Feather, fiction by Elizabeth Glass

Wayne leaned back on the rock where he was kneel­ing next to Mandy when she told him she was preg­nant. He could feel the cool moss seep­ing damp­ness into his jeans. He saw Mandy look­ing and act­ing old­er after hav­ing a baby. His nose crin­kled at the thought. He nev­er mind­ed that with oth­er girls, most of the girls he had dat­ed had kids, but Mandy was different—young as he was and pure as the first win­ter snow.

Aren’t you going to say any­thing?” Mandy’s blue eyes were wide, and she used the baby voice that before he found cute.

Oh. Con­grats, I guess.” He sat back fur­ther and took a swig from his beer, then pulled his fin­gers through his beard. He told peo­ple he had a beard to get girls, but the truth was it so he could buy beer.

What’d L.J. say? Guess he’s hap­py,” Wayne said.

Oh, I ain’t told him yet.” She rubbed her hand across her bel­ly.

Wayne stared at her. “Why didn’t you tell him?” He looked back into the woods, shift­ing posi­tion on the rock off of an area that was pok­ing his hip.

You know he and I ain’t been hit­ting it. You’re the only one, Wayne.” She bit her lips. “I haven’t told him cause you’re its dad­dy.” Mandy looked at Wayne, then down at the ground. She picked up a beer, popped it open and took a long swig. “Guess I have to quit drink­ing.”

He swung his boots around the rock and looked into the ravine. They spent most of their time togeth­er there. Some­times they’d risk it and go to Mandy’s, but they nev­er knew when L.J. might stop by. Some­times he came by the house for lunch or made an ear­ly day of it. Once they near­ly got­ten caught, but Wayne jumped into the show­er, and Mandy told L.J. Wayne’s water was turned off so he was bor­row­ing theirs.

Wayne lived in his mother’s base­ment and he could do almost any­thing he want­ed there, with one excep­tion: he couldn’t bring mar­ried women around. Every girl he took over there, his moth­er would poke her head down the steps and yell, “Come here, you mar­ried?” She would have to look his moth­er right in the eyes and say “No ma’am.” Then his moth­er would pick up the girl’s left hand and look for a ring or marks where one had been. It’d got­ten to be such a pain that unless a girl actu­al­ly was sin­gle, Wayne didn’t take her there. And since near­ly every girl he had been out with was mar­ried in one form or anoth­er, he learned to be cre­ative.

He looked into the ravine, thought about jump­ing off the edge of the cliff, but fig­ured with his luck he’d just wind up par­a­lyzed. “A kid, huh?” His back was toward her.

Yeah. A kid.”

Well,” he cupped his lighter to the wind to light a cig­a­rette, “I guess we can get mar­ried and all. I could prob­a­bly get on full time at the track.”

Oh, well, there’s some­thing else I have to tell you, too, Wayne.” She paused. “Could I have a drag?” She point­ed to his cig­a­rette.

The pack’s there, get one.”

No. I got­ta quit. Just one drag.” He hand­ed her the cig­a­rette, watched her wine-col­ored lips curl around the end. God, she’s sexy, he thought, eye­ing her mouth as she exhaled smoke. When she gave him the cig­a­rette back, her lips had made a dark bur­gundy kiss on the end. “Like I was say­ing, there’s some­thing else. L.J. got trans­ferred.”

Wayne paused, look­ing out over the rocky hills. “Hmmm. Well, at least we won’t have to see him around every­where.”

Wayne, I’m going with him.”

Every day, Wayne replayed in his mind the day Mandy told him she was preg­nant with Feath­er. Some­times he made changes, things he wished he said like, “If it’s my baby, you’re stay­ing here. The hell you’re leav­ing!” He didn’t real­ize how much he wished Mandy was with him in Ken­tucky until he got the first let­ter from Alaba­ma with baby pic­tures of Feath­er tucked inside, a coral-col­ored kiss on the envelope’s seal. Mandy’s chang­ing and I’m not even there to see it, he thought, look­ing at the lip­stick col­or on the enve­lope.

