These two words are what she thought of when Beverly closed her eyes and blew out the candles: Bird feet. Her family and she gnashed through the cake like rodents and retired to their quarters of the tree. Mom and dad liked to hang by their tails off the tall branch in the center of the old cedar. She went to sleep in the tree’s stump, stowed away in the darkness of the expansive space inside, her paws wrapped in a blanket. She looked out through the far side of her dwelling, a small circular entrance, up at the branches, and past the branches at the stars.
Too young still to hang for the evening, too small to not be gobbled by a flying predator, Beverly scratched her nails against each other dreaming of the talons of mighty birds, listening to her siblings scuttle, switch sides, giggle, whisper, gnash, tucked in a different hole in the tree. She was born without a paw on her back leg. Before the rest of the litter was to eat Beverly her father intervened, scooping her loose sack of a body up in his sharp-toothed snout and pounced away. He brought her to and from her mother to feed while the other pups slept, lazily, on their backs, pawing at the air.
Beverly quickly grew too large to be sentenced to a savage death, but she could not sleep with the rest of the litter. Their red eyes and pink snouts scared her, they scowled when she was near, filled her sleep with night tremors. She was given a private life. Her father portioned off the stump to her. She’d be off the ground enough to evade any slithering predators, and tucked in far enough to avoid the flying ones.
With her father’s help she learned to walk. She peddled with her front legs while propelling herself forward with her hind one. She would lift her pawless leg off the ground. While it dangled, she found her balance. She developed a slow and fast pace and a tendency to grind her teeth when determined.
She liked watching fish in the river. She liked following the current to its break, against a rock or a branch, the way the water swirled into new shapes from something just beneath the surface. Her father would lift her by her neck and toss her in. She swam awkwardly, but with great purpose, happily lifting the point of her snout up, closing her eyes with each smile as she fought like mad to stay afloat. Beverly scratched the rock surface of the shallow river, clipped her nails to bleeding. She would curse the river for such pain, forget the pain, and return again.
Dusk setting into darkness, now alone on such a voyage, tracing the steps of the forest, and without the aid of her father the young Beverly found a pattern in the dirt, four lines stemming off of a single point in sets of two. She found a scent placing her snout down in the dirt near the marks and followed their trail. In and around trees, away from the brush she squirmed chasing the pattern. Then she came upon them: chickens in a pen. They’d pecked a hole through the wire but appeared to have returned to their holding cell.
Beverly watched the birds dart their head as they paced, lifting their feet in almost circular motions, occasionally taking flight. She was transfixed by the movements. The darting heads. The lifted feet. The claws pressing the ground, stamping an impression. She looked at her pink tail, at its rings and felt it shared a kinship to these naked feet, that maybe she and these birds were somehow related, maybe even only their appendages.
Then she saw a glorious thing, two of the male birds pacing around each other, filling their bird chests with air, blinking their wild eyes between long held stares, between wide pronounced steps, back and forth. Then the blue-beaked cock jumped with both feet at the white-beaked cock and scratched its puffed chest. Three long tears from one claw across the chest made a ripping noise as the flying bird pounced the grounded bird into the wire, an echo rattled as their bodies pressed against the shaking chain link.
The hens were a chatter, a few feathers burst into the air descending like leaves on the mulch of the coupe floor. Beverly realized then that she was completely out of hiding, that she was in fact, sitting upright, close enough to the fencing to touch one of the birds, her paw, she realized was resting on a link. That’s when she heard her siblings, rousing out of the nearby ground shrubs. The other possums plunged into the canned light from the shadows, all red eyes at first, then shapes, then pink snouts and grey fur and naked tails, suspicion filling their eyes as they approached their sister.
The feeling was a wash. Her body lifted in the chaos, her paws scuttled at everything around her, at the flurry of movement. She tumbled into the cage, consumed by the clucking, the darting heads. She’s almost clawed by blue-beak whose chest flashed quickly in a blur over her. She is kin to no one. She wants to claw at her siblings. She felt the eyes of the hens blinking at her, shaking their feathers.
Beverly found herself tucked away in her stump when she woke, her father on the tree floor, curled up by the entrance. He smiled as she focused on his silhouette, then his grey spiky fur, his white jowls, his dark eyes, his pink snout. He purred and approached Beverly, nuzzled her head with his own, felt her paws on his face. She looked at him and did not speak the words, but implied them with a look, it cannot be you always saving me, papa, I must defend myself.
Her father motioned for her to climb further up into their tree. They followed the candlelight flickering high in the canopy. This is the cake. This is the room with the rest of the litter. This is her mom welcoming her to a party. The rest of the pups sat lazily around the table. They must have already been disciplined. The scrappiest of them had scratches on their faces. Scratches in threes.
Beverly was lifted by the thought. They were the cause and the remedy. And what was more, they were fallible. The chickens pierced their shared skin. This is when she was invited to blow out the candles. This is when she thought of having birds feet. Though she would not fly she would scratch and claw.
A new sensation tingles past the part of her leg where her missing paw should be. She curls the appendage. She raises it against her other hind leg and feels the hard edges of her new talons. She rustles out of the covers to see. Four beautiful chicken feet. She raises each off the ground individually. She looks at the underside of each claw. She paces slowly around the room, quickly mastering the opening warble. She struts. She sashays her tail. Then she leaps out into the world.
Jump forward, head back, look forward. One leap. Two leaps. A Full body tumble. A pounce. A bounce. Jump backwards, head forward, look back. Looking back she couldn’t believe her luck. Looking back she saw the bottoms of her upturned claws, smiled because they did match her naked tail. Beverly closed her eyes in mid air. It felt like flying.