Army of Flamingos, Part Two

As promised, here is part two of my novella, Army of Flamingos.

PART TWO:

Damn it.

 I don’t know, I say as I try to escape to the bathroom to empty my rather full bowels. I thought it was yours. Oh the lie comes easy. That’s the head flamingo general, I know this, the flamingo knows this. This is all for Marsha, who will tell everyone she can that I’m a fruitcake, a cracked fruitcake and crazy as a loon. Marsha has her pet words and phrases for the staff here. She suffers no fools gladly. No, where would I keep lawn ornaments at my apartment? In the bathtub? She laughs, goes off to straighten the magazines in the rec room or perhaps inventory the adult diapers or sort through the donated paperbacks for ‘dirtybooks’ she finds inappropriate and not necessary. She’s set aside that one about the guy who likes to whip his girlfriend and anything by Mickey Spillane, Rosemary Rodgers or Jean M. Auel.  The residents complain, they are adults, they claim, and can decide for themselves what to read or not. But Marsha poo-poos that and continues to do as she wishes, content to be a benevolent dictator and protect her charges, even when they don’t wish such protection. She has the skin of a rhino and the eye of a zealot. The world cannot prevail against such a person. Her three children and husband cannot win against her. We are all the mercy of Marsha. Bucking her has become too tiresome and too against adopted habits of letting her do as she pleases so peace prevails.

     I make it to the bathroom. My bowels explode, the sound like a gunshot in the enclosed metal box, booming off the enclosing metal womb. I shiver, my stomach cramping, my other end as open as a Los Angeles super-freeway. Feces pour from me in liquid awfulness. Oh how Marsha would have talked about me. Terry shit his pants last night, I think that guy’s crazy as a loon. Who shits their pants these days? No one, that’s who. Said in her whisper-voice.

     Something falls over in the next stall over. There are two in the antiseptically white bathroom, which doesn’t actually contain a bath or shower, just two toilets, a urinal and a sink. A paper towel roll in a holder stuck to the wall. A mirror. Antiseptic soap for hand washing. The odor of industrial strength cleaners– pine and lemon. I barely hear that scutter of flamingo meeting floor, not over my relief at the emptying of my body into the receiving bowl beneath and my groans as my body twists and stamps and rebels from deep within. My forehead has a sheen of sweat. I look down. There, by my foot, is a pink plastic flamingo head. The rest of it is outside my stall, but it has managed to fall just so. Just so. Just so that it can peek up at me as I endure a bout of fear-diarrhea.

     I scream, a hoarse honest little scream. Rather like reacting to a mouse running over your foot in the dark. Or over your face in the dark. The little loathsome furry drag of its body across your skin. The skittle of its little claws as it races over you, that unwelcome surprise that you are not alone in the universe at four in the morning. The plastic black eyes roll up to peer at me in amused condescension. We’ll get you, that flamingo promises. We’ll get you.

     I kick at the thing and it slides the short distance to the wall, wedged in the corner, on the far side of the one urinal.

     A faint, barely heard squawking laugh. It’s amused by me, it knows the taste of dark victory in its long s-curve throat.

     A knock on the door, then Marsha’s whispery plague of a voice. Terry? You okay?

     Yes, I answer back, my bowels still leaking brown sludge the consistency of watery gravy. Why? Oh me, clever boy. You’re hearing things, Marsha. You’re getting old, Marsha. Soon you’ll be in one of those beds with someone making sure you only read the right type of book and drink the correct sort of beverage. Oh yes. I thought I heard you yell. No, I screamed when the evil flamingo general showed up. No. Just a bit of a bellyache, is all. I’m fine. I heard her shift and creak, the rustle of her work clothes, jeans, a long tunic, an apron over all that, one of those Betty Crocker-ish ones, that protected her clothes from old people’s messes. Okay, sorry about that. I’ll leave you alone. She walked off and I noticed the flamingo was back, staring up at me as if I hadn’t kicked it. Please, please, I prayed to my bowels. Please.

     That black eye moved. I saw it. The slow blink of a plastic bird slowly turning into a real bird, but something else…a real bird with the brain of some cartoon villain. Aware. Amused. Wanting vengeance for no other reason than vengeance is always needed. That pupil contracted. The iris changed to a pumpkin sheen.

     My foot came down on that head.

     It twisted beneath my foot.