He put one of the pic­tures of Feath­er on his bath­room mir­ror and one in his wal­let so he’d see her every day. So that he’d know just why he was work­ing fifty hours a week cut­ting meat at the track—the steaks and chick­en for the peo­ple upstairs, where he could nev­er afford to go. Why he put up with his boss yelling at him that he wasn’t cut­ting the meat per­fect­ly, with bones slic­ing into his hands even though he wore thick, hot, black gloves made to keep just that from hap­pen­ing. Every week he sent a third of his check to Mandy and Feath­er at the post office box L.J. didn’t know about. He knew it wasn’t any­thing com­pared to what L.J. gave her, but at least he was giv­ing them some­thing. At least maybe Mandy could get Feath­er a toy or her­self a new pair of jeans. The rest he split into three parts. One part he put in an old may­on­naise jar next to his bed to save for bus fare and hotel mon­ey for Alaba­ma. Every time he got enough saved, he fig­ured he’d go spend a week or so with them. At least be in the same town as them. One part he gave to his mama to help out with pay­ing for the house and bills, the oth­er part he used for beer, cig­a­rettes, and food.

Wayne stared at him­self in the mir­ror. God, I look thir­ty fuck­ing years old, he thought, splash­ing water on his face. He looked around. He hat­ed bus sta­tions more than any­thing he could think of: they all looked just alike, they all stunk, and there wasn’t a damn place to sleep and be com­fort­able. He walked out of the restroom and found some old guy sleep­ing on his worn sleep­ing bag. He’d had it since the year he was in the Boy Scouts, before he got kicked out for smok­ing on a camp­ing trip. It was way too short for him; if he put his whole body in it, his shoul­ders and head stuck out at least a foot. Usu­al­ly he let his feet stick out the bot­tom instead. He watched the old man snore; he looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. Shit, I can’t just wake him up, Wayne thought, so he head­ed toward the bus sta­tion restau­rant and ordered some over­priced cof­fee while he wait­ed. By the time the cof­fee got there, the old man and Wayne’s sleep­ing bag were gone.

When he got to Alaba­ma, Wayne looked around but didn’t see Mandy. He went to the tick­et counter, “You seen a cute girl, blonde hair, car­ry­ing a baby?”

No. You Wayne Fred­er­ick?” the man asked.

Yeah.”

Some woman called, said she can’t pick you up, but for you to go to the Motel 6 and she’ll call you.”

When?”

Shit, what do I look like? An answer­ing machine?” The man shook his head.

Wayne walked off toward the street. He looked up the address of the Motel 6, then found it on his map. He couldn’t walk that far so he hoped he could hitch a ride with some­one. Once he got out­side, he found the police sta­tion was on the same block as the bus ter­mi­nal, so he went back in to call a cab. It cost four­teen dol­lars to take a cab to the motel—fourteen dol­lars he hadn’t count­ed on spend­ing.

It was the next day before he heard from Mandy. She pound­ed on his door at eleven in the morn­ing. “Ugh, what? Go away. No maid ser­vice.” He worked third shift. The trip had messed with his sched­ule.

It ain’t the maid, Wayne. It’s me.”

He crawled out of bed. His hair stuck up like he had teased it with a comb and sprayed it stiff with hair spray. As soon as he opened the door, he went back to bed.

You look like crap,” Mandy said, look­ing at him.

One of us has to. I only look as bad as you look good.” He looked at her hair swept into a pony­tail, her coral lips thick and pouty. “Where’s the baby?”

She’s with L.J. right now. He want­ed to take her to this baby-bed place that he sells to. They want a baby for a com­mer­cial, so he’s show­ing her to them.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “If you go get cleaned up, I’ll remind you why you missed me.”

That whole trip, it was like Wayne and Mandy hadn’t been apart. She brought Feath­er over every morn­ing around ten with a tiny baby bed, and food and beer for them. They lay around watch­ing The People’s Court mak­ing bets on who would win.

A cou­ple years lat­er, Wayne real­ized near­ly two days had gone by that he didn’t think about Feath­er. His daugh­ter. He was pissed that he for­got about her that long. He took his may­on­naise jar to Charlie’s Tat­toos While You Wait. He walked in, looked around and said to the tat­too artist, who turned out to be Char­lie him­self, “I have a beau­ti­ful daugh­ter, wan­na see a pic­ture?”

Char­lie nod­ded and Wayne hand­ed him the pho­to, curved and warm from his wal­let.

