A black-eye of cold goo stares back at me with my finger hot on the blender button. Ice cracks and floods everything in a sweet syrupy concoction. I’m in the puddle, all crushed down into nothing. My finger comes crashing down again on the button, waiting to hear it click. The little knot in my throat bobs up and down like a little drowning bird. I want nothing more than to shove my own fist down my esophagus, fish out whatever went inside, hook line and sinker. I've been possessed by a need to produce a protein shake every twelve hours. This has an uncomfortable effect on my gut. I’ve been emptying my bowels of whey protein powder and milk on the dot, every day for the past five weeks. Just little over a month now. And still, the bird in my body never seems to shut up, always persistently chirping away while I borrow my nails under the blender lid. My molars grind against each other, like slippery gravel before I pry off the top, and begin pouring the icy fluid into the container. This goes inside my body, down my gut, into my digestive tract, and straight out of my ass. For the little bird inside.
My doctor says this was the proper treatment for dealing for what he called the chirps — a persistent high-pitched crying noise emitting itself from my mouth each morning. As though my chest wasn’t threatened by the beaked parasite intruder inside me. I take off my shirt in his office. He puts the cold stethoscope on my chest and listens to the low reverberation with the utmost enthusiasm.
“Seems as though you do have a case of the chirps,” he announces. “You must be anxious about your voice. Transition is such a hard thing to do.”
I was horrified.
I drum my fingers on the train. I am traveling back to my friend’s apartment for the weekend. Because thank gods it was winter, I buried myself in the biggest, gayest scarf I could get ahold of to drown out the persistent chirping. I drank my morning protein shake and packed everything I would need to make another with me in a bag. People watched my body as though I was a crouching leopard. I'd like to think it was them and not me. There's nothing wrong being stacked with scarves and hugging an oversized bag to my chest, conveniently where my Adam's apple hides. What a weird boy — a case of paranoia, mebbe? I wish it.
When I get to my stop, I nearly stumble over myself and rush to the nearest bathroom. After my business I wash my face, run a wet hand through my hair, and find a perky blue feather nested between my dandruff-ridden hair. The chirp comes from my lips involuntarily, like soup overflowing from an opened tin can. I can't help but feel as though as I am now victim of some horrendous attack, that this will surely be the final drop in the bucket before it all comes spilling down my legs.
Filth — filthy as in vomiting out my stomach contents in the toilet at three in the morning. The little bird chirps and whenever I open my mouth wide enough. When I poke at my raw uvula, I can see a pair of two beady eyes. They are angry eyes and they are staring straight back at me as though I owe it something. As though it lived here, and I didn’t. If I squint, I see it recede its tiny head back into my throat, rustling its damp feathers as if I was only a minor inconvenience. I step back from the mirror, pull at the inside of my cheek, and am amazed to see how bright and healthy my gums are. The rest of my body is horribly unaware of the alien creature inside me. I need to scare it away somehow, lance this growth of a bird in me, and spin out all of its innards. Like a regurgitated meal, all reverse-mommybird. I want to see all the tiny folds of organs spill down the drain, clean the sink dry, and never think of it again.
I wipe the side of my mouth with my wrist, grovel in my own stench, and decide to draw a hot bath to clear the air. I close my mouth with a precise clicking from my molars. I'm red in the face, with hairy goosebumps on end just thinking about the bird's twiggy talons growing inside me. My toothbrush is wet and ready — erect waiting for my attention. The little mouth-bird’s chirping stops once I grab it. I let go then. Another time, I tell myself, I will make that sucker scram.
“Can I see it?”
“No,” I tell my friend. “Sorry for throwing up in your bathroom.”
“It's okay,” they lie to my face. I don't know how to convince them that the bird is really there. My doctor said it was real. I saw it. They're lying straight to my face, then. They won't believe it unless I show it to them now.
Without warning, I open my mouth wide open, plucking at my cheeks and exposing my teeth. I watch as my friend's eyes go wide like saucers as they catch a glimpse of my mouth’s cavernous inside. He laughs awkwardly at first, covering his own mouth as though we were opposite twins — mouth wide open and mouth tight shut — before going eggshell-white.
The chirping starts as a low whistle and quickly rises in pitch, a scattering of noise that doesn't stop until I bite my tongue. I feel a squawking in my belly — I’ve finally shut up the bird. My embarrassing secret is finally out to the world. I'm no better than a sentient birdhouse with an overgrown pair of eyeballs and wiggly pink person-tongue.
“You need to get that seen by a doctor,” my friend whispers. I can see the hairs on his arms rise. He frowns, closing his mouth as though my chirping might be contagious. Like a horrible disease.
“I have,” I tell them the truth. “They said drink more protein.”
“No,” my friend answers. He's getting serious, rubbing his temples as reality finally begin sinking in. “You need to take it out.”
