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Isolated for Fixing

Scum Hellebore

The iron cages keep them safe, and us safe, my mother used to tell me as a child. I loved the zoo, it always felt like the animals were all lining up to see me. I would peek through the bars and smile at anything that would glance over. Once I was kicked out at sixteen, the zoo became a safe haven. The animals seemed to smile when I walked by—a look of understanding in their eyes. They became my new family, especially the peacock. That animal’s rainbow-painted feathers made me feel at home; they matched the many bright, rainbow patches on my jacket I had acquired and sewn on. The Harvey Milk Zoo by my apartment only had one, so I felt entwined with him. It seemed it was just us two in the whole city. That bird, whom I named Flit, would walk right over to me and rub his head on my leg for as long as I was there but would quickly run away if anyone else came close. My jacket made me stick out, often getting me called “fruit” and “batty boy” without provoking anyone. Mere months after the White Night Riots, I was the only one to not crawl away and hide from these words in my area. And everyone who saw me hated me for it—not running and conforming. But these people did not faze this bird. He would often try and pick at the patches, an action I thought was him telling me, “Hey, nice colors. You’re one of us, aren’t you?” On my birthday, the zoo brought in another peacock. I was so happy to hear it; it seemed like our family was finally growing. Maybe now more people could see how wonderful peacocks were, how friendly they can be if they are treated with love and respect. I was the first in line that day. Parents gave me their usual responses—a father’s raised eyebrow and furled top lip, a mother’s gasp before turning her kids away, and sheer confusion from the children. I did not mind the looks today. It was the day I would meet another like me. They would see now that I was normal, just like them, and hopefully more flamboyantly-colorful birds would help that. I ran to the enclosure, my lungs expanding and burning with rapid breaths, giddy as the birds I was about to see… when I stopped. The enclosure was fenced off halfway inside of it, Flit on one side and the new bird on the other. A red sign was posted on the fence: Isolated for Fixing. “They need to be fixed? What’s wrong with them?” I yelled to everyone and no one. A keeper with a raspy voice and a big bowie knife on his belt walked up behind me and responded, “We can’tuh let ther numbers get outta cuntrol,” he said, scratching at his patchy beard “We don’tuh want ‘em getting everywhare.” He continued to tell me how angry they could be, biting at people’s hands. You would too, I thought, if someone couldn’t respect your existence. Peacocks only attack when they have their personal space invaded, when they are not left to live in peace—equal to the others around them, like they deserve. What was so wrong with these rainbow birds meeting and finding love? None of the other animals were fixed, the zoo even held baby showers every time new animals were brought in or another became pregnant. But not for these showmen. They had to be kept out of sight, kept from each other until some people who thought that they knew best stopped their love permanently. Walking away from the enclosure, the grin that I woke up with, that stretched my lips and tired my cheeks was gone. I passed the normal, happy animals with their children out to show and their love on full display. Apes pulling bugs off of each other and lions licking their partners clean, everyone watching with smiles. Nobody went to see the peacocks who would soon die of bird flu. Just one more thing I had in common with my rainbow-feathered allies; we would rest underground from a disease no one really cared to find a cure for. I would join the other 121 men to die by the end of the next year. The iron cages keep us safe, I used to tell myself, hearing my mother’s voice in my head, now realizing she only let us exist as an oddity, something that should not be let out in the open, separate from what was “unnatural.” She did not understand why I loved who I loved, and only came to visit when I was in a hospital bed—waiting for the end. Waiting, but the cage was never opened to me so that I could fly away.
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