She’s cute,” Char­lie told him. “How old is she? ‘Bout a year?”

Wayne flushed, “No, she’s two. This is an old pic­ture.” He turned the pic­ture over and saw the date print­ed in blue ink in Mandy’s bub­ble hand­writ­ing on the back, Decem­ber 28, Feather’s first birth­day. “Damn,” he mum­bled, “the newest pic­ture I have is over a year old.”

Yeah, I got a cou­ple of those around, too,” Char­lie laughed. “You want­i­ng a tat­too? You can look around. There’s lots of exam­ples. Plus we got pic­tures of some of the cus­tom ones we done.”

I want a feath­er, with FEATHER writ­ten under it.”

You like feath­ers, huh?” Char­lie asked.

It’s a name.”

Aaah, a girl. Bet ya twen­ty bucks you’ll be back with­in two years to get it tat­tooed over.”

No, it’s the baby’s name.”

Aaah.” Char­lie got his tat­too gun ready.

Over the next few years, Wayne kept up his trips to Alaba­ma, and was still cut­ting meat at the track. He’d become a veg­e­tar­i­an because the sight of meat made him nau­seous. The old­er Feath­er got, the less he was able to see her when he went to Alaba­ma. “She’ll remem­ber you. She’ll tell L.J.,” Mandy said after Feath­er learned to talk. If he couldn’t see Feath­er, it made it hard to see Mandy. And if he couldn’t see either one of them, it seemed point­less to go, but he did.

On Feather’s fourth birth­day, Wayne sat in his bed­room after work think­ing. It had been over six months since he’d seen her. Mandy hadn’t spent a lot of time with him last time. Shit, he thought, it’s my kid’s birth­day. He took shots of Jim Beam, one for every year of Feather’s life, then start­ed tak­ing one for each year old Mandy was. He poured his may­on­naise jar of mon­ey out onto his bed and count­ed. Nine­ty-two dol­lars and eighty-sev­en cents. Not enough for bus fare and a hotel. “Damn.” He walked into the bath­room to wash away the stale smell of meat and sweat. He’d helped a bud­dy muck at the track muck a stall, so also smelled of hay and manure. When he saw the pic­ture of Feath­er he’d put on his mir­ror years ago, he stopped. “Aw hell, I’ll fuckin’ hitch.”

He grabbed a blan­ket and stuffed some clothes into a duf­fel bag, col­lect­ed the mon­ey on his bed, and stopped on the way out the door only to grab an apple out of the fridge and write his mom a note.

He didn’t have a lot of luck hitch­hik­ing, and since he didn’t show­er before he left, when he did get picked up, peo­ple made him get out about a mile down the road. Just past Nashville, a guy in a truck picked him up.

They rode in silence a few min­utes, then the dri­ver looked over at him. “Hey man, you fuck­ing stink!”

Yeah, I got off work and I’m going to see my kid,” Wayne said. He expect­ed to be dropped off, but was hop­ing to draw it out as long as he could. It was cold­er than the ice box at the track out­side, and damned depress­ing sit­ting on the side of the road wait­ing.

Look bud­dy, I can’t take that smell. You’re wel­come to hop in the back if it isn’t too cold, but I can’t stand you up here.”

Wayne got out, glad to at least he’d still be mov­ing. He hud­dled close to the cab of the truck, pulled his blan­ket around him, and fell asleep.

When he got to Alaba­ma, the guy dropped him at the exit a cou­ple blocks from the Motel 6. As he checked in, the woman eyed him like she’d just seen him on America’s Most Want­ed.

He shut the door to his room and was going to go back to sleep. “I smell like I fuck­ing killed some­body.” He took his clothes off and threw them in the sink. He start­ed the show­er, but then called Mandy.

Hi!” she said when she answered the phone.

How’d you know it’d be me?” he asked.

Hell. Wayne, that you? Shit, what are you doing?”

Came to see my daugh­ter. Brought her some stuff for her birth­day.” He looked down at the Ken­tucky Wild­cats base­ball cap and pen with a vel­vet rose cap that opened like a jew­el­ry box with a lit­tle “pearl” neck­lace inside. He’d picked them up at a Super Amer­i­ca on the road. “Well, it’s not much,” he said.

