“What if Andy and Stewart are, like, gay,” I said, “they are making out or something. We catch them on a rowboat in the lake.”
“That would be embarrassing for everybody.”
“Yeah!” I said, a raw hoot ripping from my throat. My voice echoed through the trees. Pearl grabbed my arm.
“Calm down, Eddie,” she whispered. She had stopped. I stopped too.
“Okay,” I said.
“Don’t ruin this.”
“You all right?”
We started walking. If I pulled ahead, she skipped to keep up. The reek of pine dampened the air. We found the archery range. We removed the garbage bag. While I jimmied the chicken suit’s head onto my head, Pearl zipped me. With each echoic breath I took my own warm moisture blew over my face.
I crept quickly through the woods and Pearl jogged behind, giggling to herself, aiming light over the path in front of my feet. We finally emerged from the forest, passed the dining hall, stepped into the field bordering the lake. I stopped.
“What is it?” Pearl said.
“Where are we going?”
“To find Andy and Stewart.”
We stood blinking into the hazy moon. Pines shuddered in the wind.
“More specifically,” I said.
“By the dock?” Pearl said.
We passed my half-sunk rowboat. Neat rows of canoes glittered. No sound but black wind-dappled water sloshing to shore. The lake quivered with moonlight.
“Shit,” I said.
Pearl dropped into a crouch near my feet. “So what do we do?” she said. “Your call. You got the suit, man.”
A thrill prickled my joints, the ligaments stitching my knees to my shins, all the nerves and pockets of fat in my chest, the tendons in my arms, the long knuckled bone of my spine. I knelt by her and let my costumed wrist touch her wrist. She did not move. I could leave the suit on for days. I would heal under the mask. There is the chicken boy, people would say. I would peck their faces lovingly. I would squat to lay a pretend egg. Mom would visit. Jim too. Everyone would laugh and touch me.
Pearl’s face loomed inches away. Though it was dim I thought I could see her mouth arranged into a smile, could almost see her bottom lip curl, and I moved the chicken face toward the plane of her face and she seemed to fall toward me, and I pecked her mouth with the beak, pecked again, mawed, felt the bump of her teeth on my chin through the cloth and she pulled away and grabbed her mouth and said, “Ouch.”
I jumped upright. What the hell did I just do?
When Pearl stood, she sort of laughed, but a strange short bark, not a happy laugh. She was still holding her mouth. I imagined her on the witness stand pointing to violated areas, then long years dodging shivs in the prison yard.
“Oh, man,” she said through her hands. “You whacked my face. Am I bleeding?”
I removed the chicken head to inspect her. She took her hands away from her mouth. I could just glimpse the outline of her lips and nose. It was too dark to see much.
“You’re not bleeding,” I said hopefully.
“My mouth tastes like copper,” she said. “It hurts bad. Sure feels like bleeding.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“The fuck was that all about? Did I trip you?”
She thought it was an accident.
“This grass is all slippery or something,” I said. “Honestly, I’m so sorry.”
“Honestly, I’m so sorry,” she said in a high-pitched voice.
We turned from the water and moved, me in front, her behind, and when I slowed for her, she slowed down too, so we kept on like that for a while, unequal and silent. Then I needed to cry but I was old now so it seemed melodramatic.
“I told you I was sorry,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. Her hands muffled her voice again. I put the chicken head back on. Now we were walking side by side. I quietly jabbed myself in the rib. I could see myself telling Jim everything, his plump jaw unhinging to laugh at me.
“Should you get back to your cabin?” I said.
“Maybe,” she said. We kept walking. I wasn’t sure where to.
“I think I only bit my tongue,” she said and spat.
I felt a little better.
We passed the basketball court and a dark-windowed cluster of houses where administrators lived. We climbed a hill that smelled powerfully of cut grass and we descended the other side. Crickets purled. Somewhere a frog belched in a rough and irregular voice. Now the clouds had lifted and the sky scattered with stars, blotched in places with trees, ragged and huge, dripping leaves atremble.
The lake appeared again. We had circled back.
* * *
We were nearing the water when I saw them. By the distant cafeteria building, two shapes floated toward the forest. Andy and Stewart.
“Look,” I said, a flutter in my gut. I cleared my throat. “Look by the dining hall.”