The Moon—Bullbats—The Hanging Cage
With his squat face pinched in a finger of light—the moon hauls through the open barndoors—and against the waking bullbats that rustle, pitch from the laths and shriek past him into night, the boy is not unclever. For months he has tried to become one. Chewing feathers, he stands in his cage revolving twenty feet above the strawed floor. Long accustomed to this height, he pitches forward, back, forward again, sending into motion the cage and with it the hemp cable fraying against its pulley.
Highway—The Face—The Truck
Limping the shoulder, frightened by close-passing cars. Each could be his father, any may take him back. Until a van sidles up slowly beside him. Behind the wheel sits an old grinning man with the wooden visage of his daydreams—knowing in his cage only his father’s face, he would construct ventriloquial figures through which strangers could enter, locums of crude, intrinsic emotion exterior his conscious knowledge; he is vulnerable with inexperience, knowing neither whom nor when to fear for having always lived in fear, able only to whittle into his ligneous company the face of the man who harmed him; the bullbats regarded him with indifference and for this reason he became one, their indifference his closest experience with kindness; but they abandoned him in his fall; climbing from the ruined cage, ashamed of his body, he could not find them; he left his cage seeking neither food nor shelter, searching only for that feeling he has now found in a face; but what has found him is proof that not even the most miserable of lives are immune to degradation: a truck with crewing horn cuts lanes across the highway, trundles down the embankment; the shriekish whistle of the radiator, he knows it—the old face is snatched away, turned now to watch shrinking through its dirty rear window the sheering truck slew into place.
The Ducks—His Secret—Cattails
—and vanish beneath the dock. Feathers flash white between boards. When he cranes his neck through the bars of cattail they pirouette out, scronking. His ankle throbs with blisters, tethered for weeks to the porch where his father smiles around a cigarette. Ain’t fishin you out again. You ain’t a duck, honey. But his father does not know that in his cage the boy became a bird. That he dropped from it and flew away. That he will soon become a duck.
His father jerks his rope tugging hand-over-hand; it twists together a crop of cattails and seizes away their heads; twanging taut, the boy is drawn slowly toward him like a thing on his tongue as the cattail down sifts windblown over the stilling pond.
Eugene Harrogate is from Lexington, Kentucky, and received his MFA in Fiction Writing from NYU. His essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers Weekly, Guernica and The Rumpus. He lives in Brooklyn and tweets here.