     That head twisted and turned beneath my foot attempting to crush it. As if I had stepped on a living chicken or duck or a living flamingo. Not a brittle, weathered plastic decoration with no redeeming artistic value. I bore down with my foot, encased thankfully in a thick-soled, well-made tennis shoe from Nike. I spent a lot of time on my feet and good shoes protected my feet, supported my arches, kept me from going home and wanting to kill myself from foot pain and tired legs and a bad back. That thing struggled, I felt it struggle. I could almost hear the caws and calls from the other twenty-two flamingos, somehow witnessing me murdering their head general. An absurd murder. A monster having a bout of diarrhea killing one of their own. It was unheard of. It was bordering on ‘ genocide will solve that absurdity’. As if destroying all humans would finally save all plastic lawn flamingos from destruction. Which was, essentially, true.  Genocide is a sort of severing the Gordian knot. Occum’s Razor. All the nice, pretty words for reducing your choices to kill or be killed.

     That head broke open beneath my foot. No blood or brains, just poisoned air rushing up at me, choking me, making me cough and retch, making me bear down even harder, the reek of my intestine’s interiors almost sweet by comparison. The metal legs, two long pieces of wire to stick into the ground to anchor the flamingo and make it look, somehow, alive…beat on the stone floor. As if in dying throes. As if the thing somehow had organs and nerves and muscles telling it it would soon be no more.

     I sat there, on that white human waste receiver, panting, sweaty. It was dead.

     Dead.

     After finishing, as there could not be anything left in me to pour out, I broke the bird further with my bare hands. I bent the metal legs. I smashed the hollow plastic body, cutting my hands. I stuffed the remains into the wastebasket and covered that, as best I could with toilet paper and paper towels, then decided to just take the bag out and put it into the garbage bin out back. There were piles of new liners beneath. The plastic sack bulged obscenely with dead flamingo general remains. I peeked out. No Marsha. She’d want to know what was in the sack to make it puff out like that. Or why there was a metal

wire sticking out through the side. I got it to the bins out back. I tossed it among the remains of last night’s fish dinner, soiled sheets no longer able to survive the harsh detergent or harsher old washing machines. Whatever detritus would not be labeled a biological hazard.

     I had crossed a line. I knew that. It had been more a game until now. They had held back from actually killing me outright. I had not yet done anything unforgivable. Other than that vague sin I had committed, unknowingly, in the beginning. I had played the scared little virgin to their mustache-twirling vampire. We knew our parts, we played along with each other. But now. Now their hatred would manifest, bubble over, boil through them. They had loved my mother. I had murdered one of their own, perhaps their queen-general-goddess. Their virgin mother crone wise female! They now hated me.

     My head fell forward, I shivered in that cold air. Right before dawn, the world is a dead whore in a ditch. A hopeless filthy obscenity of a time. Night is beautiful, day is a happy child, but that hour right before day shows up again is a dead whore rotting in a roadside ditch full of slimy water and used condoms. A cat slunk by, gray tail twitching and moving as it flitted by me, a mouse in its small mouth. Perhaps a mother taking home a snack to her unwanted clowder. A clowder of cats. Memory vomits up odd facts in the dead whore hour of the night.

     I walked back inside and finished my shift, numb and absent-minded as Marsha clomped about, always busy. She gave me some Imodium pills she had in her big white purse and I washed them down with decaf coffee, gave her a smile at her odd acts of kindness and thoughtfulness. I waited for that flamingo general to rise from the dead. I waited. Seven came and the shift change. Breakfast smells. Eggs and toast today. Cheerful careful voices of Maria, Sandy and Maisy as they checked on residents, got them up and going for the day, gossiped and chattered with each other and with Marsha.

I left, and it was raining a bit, a misting of rain. No coat. I got in my Chevy, sat there. And in the back seat, nothing. I had been expecting a surprise, an unpleasant one. Nothing.

     I drove home, so very tired. I had the three o’clock shift tonight. Swing. Movie night. They had all voted last week, suggestions were written down or told to a staff member on communal group activities. Casablanca had won one week. The Sting, another week. Support Your Local Sheriff had been a popular one. I wondered what I’d have to nod through later on tonight. Birth of a Nation or The Egg and I, it could be anything.

     The flamingos were all gone when I got home. I sat in my car, and then turned it off, the engine ticking gently as it cooled. Rain splattered on the roof. Rain made little rivers down the glass. Where were they?

     Where were they??

