I spent my formative years as a Christian summer camp counselor, much like the narrator. In both of our cases, a two-pronged perception of gender ordered the surrounding world. As trans non-binary, I am, of course, suspicious of so-called natural binaries. I wrote this flash for anyone who flew through a similar upbringing while nursing a sparrow arm, feeling they could not celebrate their whole self within their cultural environment.
My arm died one afternoon while I dozed under the old bird feeder.
Or, it flew off.
They told me I’d have to pick a side, no room in unilateral theology for ambidexterity. Just biology as the lord intended, the scientist-priest lectured me. Up or down, left or right, aerial or ambulation: these were the terms of my religion. Still, the shock of it nearly killed me, waking to find the absence of choice, my limb an amputated ghost. With the right palm flopping a dead fish in my lap, bird-calling the left back, an empty bowl of nuts and fruit at my feet, the panicked heartbeat of wings in my ears, I didn’t blame the holy guides, that brutal summer, or my tilted chair.
I cursed the birds.
You’re too quick for your own good, the scientist-priest said when I filled my mornings sprinting up and down the open fields, collecting femme insects as they mated with each other, snapping photos of bifurcated vines that split in two only to find themselves at the root again, new.
We’re assigning you work detail, the scientist-priest said. I didn’t mind at first, toiling over crooked signs and leaning posts and caved-in roofs under tree boughs bent with sticky sap. Trailing my finger along open joints, ruptures, holes.
Except we were supposed to hammer every bent nail straight and force the warped boards back into a rigid shape, even if they cracked. I missed jogging through the free grass with my camera beating against my sternum.
After the sunset, when the moon swelled our flesh plump, a few of us clustered on the cabin porches. Not the men crammed in their shacks and shouting gruff. Not the women tucked and veiled down the rise in the dense shade of pine, huddled on their rugs tittering and writing secrets. We few in-between, hoarding our snack treasures, biting gnarled carrot fingers, ripping at jerky tendons with our incisors, spitting sunflower seed pith at the dirt.
Here—swinging in a hammock slung between the oaks,
and here—playing both sides of a chess set,
and I—in this busted armchair dragged outside, leaning sideways with my birdseed to feed the lonely sparrows, reading fictional men dreaming about women like a textbook until I slumbered under Cygnus, distant stars flickering across my cheekbones. Romance writers did not write my story, but the scientist-priest said the lord would save me if I chose.
So, I did.
I sat right here, my arm nestled over my head like a bird tucking its beak under its wing, a specimen worth photographing.
When sensation returned to my left arm in cold pricks, pin-and-needle ice-fire, the boulder of sleep rolled away, lost limb falling into my lap like a friend, greeting the right once again, not dead, just waking up, ghost meeting body, wholly human, both sides of me, I screamed a bloody murder at the bird calls echoing in the trees, at their holy-silly chatter, all their stupid-lovely freedom.
Erin Vachon is a gender-fluid writer and editor living with invisible disabilities. They are 2023 Recipient of the SmokeLong Fellowship for Emerging Writers and a 2023 Writer-in-Residence at Linden Place. Their multi-Pushcart, Best of Net, and Best Microfictions nominated work appears in Black Warrior Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, and Brevity, among others. An alum of the Tin House Summer workshop, Erin earned their MA in English Literature and Comparative Literature from the University of Rhode Island.