That’s real sweet of you,” Mandy said. “Wayne, I have a new friend here. He’s com­ing to get me and Feath­er and take us to Wal-Mart. We could stop by.”

He knew it would hap­pen soon­er or lat­er, anoth­er guy would come along. He even won­dered if there’d been one the last time he was here because Mandy wouldn’t even kiss him. She said it was her time of the month, but that wouldn’t have stopped them kiss­ing. “That’s fine.” He hoped he’d get to see her more than just for stop­ping by. “I got­ta show­er. I stink like some­thing dead’s been out in the sun too long.”

Half hour?”

Yeah.” He hung up the phone, then called work. “I’m sick as a mangy street dog. I’m gonna be laid up a while.” When he got off the phone, he opened a beer and took a gulp, then took a show­er.

Wayne didn’t get to see Mandy or Feath­er with­out Mandy’s new boyfriend, Rick, being around, but he and Rick got to be pret­ty good bud­dies. Every night when Rick got off work deliv­er­ing chick­en, he’d get a bot­tle of whiskey or a case of beer and go over to the Motel 6 and he and Wayne would stay up drink­ing till morn­ing.

Since nei­ther of them could be with Mandy at night, they fig­ured they might as well keep each oth­er com­pa­ny. New Year’s morn­ing, they sat out­side the hotel room with bed­spreads wrapped around them, smok­ing cig­a­rettes. They watched the sun come up over the gas sta­tion.

Hey man, you love her?” Wayne asked.

Aw, hell, I don’t know. Yeah, I guess,” Rick said. “I don’t know. Look, I got to be going.” He got up and head­ed toward his ‘70 Chal­lenger.

You got the coolest fuck­ing car, man, the coolest,” Wayne said, then lie back on the side­walk and fell asleep.

That morn­ing Mandy showed up and woke Wayne up from out­side his room. “Don’t tell me you done spent the night out here.” She helped him up and over to the bed. “Look Wayne, we have to talk. There’s some­thing I got­ta to tell you.”

Wayne got off the bed and walked over to the sink. He gri­maced when he saw his reflec­tion. He looked like hell. He turned on the tap and filled a plas­tic cup with water, swished some in his mouth and spit, then poured the rest of the water over his head. “Shoot.”

Okay. Well, it ain’t good news.”

You’re preg­nant and the baby’s mine.” He tilt­ed his head back and laughed. When Mandy didn’t make any noise, he looked at her. “Sor­ry. It’s a joke. I’m glad we have Feath­er.” He want­ed to touch her, put his hand on her shoul­der, but she sat abrupt­ly in one of the vinyl chairs near the win­dow.

Well it’s about her. You know how I said L.J. and me wasn’t mak­ing love back in the days when you and me was?” She got up, paced for a minute, then sat on the edge of the dress­er.

But you were.” He took his shirt off to get ready for a show­er. He knew what was com­ing next and he’d be damned if he would spend New Year’s Day in Alaba­ma.

Yeah,” she said. “Look, I didn’t lie about Feath­er. I think she’s yours. It’s just that, well, I’m not for sure.”

Wayne walked into the bath­room, got in the show­er, and felt the hot water sting his skin that was still rosy cold from sleep­ing out­side.

Mandy fol­lowed him. “Wayne, I loved you. I didn’t want to go off to some oth­er state and nev­er see you again. I knew what you’d do if we had a baby. I knew I’d see you.”

Wayne stood in the show­er and thought about the ravine where he and Mandy used to go and won­dered if he should have jumped when he had the chance.

He could see Mandy sit­ting on the sink counter pat­terned into a thou­sand pieces by the cloudy frag­ment­ed glass of the show­er door. He wished he had made her stay in Ken­tucky, that they’d raised Feath­er togeth­er. He want­ed to make her move back with him, or at least have Feath­er with him. He bare­ly knew Feath­er, but every­thing he did for the past four years cen­tered around her. “Can we have tests done?”

Pater­ni­ty tests?” Mandy asked.

Yeah, do you know a doc­tor around here that’d do them?”

Well, Feather’s doc could, I guess.”

Wayne paused. He let the sham­poo fall into his open eyes, sting­ing them before he rinsed it out. He’d hitch­hiked down with hard­ly any mon­ey. He didn’t have enough to pay for expen­sive test­ing.