     I got out, the rain sizzling on my exposed skin. Winter would be here in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Snow, ice, Christmas decorations at work, nothing here at my little house. My mother decided to share Christmas this year with my aunt. I had prepared that but no one had asked about her. Not even Marsha. She had quit at the grocery store, her heart too bad to let her stand for long periods. I told her it was fine, our bills were small. She told me she’d die soon. And she had.

     I saw the curtains twitch on the window of the back door. As if someone stood there, peering out as secretly as possible at me.

     For a moment, I thought it was my mother, seeing if it was me or some salesman. Though door to door salesman were a thing of the past. Perhaps one of those annoying

Jehovah’s Witless, as she had called the earnest, humorless robots who tried to sell their version of a god with pamphlets and dead-eyed evangelism.

     I miss her. She survived life, more than quite a few can claim. The suicides, the accidents, the cancer and diabetes and genetic diseases that can strike without warning or reason. She had cruised past such things with a roll of her eyes. Carleen had done nothing wrong. She had worked, saved her money, voted when asked to vote, raised a child on next to nothing, kept the sink cleared of clogs and the toilet working. Her possessions still lived in her small bedroom; I hadn’t yet cleaned them out, sorted through them and hauled most of it off to the thrift stores or the nearest garbage can. Mostly in case someone came looking for a missing woman nobody missed or misses now. But. It’s what happens to all of us. Our treasures turned into trash the moment we shuffle off the mortal coil. Miss Standage’s treasured pictures will be thrown away. I know that, she knows that. They are worth nothing, she is not famous. She is neither evil or good, just a woman who survived life, too. Except we don’t survive, do we. We don’t survive at all.

     I put my key in the door. I turn it. The tumblers click and chatter. I open the door.

     They stand there, balancing on their various spikes and twin metal endings. They seem bigger, the pink darker, more menacing. Their eyes move and swirl as they fix me with hard, pitiless gazes. The closet is now open. How? How did it get out? My little house overrun with plastic malignant flamingos somehow free of the earth that allows them to stand upright and serene. Please, I ask them softly.

     The flamingos saying goodbye to my mother, gathered about her secret grave, pink heads bent to give her respect. Perhaps even to weep. Their grief allowed to flow out of them and out and out.

     What if I took them, all of them, to my mother? Buried them in the ground with her? Or arranged them about her grave as a sort of honor guard? I had prepared her for burial, I won’t say how, it’s best left to imagination what is done to the dead to make them ready to be viewed by the living and then placed in coffins for eternal rest. I have some medical training, I know what happens to bodies after death. The gases, the decomposition, the…yes.

     The thought of just what to do danced through my brain.

     I’d have to capture these soldiers, stuff them into my car, touch them again when I buried them. It seemed fitting to bury them. And I’d have to retrieve the head flamingo and take her as well. A her, of course that flamingo who had invaded the bathroom during my moments of distress caused by fear and constant paranoia had been female.

     Would they let me?

     Even as I watched, they crept a little closer, like a weird game of Simon Says or Mother, May I. Except I hadn’t given any commands or instructions.

     Listen, I say. They listen. 

     Listen. I’ll take you to my mother. You can be with her.

     It’s a two day drive. It’s far. I strained my back getting her in and out of the car. A shovel. Some tarp. Rope. Except plastic flamingos did not rot or flop about. They were already in severe rigor mortis. I’d go today. Today.

     They allow me to make plans. They make plans, too. The shift toward each other, the exchange of avian glances, the soft, nearly inaudible rasp of their newborn voices.

     I call in sick to work. Marsha can verify, with everyone, that I was indeed, suffering some flu-like symptoms working Jessica’s shift. No doubt that bathroom still reeks, frankly. Stephanie, the on-call person in case of staff problems, will work my shift tonight. As I am seldom sick and cover for everyone, even during holidays, no one minds if I call in, on Friday and claim illness. Nobody thinks I’m headed off for the bars or anything else any fun. I’m a little homebody, as someone once remarked in a cutesy voice. Plus, people need the money these days.

     I put the shovel in the trunk. I also included a battered flashlight. How to get twenty two flamingos in my car. Some on the roof? Yes. I put on my winter gloves. I begin carrying them out to my car and the heads turn on the long, long necks to regard me rather thoughtfully, as if actual thoughts live in their hollow heads. They are planning something. I stop, at the sixteenth flamingo, considering this, with a real knowledge that something bad is coming. That something bad will happen to me. Which is nonsense, humans can’t know such things; the future stretched blank and pale because nothing has marked that canvas yet. That’s science.    

