Janice dipped the sponge in the murky water, cleaning the last of the blood off the falcon’s wings. She dropped it back in the bucket on the long, formica blue table with a plop and sighed. The detail work made her eyes hurt.
The birds at the Jerenon Aviary got into fights every once in a while. Janice knew it was part of the healing process—some birds needed to fight to get their mojo back—but it never failed to aggravate her. It meant extra work, and she didn’t like seeing her birds get hurt.
Janice dumped the bloody water down the cleaning sink, washed her hands, and put Raymond back in his transport cage. He tried to nip at her, but caught glove fibers in his beak instead. She waved him off and smiled. At least he was finally healing. She took another moment and blinked at the fluorescent lights, looked across the mostly ocean-blue-toned room. The long counters running around the room could hold four large birds at full wingspan, giving people working on them ample room to work, though Janice would count herself lucky if there was ever enough staff to have four people in the cleaning room at once. The long hours were starting to wear on her. She covered her eyes with a hand, and stared through her fingers. Her brown skin contrasted with the blue of the room. She stretched, her lithe figure bending sideways as her muscled arms rose to brush the cabinets above the counter. The ink-black, sinuous tattoo that traced her body stretched with her.
She opened Raymond’s cage and he took flight. He circled the spacious cage—about fifty feet in each direction and twice as tall—before landing on one of the scattered trees and branches that littered the area. One of the other falcons landed near him and he took flight again. He wasn’t looking for a fight. Janice smiled as Raymond let out a piercing whistle. In a few more weeks, he’d be ready to go out into the world again.
That evening, Janice climbed to the roof of her apartment and looked out over Queens. She was wearing dark green sweat pants and a deep purple crop-top, a good compliment to her black hair (dyed green at the tips), which was up in a ponytail, and her bright green bellybutton stud.
The door to the roof opened. “Happy twenty-fifth.” a voice said behind her. She turned to see Peter, a middle-aged, half-Japanese, half-Italian man coming from the stairwell. Her partner in crime.
She grinned. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to know a woman’s age?”
Peter smiled back. The yellow roof light was making his ochre skin shine. He had combed his short brown hair over his slowly expanding bald spot, a look that Janice didn’t appreciate on him. He was a bit fleshier than Janice, fat collected more at his stomach and on his arms and face. It was a trait that only increased with time, a result of aging rather than diet.
He walked to the edge and looked over the rooftops. Janice followed his gaze to the familiar red and blue lights of an AC unit about ten roofs over. They looked at each other. “Race tonight?” he asked.
“Sounds good to me.” Janice smiled.
They both took about five steps back and Peter pulled off his shirt so he was only wearing his black skinny jeans.
They spoke together, “Three”
They raced forward and lept off the roof at almost the same moment. Janice’s tattoo shifted, running along her body like oil across water, and exploded from her back into large, black wings. The thrill of flight overtook her and she laughed aloud. She was glad to have the freedom she loved to see in the birds she worked with. She beat her “wings” with a thought (they were actually made of a substance stronger than most anything else), and sped across the rooftops towards the lights. The crow Peter had turned into flew two rooftops ahead of her—she was getting faster—and he circled around the AC unit once before turning human again. He smiled at her as she arrived, her tattoo turning into a ramp at her feet to slow her speed from flight. As she came to a stop, the tattoo bled back across her body, resuming its normal tracing form. They were both panting.
“I’ve always wondered,” Peter said, still smiling, “doesn’t that get heavy?”
“Not really,” Janice said, sitting down, her back against the AC unit. She gazed at the tattoo piece at her wrist, turning her wrist over to look. “There is some weight to it, and I’ve used it for weight to get my extremities stronger, but there isn’t much unless it’s all concentrated in one place. I’ve gotten used to it.”
Peter sat next to her. Janice spoke again. “Now I get to ask a question.”
“Where the hell does all your mass go?”
“Honestly?” he considered for a moment. “I have no idea. Never thought to question it. Or where I get the extra mass for bigger things. Couldn’t tell you.”
They sat for a few moments, Peter watching the stars and Janice watching the city.
“So,” Peter said, “Race back?”
Janice smiled and they lept off the roof again.