He stuck his head through the glass. “I guess we’ll have to do it next time. I don’t have the mon­ey, and it’s not like you can go up to L.J. and ask him for it.”

She was qui­et for a long time. “You sure you want to know?”

Yeah.”

Well, I have some­thing for you any­way. If you want to know, just use it.” She dis­ap­peared, leav­ing Wayne in the cool­ing water. After a minute, she came back with an enve­lope in her hands. “This is for you. It isn’t all there, but most of it. I was sav­ing it for Feath­er to go to col­lege because L.J. doesn’t believe in it, says he’s done just fine with­out it, and how can you argue with that because he has.” She stopped and bit her lip. “I want you to have it back. There’s a lot there, def­i­nite­ly enough for a test.”

When do you think the doc can do it?” Wayne asked. He rinsed the soap from his tat­too.

The test was a few days lat­er. Wayne had to use part of the mon­ey Mandy gave him—Feather’s money—to stay on at the motel. It was the only way he could afford it. When he saw Feath­er in the doctor’s office, he couldn’t imag­ine she wasn’t his. Look at her hair, he thought, it’s my col­or. And her eyes, they’re shaped just like mine. He stared at her, then abrupt­ly walked over and picked her up and squeezed her.

Mama!” she hollered. Wayne set her down, and walked across the room where he wouldn’t fright­en her, but could watch her through the water of a large aquar­i­um.

After they got the test results, he took enough mon­ey from the enve­lope to get a bus back home, then hand­ed the enve­lope back to Mandy. “Keep it for her. It’s her mon­ey real­ly.”

No, Wayne, I can’t.”

It’s hers.” He walked off through the sleet head­ed for the bus that would take him back to Ken­tucky.

He kept send­ing mon­ey, and every now and then found him­self in Alaba­ma in the Motel 6. Some­times he called Mandy’s num­ber, but no one ever answered. Even­tu­al­ly the num­ber was dis­con­nect­ed. He went back to Ken­tucky, feel­ing stu­pid to be in a state where Feath­er and Mandy may not even live.

One day Wayne got back, a new guy—Del—started work at the track. Wayne taught him how to cut meat in ways least like­ly to slice his hands on the bones. New guys always cut them­selves a lot more than Wayne, who’d been around the longest except his boss.

When they got off work, Wayne asked if Del want­ed to go get a beer.

Sure, bud.”

On the way out of the track, they took off their sweat-soaked shirts.

Del nod­ded at Wayne’s chest, “So who’s Feath­er? Your girl­friend?”

No.” Wayne looked down at the hay they walked over to get out to the grav­el lot where their cars were.

Oh, ex-girl­friend.”

No,” Wayne answered, kick­ing grav­el and hay with the toe of his boot. “I guess I’d rather not talk about it.”

All right man, that’s cool. Painful break up?”

Wayne nod­ded, and picked a piece of straw out of his boot.

Yeah, those suck.” Del said. “Thought it wasn’t an ex-girl­friend. Oh man, ex-wife?”

No.” Wayne paused at his car, and looked around. “Hey man, let’s get that beer tomor­row. I don’t feel like it right now.”

All right.”

Wayne got into his car, and slow­ly rolled down the win­dow, rolling each half turn as if the roller were hard to turn, though he had just tak­en apart the door and oiled it so it glid­ed down eas­i­ly. He looked at Del, and then said, “Ex-daugh­ter,” rolled up his win­dow and drove away.

Eliz­a­beth Glass holds Mas­ters degrees in Cre­ative Writ­ing and Coun­sel­ing Psy­chol­o­gy. She has received grants from the Ken­tucky Foun­da­tion for Women and the Ken­tucky Arts Coun­cil, and won the 2013 Emma Bell Miles Prize. Her writ­ing has appeared in Still: The Jour­nal; New Plains Review; Writer's Digest; The Chat­ta­hoochee Review; and oth­er jour­nals. She lives in Louisville, Ken­tucky.

 

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One Response to Feather, fiction by Elizabeth Glass

  1. Nell Glass says:

    WONDERFUL!!! Great sto­ry, expert­ly pre­sent­ed!

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