     And yet.

     They had gone still and patient. The flamingos allowed themselves to be neatly stacked in my car, arranged, tightly packed together. Some were tied to the roof of my car and I flung a tarp over them, fastened that down neatly. I stacked against the shotgun seat. Those heads were right next to my arm. I’m taking you to my mother, I told them over and over and over. I spoke as if to about to attacked by tigers. As if I addressed a bear about to charge me. Slow, soothing words in a slow, soothing tone. Burn them, another voice said deep in my head.

     Just stack them all in the front yard and burn them.

     And then what, I asked back. They’ll kill me before I can douse them with gasoline and throw a match.

     Kill you? Are you a man or a mouse?

     I’m a mouse, I replied.

     Off I went. I had my wallet. I had my shovel, my winter coat. My eyes had turned into gritty marbles in my eye sockets. I dry swallowed a Ritalin from my stash. I had ten left. I had not slept since Wednesday night. My reserves of energy had gone alarmingly low, so I stopped, with my carload of lawn ornaments, which made people laugh and smile and yes, point, and got myself a quick breakfast sandwich, sausage patty, rubbery egg, fake square of cheese on a soggy biscuit. A big giant coffee. I’m taking them to my mother’s place, I said very truthfully to the girl at the drive through, who shrugged her skinny shoulders, tossed her tail of solid black hair and took my debit card. She’s moved, I’m just helping her out.

     Onward.

     I drove and drove. I’m not a lover of the open road. I am rather a homebody. I like to stay home, people depress and annoy me. I find I cannot follow along with their little sorrows and happy bland joys. Kids and trips and pets and family dinners mean nothing to me. I never had such things growing up. I cannot relate, as they say. I can only stand aside and nod whenever someone tries to include me in the discussions of in-laws, diaper

training, dog-chewed chairs and breaking down just outside Twin Falls, Idaho, on the way to the waterpark in Utah. I drive and drive and they wait, the flamingos with their plans well hidden yet.

     They will try and kill me.

     Because they can’t forgive me, not a real forgiveness. Which is so rare. Where you honestly move on after someone almost mortally wounds you. That ability to trust that person again, when you know they are capable of ripping your guts out and laughing while they do it. The flamingos work on eye for an eye level. I am a sinner and they are the executioners. That’s all they understand yet of the world they are slowly being born into. They don’t understand nuances. Once a sinner, always a sinner is not always true but they, new hatchlings to this world, have not gained knowledge, yet; that overlooking and pretending not to notice is actually how this old world spins.

     I won’t let them kill me. I haven’t yet given in to them.

     I stop at work, park far down the street, sneak up like something out of a bad shallow screwball comedy and nick that bulgy bag full of dead flamingo head general out of the garbage and no one, that I know of, sees me do so. I hit the open road, with all twenty-three flamingos now. It feels right. This feels right. They might not think so and will

probably try something awful but they were meant to be with my mother, not plotting my death at the little house.

     And this way, I can come off as kind, as the one who took the high road. Whatever judgment comes when my race is won, I will have this decision to treat my betes noires  with mercy in my positives column. And no one, even the Eternal Judge, or Anubis or

Hades or Jesus or Allah…need know that I was too cowardly to burn them in my front yard or chop them up with a kitchen knife or casually haul them off to the nearest garbage dump.

     As such an act would just…give them strength.

     Give them enough power to return and settle with me once and for all.

     No, this was better. This act of kindness on my part would put coals on their head. Render them into nothing more than silly birds with a grudge. A grudge for no reason now.

     I drove and drove, took the little road that went a hundred miles or more before it crossed that other road, where miles would have to pass, too, before I came to the dirt path that led upward into the high desert. Where my mother’s grave was. People laughed as they passed me, I am a cautious driver. I didn’t care. I got gas and coffee. I bought candy bars and hot dogs and beef jerky.

     Sometimes they moved and shifted. It was not the car or the bumps in the road. It was them, reminding me time was rapidly ending for me.

     I got on the second road, then found the dirt path again. I had marked it with three big rocks, in case, for whatever reason, I wished to visit where my mother slept her infinite

sleep. Dark now. I had driven all day. It was far longer than a couple hundred miles. They seemed to smile.

