The child knows the man with the patch over his eye is not really going to buy him a hamburger. He feels the man’s heavy hands on his shoulders. The child is wearing his best red coat and cap, but he is shivering. The man coughs and says, Smile. The child refuses. The child starts to say something to the photographer, but the photographer seems to be a friend of the man’s.
His mother would say they were in cahoots. It’s cold. Near dusk. And they are in a sooty alleyway and now the man wants him to smile for the camera. The man had said hello to him when he was out in the garden playing. The man showed him a toy owl. The child loved birds. How did the man know? His mother had said she would be back from the store in five minutes. She told him to hum every song he knew and she’d be back before he finished. She would bring him something sweet.
So the boy hummed and played in the garden and came closer when the man asked him to. He so wanted to hold the toy owl. To pet its feathers. The man said he could if he was a good boy and held his hand. Now the man was grasping his shoulders and the child was shivering and the photographer said, It’s okay, I don’t need him to smile, and both of the men laughed. Not far away, the child heard the bird who was not an owl. The solitary bird who sang every afternoon at the same time no matter what. Its song reminded him not to cry. To be brave. He would swivel his head around just like an owl and he would bite the man’s rough hand very hard.
Kathy Fish’s stories have been published in Slice, Guernica, Indiana Review and elsewhere. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2013), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2012), and a chapbook in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008). Her story, “Strong Tongue” was chosen by Amy Hempel for Best Small Fictions, 2017.