This Modern Angst


Hecky liked to beat up birds.  His friend Dusty helped him with this, sometimes.  It wasn’t much of a life, but it was his, dammit.

Last Thursday Dusty and Hecky were tooling around the county in Hecky’s crap Ford truck with dangling fake hair truck balls, when they passed a raspberry field aglow with the nuclear, reluctant death of a Northwest fall.  The bushes were bare and black, but mustard flowers shone between the rows, and late-afternoon sun passed through the massed gray clouds to illuminate a flock of mincing starlings.

“Fucking starlings,” said Hecky.  “Word,” said Dusty.  “You want to teach them a thing or two about a thing or two?”  “It’s what I was born to do, my sanguine redneck friend.”

Hecky jerked the Ford with a suddenness over to the shoulder of the road, and the boys piled out, whooping and hollering.  “Get ready to get fucked, starlings!”  “It’s the Time of the Preacher, bitches – get ready to get reaped!”

The starlings looked up, worried – but not worried enough.  “I-ma reap all you cunts,” screamed Hecky.  The starlings were not sure whether he meant “reap” or “rape.”  They were about to find out.

Dusty just liked to beat birds, but Hecky liked to beat them and then rape them.  He liked to look at their teary bird faces as he worked his penis in and out of their tiny bird anuses.  He called it “them what’s are going to get what’s coming to them, getting it from me.”  Dusty thought this too long, and suggesting that he simply call it “reaping.”  “It’s a pun, see?”  Hecky didn’t really get it, but it sounded biblical enough to appeal to his latent sense of pomp.  He was a lover of ritual, and should have been born to Episcopalian Canadians a hundred years ago, rather than to the County of our day.

When did the boys come to hate birds, and how?  They liked women alright, and after their own fashion were fairly respectful of them.  They remembered with fondness a certain red-faced, gruff-voiced school marm, at whose rough hands they first learned discipline, as well as a love of some forms of the mechanical sciences.  They were kind to their mothers, and their wives had few complaints.  Sure, they might get a little pesky on the respective nights on which the County Women’s Group met at their homes, but this amounted mostly to stealing small amounts of the Stoli Vanilla that liberally informed such occasions, and perhaps making an off-color joke or two about Helen Gurley Brown.

So, when, how, was this hatred of birds engendered?  The answer may surprise you.

Picture, if you will, a small boy on a back porch, trying to repair a clock.  It is a chill April day, bright and cold, and the light shines unrelenting on the gears of the irascible clock.  The boy has been fiddling with it in vain for so long that there are tiny cuts all over his stubby hands.  He is utterly focused, in autism deep-focus, so much so that he does not hear his father creep up behind him, wind his long arm back, and deliver a neck-cracking blow to the back of his head.  It makes a sound like a cricket bat connecting.  From his suddenly sideways view of the world, as he lies half on his back upon the splintered floor of the porch, he sees his father sillohetted by the sun.  In fact, his father is standing directly in the path of the sun, so that he can’t see him – it looks like a photo negative.  Surreally, he notes that the whole pose is a little too metaphorical.  “Or maybe the things that happen in movies and books are true,” he thinks, “and not dramatizations of life at all.  Maybe this is what real life is like.”  His father stands over him, and tells him that he is too stupid to touch anything, and to never again try.  His father is methed-out at the moment, and feels the need for action.  Being lazy, he has settled for an interaction, and being a fuck, he has decided upon a violent interaction.  The instinct sated, he goes back inside, to watch Ice Pirates again.

The boy is of course brimming with violence himself now – he has absorbed violent energy and now needs to pass it on.  Physics, momentum, etc.: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”  Who is not beset with unbalanced forces?  Who can claim that they are not, in fact, an unbalanced force?

Now at this point, the obvious next thing is that a bird will somehow fly into the story, into the boy’s field of vision, becoming an environmental cue that triggers memories of this particular trauma, crystallizing the rage born in the boy at this very moment.  Also, the assumption at this point in the story is that this boy is either Hecky or Dusty, probably Hecky, as he is the creepier of the two and so we need his backstory to be the creepiest.  He needs the most justification, the most defense.  It’s the guilty ones that need the most defending.

The boy is neither of our two boys: he is not one of our heroes.  He is a small, blond boy, whose movements are slow and fragile, and for whom Hecky harbored a blind passion in the long days when they were in school.  He shook down the boy for lunch money, and hit him in the balls and face, and all the while wanted him in a way he did not understand.  After school ended, there were no opportunities to see the boy anymore, because he went away and wisely never came back to the County.  And so now Hecky rapes birds, and Dusty helps for no particular reason other than that is the way that he is.

In the fields, the starlings pause, waiting to get what’s coming to them.

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