Chicken Suit

by Joe Aguilar
Chicken Suit by Joe Aguilar

“Eddie.” I skimmed her wrist with mine. The sun flamed through me. I sensed the bones bracing my cheeks, their spongy weight. Grease on my temples. Each pore on my nose yawned. I shrugged my left shoulder to block my face.

“Got a dime?” I said.

She dug a coin from her backpack’s pocket and pressed it on my palm.

“I’ll pay you back,” I said.

“You really do look familiar,” she said, “hold on.” She rubbed her cheeks violently then snapped her fingers over and over. “You have a band?”

“Downtown Hospital?”

She clapped once. “Got it. You’re an okay drummer. You guys opened for my buddies, Dying to Be Born, over in Kirkland? I sell their t-shirts and CDs at shows.”

“We did play with them one time.”

“Sweet,” Pearl said. “Enjoy your phone call.” She walked away.

I trolled through my memories for a bushy-haired merch girl but came up dry. Weird fluke. Our band Downtown Hospital, Jim on guitar and me on drums, needed a bassist, especially one who could sing, but as an instrumental duo, we’d already booked opening gigs at the Youth Center twice. Whenever Jim botched a riff, I’d cover with a quick fill, which gave us sort of a free jazz sound, sort of Thelonius. I owned a vintage 1976 four-piece Ludwig kit, translucent yellow. The floor tom boomed, the snare cracked, Zildjian AA hi-hats pinged and sizzled. After school in the basement, lights off, I soloed for hours, machine-gunning triplets and paradiddles and flams, usually with The Headhunters’s debut album in my headphones. Mike Clark equals God. My percussion instructor had said that if I kept practicing, after graduation I could choose from lots of great conservatories, Julliard, Berklee, whatever. So Mom had signed me up for music camp.

But no Accutane for two weeks? I slid the coins in and pressed numbers.

“Mijo?” said Mom.

“Sí, pues, I forgot that face medicine.”

“Met any nice friends?”

Lately Mom had questions: did Jim plan on college, did Jim have a girlfriend, where did Jim’s father work? When we were kids she didn’t mind Jim. Then Jim got fat. Maybe Mom linked girth with sloth, but if I questioned her, I had to defend Jim or myself.

“I arrived last night,” I said. “So everyone seems nice I guess, I don’t know, whatever.”

“You need your medicine? I’ll send it fast, don’t worry yourself. You take care of your beautiful face.”

“Can you get it to me tomorrow?” I said.

“I will put it in the mail today,” Mom said.

* * *

The Accutane pamphlet explained likely problems for patients:
Side Effects and Their Frequency:
• Chapped lips–90%
• Dry skin and itching–80%
• Dryness of mouth, mild nosebleed–80%
• Irritation of the eyelids and eyes–40%
• Joint and muscle pains–15%
• Temporary hair thinning–10%
• Rash–7%
• Intestinal symptoms–5%
• Urinary symptoms–5%
• Headache–5%
• Increased sensitivity to sunburn–5%
• Decreased night vision–1%
• Depression, thoughts of suicide–1%

Before I started Accutane, a nurse drew my blood. After the results came, she told Mom and me not to worry, I shouldn’t experience serious side effects since I my system was healthy and I was young. I took the pills with food. My mouth seemed drier. Maybe from the Camels. Jim and I shared one pack–we had each tried three cigarettes–but we’d agreed that I could guard the hoard for two weeks. Music camp seemed like a good place to smoke.

* * *

So the next day, during free time, I visited the camp store, which doubled as a post office. Each cabin had a bucket for mail. No package. The store lady combed the mail twice.

Outside, the light stung the skin behind my ears. Increased sensitivity to sunburn. Maybe withdrawal amplified Accutane’s side effects? After passing Clark Hall, a longhouse-style building with bathrooms and showers, I found a shaded rock by the volleyball court. I sat and shed my flip-flops. Rubbing my neck, I shoved my toes through the grass, which felt marshy and sad. Although the sun shone, yesterday I had fallen asleep to rain tapping our cabin’s roof. Puddles marred the volleyball court. Two barefoot girls in dresses played Frisbee near the lake, a hundred yards away, and a billowing mist traveled the fields, pulled out by the sun.

Four boys exited Clark Hall. I recognized two from my cabin. As they approached, one of my bunkmates, Andy, a tall Korean guy with basketball shorts, stopped and said, “This fucking kid brushes his teeth with Benadryl.”

“You’re thinking of Sherman,” I said. “The glasses?”

I meant Sherman, Stewart’s twin. Both twins slept in my cabin. Both wore thick glasses. Two nights ago, when I’d arrived, we had been unrolling sleeping bags when Sherman leaped from the bathroom, spluttering. He’d mistaken a tube of Benadryl for toothpaste. We all had laughed and pushed each other like we had done something big.

“I was there, bud. It was you,” Andy said.

“Wouldn’t I know?”

“You don’t know shit.”

“I know Sherman ate the Benadryl.”

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