     I found the spot, after parking and getting out, retrieving the shovel  and the flashlight. I had a weapon and tool in one hand, and light in the other. There was the disturbed earth yet, the headstone a slab of desert rock where I had placed smaller rocks in a smiley face

configuration. Her name written on a rock, in black letters. Anyone coming across this would stop and wonder, of course. But pass on, I hoped. It looked like one of those markers for a car accident where someone had been killed. Nothing to call the cops over, surely. And it was far enough off the regular roads that no one would notice this for years. That small animals would knock those rocks out of place…

     I kept one eye on the car full of savage unnaturally animated flamingos and my other eye on that grave. What to do? Bury them? Or just stick them about and let them arrange themselves as they wished when I had gone?

     I would bury the dead one and just stick the others in the hard earth. Wind moaned and skittered through the sagebrush and weeds, a coyote called, several more answered. The darting little dogs of the Americas. I sighed, so tired, so very tired. I would have to drive to a motel after this. I’d not eaten a real meal since the morning breakfast sandwich. It seemed more important to get here, to my mother’s side, and rid myself of evil flamingos.

     First, I buried the dead one. I dug a hole next to my mother’s grave, and placed the bag in it, then covered it with a covering of clods, rocks and dry desert earth. No one would suspect foul play, ha ha, if they dug up the sack of what looked like garbage. No one

would suspect me or come find me and accuse me of murdering an important general. I thought of taking another Ritalin. I thought of the dead general. Had it been preparing to slaughter me with its metal legs? Deciding which tender part of me to stab repeatedly? Until I stopped screaming and it could claim victory over the one and only foe it knew about, dreamed about, perhaps?

     It was almost over.

     I had turned my back on my car.

     I turned and they were there, alive, fluffing their pink and rose feathers in the cone of the flashlight as I grabbed it from the ground, swung it back and forth. Their beaks

opened and hissing came forth. As only savagely angry birds can hiss. Their long thin legs ended in wide webbed pink-skinned feet. I had the shovel. I backed away, away from the car. They followed…I tried to count them. Were they behind me, were some of them behind me, closing me in a flamingo circle of imminent death?

     Yes.

     I stopped, stood there, trying to be calm. I would not die like this. Listen, I asked them. They came closer, not listening. I heard them behind me.

     She is right here, my mother is right here.

     They stopped, their heads cocking as if they wanted to believe that.

     She’s right here. Right below our feet. I miss her, too. I  miss her, too!

     Hisses. Honks. Calls so low I almost could not hear them.

     Those black eyes blinking at me. No, not black, golden to orange to pale brown with giant pupils, real eyes. They sported real eyes to regard me with. The rustling of the many

feathers threatened to drive me into fits. The wrong move or wrong word and they’d fall on me. My voice quavered. I did not become brave or noble. I am not made of sterner stuff.

     I miss her. Stay here and guard her, please.

     The many heads in the flashlight’s beam bobbing and turning as they consulted and schemed and perhaps argued my fate.

     I said nothing further. It seemed patience was needed now as they decided what to do, what to do, what to do. Their own plans seemed silly now, perhaps, or they were torturing me further. Before rending me into human jelly. I gripped the shovel’s handle, readying myself. Nothing would come to my rescue, no cavalry would ride up. No intervention.

The desert night held wind and coyotes and the soft sounds of flamingos, who’d once been lawn ornaments, deciding my fate.

     One by one, they arranged themselves into a big circle. I watched this, my heart clenching and pounding. My bladder seemed full of hot acid. An opening had been left…as if a door, an exit, right to my car. They watched me, they watched me. This is not your place, they seemed to say. This is not your place now. It’s ours.

     Slowly, my feet catching at every last little tuft of tough grass, every last little pebble, I made my way to that opening in the flamingo circle.

     I walked through and out.

     When I looked back, after reaching the car, getting in, locking the door…the circle had closed. Just plastic flamingos arranged, for whatever reason, in a circle around a rock with a smiley face in smaller rocks on it. Some weird version of a funeral or a practical joke or aliens visiting the earth to do experiments with stones and plastic decorations. Rather like a version of crop circles, except with lawn frippery. I wept.

     I sat there in my car and wept.

     And then noticed one flamingo had not joined the rest. One flamingo waited in the back seat, returned to plastic hardness and stiffness again…until it turned its long head to watch me weeping in the front seat, uncomprehending why I should feel such relief. They had not forgiven me at all. They would watch me and come back.

