They had it by the legs – by the scrawny yellow feet, dusky brown now in the overhead streetlights. They dangled it in and out of the car beam, casting shadows across the wet tarmac. I watched them closely from the taxi rank; the thing kept bending its back almost in two, folding itself over in an attempt to nip at their fingers, beating two bare wings in protest of the treatment. I hoped that they would not see me staring; I hoped that I was not too drunk to look away quickly when they turned around. I hoped that I could keep on watching them dangle the tiny bird in front of their Ford Fiestas, whilst I waited barefoot in the 3am night time with my shoes on the floor to my side and the gravel beneath my toes almost cutting into my skin but not quite.
Over an oppressive and smothering baseline, which felt like the hot breath of someone close to you, I could hear you laughing to yourself. I watched, as you twisted and turned amongst thousands, millions of tiny hands casting quick, nimble shadows across the damp floor, grasping at the thick air for a touch. Your head rose and fell like a Pinnochio doll on strings too small. Strings kept you upright. The sweat on my upper lip tasted like cranberry. I smelled of gin. You spilled it on me with your puppet hands, lazy and numb. I thought about the time they anaesthetised you at the hospital, pulled out your teeth. The ice fell on my skin, found a balance for a second, and slipped away.
I asked if you were okay. I asked you in sign language, from the little I had learnt in school, hoping that I might communicate with you better. Your neck looked thin when you nodded.
You said something and I didn’t know what. I couldn’t tell so I moved closer and through the hands, stroking my arms and waist and clutching at my bag. I asked you to say it again.
Do I love you? You said.
The bird was tiring, tiring of hanging upside down by the legs, tiring of pecking, bending it’s back in a way that didn’t feel right. Tiring of being bounced up and down by the thick fist of a teenage boy fresh from driving school. It’s movement slowed, it’s wings collapsed. When they realised it was dead, the boys tossed it to the floor. They got into the car, positioned it correctly; a little to the right so the beams shone over my bare legs.
I swear I heard the crunch of tiny bones as the car spun away, out of the car park and on to the main road.