God Lives in a Birdhouse in the Redwood Forest by Shannon Layne

My best friend was mad at me after the sixteenth birthday party we threw for her the night before Halloween, where I let a guy finger me for the first time in her mom’s salon chair where she cut people’s hair from home. (It was good, no one was saying it wasn’t enjoyable, but I was already gleaning on to the nagging thought that good wasn’t right and that right was girls.) The salon chair was expensive and after it had been laid almost flat the night before, it was decidedly less upright than it had been pre-party. Mostly though she was upset that a window had also been broken by some guy who’d just lost at beer pong, and now the morning after we had to search for every piece of shattered glass in our dirty, bare feet, tracking little spots of blood from the cut of unseen shards.

“Spooky,” she said to me as we stared, hungover, at the bloodtrail left by our toes. She draped an arm around my neck, leaned her head against my shoulder, and sighed in between sips of iced coffee, irritation at me forgotten. She wore nothing but her lime-green thong and an oversized T-shirt emblazoned with a massive, sequined blue cloud. She looked like a banished angel, exiled for taking one too many shots and dancing topless on god’s dinner table. I wore a huge shirt of hers with a sleeping kitten in the middle (why did all her pajamas look like they belonged to a Precious Memories figurine?), polka dot boy shorts, and that was it. It was hard to worry about things like pants during a hangover that, at this moment, made me feel like I wanted to peel my skin off.

“Speaking of which: what do you call rum that jumps out and scares you?” I asked her. Not my best joke, but my brain was still fuzzy.

“Mali-boo,” she said. “AKA, what we drank last night.”

“Ugh,” I said.

My dad came to pick me up later that morning. We’d changed and washed our bloody feet by then and put the house mostly back to rights. It would smell like whiskey for a week and the floors were sticky, but that’s what made it such a great house for parties. The day was cloudy and cold like all the rest of them as we headed the 2.4 miles home. My dad drank his fourth cup of black coffee as I showered and then met me at our back deck, on the edge of a redwood forest, for target practice. 

My sister had recently gotten a slingshot and it was magnificent. She abandoned it within hours but I’d become attached to the mechanism and could now shoot things with the accuracy of a 21st-century, mostly-gay Annie Oakley (what was I going to do about that though, really, oh god what was I going to do). My dad liked to sit in a chair on the deck in the sun and watch me. In the mornings when it was wet from rain, wisps of steam would rise as the wood dried like we were in a scene from Macbeth. I aimed and shot, aimed and shot, hitting leaves and branches and the targets we’d set up made of spray-painted cardboard. Even hungover, my eyes were eagle-like, bright and alert, and I missed few. My dad knew I was hungover but also knew I would hide it out of respect; that was the tacit agreement. He tapped his foot on the deck as I aimed at an old birdhouse on the biggest tree in range behind our house. It had been empty for years, no bird-tenants to speak of, but I still felt a little thrill of relief when the shot went wide.

“I missed,” I said. Then, joking, “god didn’t want me to hit it. Maybe there are birds in there.”

“Maybe god’s in there,” said my dad.

I laughed as the wind brushed my hair back from my face, stroking my cheek like a phantom hand.

That night, my dad’s words would come back to me the way they often did when darkness fell. Halfway between awake and asleep, when I was vulnerable and too tired not to be honest, was a dangerous time. Dreams and desires were unlocked and ran wild and truths escaped from barriers like water breaking a dam. Truths like this: the guy from the night before, the salon-chair guy, wasn’t it.

I had needed to be sure, needed to check, needed to see, and now that I had I was afraid. I was not normal. I’d had to make myself try him on for size, like a too-tight pair of shoes; I could not stay away from her—however much I tried, I was reeled back in the same way the ocean moves at the moon’s whim. For me god was starting to look like the curve of her neck and rapture was the bruises she left on my hips and scripture was the way she said my name late at night in that soft voice that made my cheeks burn. Dreamtime knew this to be true even when daytime fought it. God wasn’t in a birdhouse; god was in the way she touched me, like she’d never get her fill, like I was made of something precious every goddamn time.

Shannon Layne (she/her) is from Humboldt County, California, and holds a B.A. degree from UC Davis. Her fiction can be found in The Bookends Review, Flash Frog, upcoming in The Bitchin’ Kitsch, and elsewhere. She lives in Northern California with her wife. You can find her on twitter (@shannonlaynee) and instagram (@shannonlayneee).

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