     I would never be free.

     The army of flamingos turned in one smooth movement to regard me sitting in my car. The one in the back seat waited calmly for me to start the long journey back to my little inherited house. I would never be free of them.

     Never.

     I drove. I found a motel. I slept. I made it home, that single flamingo guarding me. Reminding me how very damned I was. I went into my house. Sunday I go back to work, and there are few questions I have to answer. No one much cares. I do a shift, nothing happens, it’s just a shift. I drive home, it’s clear, cold, dry. My little house, the lawn now empty of those baleful pink birds.

     I unlock the back door, go in, tired. I eat my last can of chicken noodle soup, vowing to go the store. A shower, then bed, my door open. What can they do to me? Watch me sleep? My eyes close before I’m near the pillow. Morning, the alarm. I have the early shift. It takes me a while to wake up. It takes me a while to realize something is wrong.

     There, on my bedroom floor, is my mother. The flamingos had thrust their spikes and wire legs through her bloated body…there is dirt in her wide open eyes. Anyone with any sort of forensic training will know the wounds caused by the spikes are post-mortem. But everyone will assume my hands desecrated her corpse…that I caused her to be a corpse. I cannot scream or breathe or think. The flamingos blink at me, over and over. I can smell her now, that miasma of decay. The flamingos wait for me to bring her back to life. They somehow got her here for me to fix. For me to make this all right and all better.

     I drag my mother’s corpse to the front lawn, using gloves and an old sheet. Her fingernails and hair seem longer but that is due to her skin shrinking back, not the growing of her tissues after death. Death means life stops. One eye glared at me, clouded over, the other blessedly closed. The flamingos hopped and swayed around me, following me. Carleen waited on her own front lawn, still bearing the dirt from her desert grave, with small holes poked here and there where her devout fanatical darlings had pierced her to bring her home. Rather like a dog digging up the dead cat to place it once more upon the carpet that cat had so once loved.

     My hands fetched cooking oil and the box of matches. Cooking oil would burn just fine. I had nothing else to douse her corpse with. I covered her with her books, piling them about her. I tore out pages from her romance novels, crumpled them to use as a starter. The matches did their job, my fingers shaking as the flamingoes watched, their heads tilting as the tiny flames bit and spread across her gray smock. I began to layer her clothes atop her body. The few pictures she had saved, one of Aunt Carol from Florida pointing at a dead gator someone had hung outside a shack. The fire curled, leaped, danced. The twenty-two half-living lawn ornaments drew their heads together. One broke from the rest, orange eyes rolling for a moment as it regarded the lawn it had inhabited for years. It let loose a low hissing cry, sounding almost like a goose. I saw real feathers along the s-curve neck. And it leaped into that fire atop my mother’s body, writhing and melting in such an obscene way that I had to close my eyes. A parody of lust and seduction pretending to be grief. I heard it shrieking in pain, in ecstasy. One by one the flamingoes repeated this ritual. The leap to the center of that fire, the melting down, with the next one calmly waiting to be turned to a puddle of charred pink goo that bubbled and steamed, before blackening.

     The lazy swing of police lights. Someone whispering they had to wait until the last one had gone, could we wait for the last one to go before going anywhere, please? Two had been left, just two. Why had the neighbors decided to care about a fire on Carleen’s tiny lawn all of a sudden?

     I sit in my cell, with murder charges pending. Among other charges. It’s night. I hear the calling for mama, the profanities of the caged, the call of guards to knock it off. I count the click of the doors, hear the changing of the shift. I wonder if Marsha gossips about me yet as she picks what books those under her care can read or not. I turned my head and the two flamingos in the corner patiently wait their turn to be with their maker. But I fear whatever magic or malice formed them, seeped into the earth with the directed spray of the garden hose the police directed at the pyre I had made of my mother’s corpse, her few things and her beloved disciples. I held out my arms and the two that had been left so far behind their brethren, now in paradise or hell with my mother, huddled against me. Soon their faint heat would turn cold, they would just be lawn ornaments again. My head ached so. They rubbed their plastic heads against me, their beaks finding my cheeks, my nose, my ears. I whispered to them all through the night. I whispered and held them until they turned cold and still, just plastic flamingos with cracks and holes in their sides. And in the morning, I let them go and they clattered to the cell floor. One shattered, elderly plastic turned to something like glass but the other lay there, staring at nothing with one painted flat black eye. 

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