when we were still kids, my brother jose found an abandoned baby bird & we tried to make it a nest in our backyard. he made me find the materials—twigs & rocks & earth—while he got lost humming to it, pressed the baby bird tight to his chest, comforting it with his palm’s heat. he didn’t let me hold the baby bird because i didn’t know how to be careful. but i could pet it—& the baby bird was soft, its feathers felt like touching warm summer grass. after looking at my sad nest, jose told me we needed to convince our dad to let the baby bird sleep inside, in a real bed. i agreed & we plotted: plotted to crash into our dad as soon as he got home from work, beg & promise we’d take care of it, that if he let us keep the baby bird, it would make up for him taking our dog far out into the desert & leaving it out there, all alone. we plotted until our sister let the boys from next door into our backyard, who wanted to play with us, who got bummed when we told them no, who crowded my brother when they saw the baby bird, let us see! let us see! they pat the baby bird’s head rough & asked, why is it not flying? is it broken? i shrugged & jose didn’t say anything. he didn’t like talking a lot around them because they made fun of the way he spoke. sometimes jose had a hard time with his r’s & s’s, he was born like that, tongue-tied. birds are supposed to fly, the taller one said. you just have to make it. look! he snatched the baby bird out of jose’s hand & cannoned it into the air—the baby bird went high, high, high, disappeared over our backyard wall, falling somewhere into the desert nothingness behind our house. we listened & heard nada—not a small chirp, not even a flutter—& i think my brother went above his body then: his fists wouldn’t stop swinging, not even when both of the boys’ noses erupted in red springs, not even when he knuckled craters into the walls of our room, & not even the next day, when we broke into their house & thrashed about, destroying anything we thought they loved. ’cause that’s the only way we know how to get revenge, by hurting.
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JJ PEÑA (he/they) is a queer, burrito-blooded writer. JJ’s work is included in the Best Microfiction 2020, anthology and Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions (2020). JJ is a 2021 Periplus fellow, holds a BA in both English and Anthropology, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. JJ’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square Review, Cincinnati Review, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. JJ serves as a flash fiction reader for Split Lip magazine.