I uncross my legs and lean forwards. The bird has shut up and won't be speaking again for some time. Without opening my mouth, I silently nod, and we both approach the bathroom-sink as though we’re both spectators of my body’s own undoing. I open my mouth again, and my friend reaches for the toothbrush, this time clenching it with white knuckles. Without warning, he jams it straight into my mouth, and I nearly gag until he strips it off my raw tongue.
When he pulls the toothbrush out, I see a tiny warbler biting the bristles like an angry fish. I swallow, rub my throat, and for the first time, I’m able to exhale. The chirping is gone — but I know I will miss it. I ask my friend to put it back immediately.
He laughs flatly. And says no. He wants his own. I ask him why. He shrugs, wonders what we should do with it.
“Flush it down the toilet,” I say. “That’s where it belongs.”
“I’ll preserve it in a jar,” my friend answers. “I’ll pickle it for us to take a look at later.”
I shake my head. A few days later, I receive a package in the mail. It is the bird preserved in a clear pink fluid. The mason jar is shut tightly and is taped around the lid. I wince as I throw away the cardboard while unfurling the object from placenta-like bubble-wrap. It’s disgusting. I want to vomit, feeling my throat clench just as it did before the bird left, but nothing comes out. Standing over the sink, I drip spittle, and decide it’s time to finally brush my teeth.
With the bird gone, I can finally focus on more pressing matters. I am packing my bags and preparing for a trip back home. But before I can leave, my doctor sends me a message asking to see me. Nothing about this seem strange at all, so I say yes. Soon enough I am at his office, sitting on the examination table, waiting to hear about my good condition.
“Open wide,” he asks me. I comply, and stretch out my jaw as low as it will go.
He frowns. “You have cavities,” he says. “You will need to get those examined.”
I wish he wouldn’t talk about my teeth. I can’t imagine what the bird might’ve done to them.
“You look fine, otherwise,” he says. He peers down into the tunnel of my mouth, pressing down on my tongue, looking for any trace of beaks and feathers. So far, so good. He releases my tongue, lets my lips close, and flicks off the light. I blink a few times, seeing dark circles float out of my vision until the doctor leering back at me is clear.
“What do you believe caused it?” he asks me. “Anxiety? Stress?”
“I brought it with me — the bird,” I explain.
His mouth opens to an oval shape. I smirk. Now he’s opening his mouth wide for me. I reach for my bag and bring out the jar, still bright pink with the now dyed body of the warbler inside. The doctor nearly drops his flashlight. I cross my legs and gingerly hand the jar to him, praying he doesn’t drop it. If it were to shatter — I know I wouldn’t be the only victim. My friend would cry. We would both be miserable together, forever. I wonder if I’m in the wrong for even sharing it with my doctor, letting him see our cruel project.
I hear the lid click open. The saran wrap I covered it in combs around the doctor's fingers. I waste no time rising from my seat to gather my possessions and watch as the doctor looks inside. Even I wouldn't dare opening the jar, but the doctor doesn't even flinch. Within seconds, the warbler twitches, attempts to lift its wings, and chirps in a man's low voice. I gasp, nearly ready to dart out the door, before the doctor reassures me that this is perfectly normal.
He dumps the contents in a biohazard container. He tells me it’s okay.
“That's the last of that,” he laughs.
I hold my vomit. I can’t forget the low voice, the cadence of the warbler, as though it were a human. The pink soupy fluid is puddled in deep red plastic. The matter is gelatin and oozes like a viscous potion. A shiny sticker warns strangers of its dangerous contents. I reach for my mouth, finger the soft matter of my cheek and gums, and lightly prod at the swollen head of my uvula. Dirty hands. If I vomit now, the doctor will treat me, making all of this right.
I press down and feel the warm spongey liquid pour out. The sickness is littered with feathers. When I stand up to wash my hands, I find a patch of blue feather. I try to speak, but I have no voice. The doctor’s gloved hand reaches out for me, but I swat it away. I have no muscle in my tongue, no strumming in my chords. Silence with an egg-shaped hole in the empty of my mouth.
He dismisses me later that day. I go home speechless, without mumbling to myself, wondering what will become of the dead warbler’s tiny hollow bones. The feathers are stuffed inside my pocket — I think I might put them with the others. Make a shrine to my deceased friend, my companion, my resident-in-body for the short life it lived. When I try to make a noise, I hear nothing, but the doctor assures me, I very much am talking out-loud to myself.
Blake Planty is a trans-masculine person who loves crawling the web at the witching hour. He has works published and forthcoming in The Fanzine, Foglifter, Heavy Feather Review, Waxwing Magazine, Tenderness Lit and more. He also writes about video games. Find him talking about cyborgs and coffee at @_dispossessed and online at catboy.club