.” Charlie shook his head. “Everyone keeps yellin’ at me. I’d rather stay here.” He replied.
“Yeah, why not, screw em.” Bird reached under his bed for his rucksack and started shoving his clothes inside: flannel, flannel, acid washed jeans, flannel, white shirt, blue shirt, black shirt, not an overly veritable wardrobe. “Where’re you going?” Charlie asked. “Dunno, but Genie’s finally getting sick of me, so I gotta split.” Bird replied in a rushed voice as he wrapped his comb and packet of bandages in a cloth. “You’re really leavin’?” Charlie asked sadly. “Yep, sorry Charlie.” He pulled the sack onto his right shoulder and slipped his left arm under the other sleeve. He sat down next to small boy and ruffled his hair with his hand. “What am I gonna do without you?” Charlie whimpered. Bird frowned and pressed his lips to Charlie’s head. “You’re the toughest kid I ever met Chuck, you’re gonna be fine.” Bird meant what he said. He knew Charlie had other friends, he’d known Bird since he was a baby, because Mrs Holder could only look after so many kids, Charlie had been his responsibility.
I’m the closest thing he has to a parent.
Bird felt guilty as Charlie peered down sadly at the floor. He hugged him tight and stood up, dropping him down on the bed when he let go. “Well, you’re gonna miss me, and you’ll come back, like a real hero’s ’posed too.” Charlie said dreamily. Bird nodded, but he no idea where he was even going. Bird fixed his rucksack on his back again; he reached under his pillow and pulled an old baseball cap over his curly hair.
I’ll never see this place again.
With his mind still racing and his legs feeling lighter by the minute, he slung his bag around his back and turned towards the door. He stopped just before stepping into the hallway, his knuckles were turning white as he held the side of the doorframe. He couldn’t force himself to look back. “Gimme a ring when you get out of this joint okay? If you got time out of your busy day counting your money and driving your Mustangs.”
The warmth of the moment was snatched away by Mrs Holder’s voice.
“Bird! Bird! Get down here!”
“Cut the gas Genie, I’m coming!” Bird shouted back. He dropped his rucksack on his bed and ran down the stairs. Genie was still standing in the same place she was when he left, her thick arms were open in display of sympathy that made Bird’s mouth sour.
“I am sorry, Bird, but you gotta know that I’m putting my whole business at risk keeping someone like you here.” She explained gently. Knowing that was the only argument she could logically use against him, Bird let his breathing return to a normal speed.
“Yeah, whatever Genie, is that it?” He sighed.
“No. Listen well now, if you ever disrespect me again…I’ll take you out into the desert and shoot you through those pretty blue eyes, and ain’t nobody gonna say anything about it.”
“Gotcha, Mrs. Holder.”
Shoot me out in the desert, as if.
Bird waited in the parlour until the other kids came back from the park. He heard Mrs. Holder greeting them with her fake cheerful voice, he slowly pushed the old screen door open, the rain had stopped. He leaned back and looked around the corner in time to see that Charlie’s red hair had joined crowd of kids. A grin took over his face as he stepped out into the desert, closing the door slowly behind him. He knew Genie would be too busy with the other kids to look for him, so he calmly walked away from the orphanage and into town. No one paid him any mind; he didn’t know anyone here anyway. He didn’t know anyone anywhere except Mrs. Holder, and he hated her like a snowman hates the spring. He only paused to move his Smith & Wesson from his sack to his front pocket, and then he made a plan to keep going till he got to the train station.
Bird had gone into town dozens of times for Mrs. Holder, he knew every shop and every corner; and he hated every inch of it. As he walked down the street he passed the hundreds of faces. He was sure he’d seen them all at least twice in his life but no names or voices came when he saw their faces, surely it was the same for them. The one salvation was the train station, not a passenger, a cargo train. It always made him feel like a way out was close by, now it was.
His boots slid down the sandy hill as he dodged cacti and rocks. The train was about to leave, he didn’t know where it was going. It had grown dark on his walk across town, he couldn’t see any signs of other people around. He got to an open cart full of crates. Once he’d climbed in he was hit with smell of cigarettes and vinegar.
Of all the train cars, had to be the one that makes my eyes water.
He sat down between two stacks of crates, he could just make out some kind of white plastic bag. He rummaged through his rucksack and pulled out a whiskey bottle wrapped in a paper bag. He’d gotten it for free from a store a while ago; he’s kept it hidden from Mrs. Holder, it wasn’t even open.
He cracked the top and took a quick swig, then closed it back up and put it back in the bag. With each inhaling breath his nose burned and he struggled not to cough.
Screw cigarettes, this train is going to kill me.
His back was already tired of leaning against the crates; he turned around and leaned against the wall of the train car, peering out into the dark. The lights of Amarillo shone over the sandy hill in a dull yellow.
The train blew its whistle and Bird remained very still as people rushed passed the car, sliding the door closed as they went. The door slammed against the end of the wall and re-opened slightly, enough for Bird to still get a view of the city lights.
Charlie came into his mind; the one good thing he’d ever known in his life. Any guilt he felt for leaving him was washed away by relief and excitement. Bird could go anywhere he wanted to, he was free.
He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes as the train started to move out of the station.