Even That Which They Have

NO DRINKING, NO DRUGS, NO DESPAIR

She watches the sign slyly, her pigeons awhirl around her, rubs a running nose with one dirty fist. They drove the teeth out of her head years ago, before she took to the streets, and her gums ache something fierce. The birds settle upon her, shoulders and back white with their droppings, their feet half-rotted away or swollen and sweet. Crowd parts before her, in fear of her birds; she catches more than one hopeful tongue, hands twitching to wring one succulent neck. “Peck out your eyes,” she hisses, and they draw further back. “Rot your feet away.”

Cleanhands behind her bulletproof glass is stone-faced at her approach, braced against the smell of alleys and mummifying garbage. “Checking in? You’ll have to leave your birds outside.”

She sneers toothlessly at the woman. Takes one of the birds, old, weak, sick, and blind, wrings its neck and pulls it open with her fingers. The mob groans, sways back and forth, hunger hollowing out their cheeks; cleanhands is bloodless as a rat. “Here,” she says, and snaps the drive down on the counter. “A year and a day’s worth of secrets. I want to buy me some teeth, new and clean.”

The counterwoman could swallow her tongue, looks like, but the drive disappears fast enough, for all the pigeon viscera still clinging to it. The door into the clinic opens soundlessly and they go in together.

She leaves the carcass for the crowd.