from the desert, once a week

I am woken around one in the morning to the sound of a bird in pain. I have never heard a bird in pain. Their voice—a quail’s, I think—is strangled. Their call is slowed down and dragged out. They sound, again and again, slower and slower, more and more in pain in a sound I can’t make, for reasons I don’t know.

Half awake, I wonder if they have been caught by a snake or if their family has been annihilated. These are the only two scenarios I can imagine.

I’m trying to remember that the animal world has less emotions, but there is no mistaking the pain she is in. I’ve seen the quails here; nimble and together. Tiny families. Sweet eyes.

More awake, I start to cry then put on my white noise machine and close the window. I can’t listen to her. I think she must be dying.

I haven’t heard any quails this morning, but I did hear a man I barely know told a woman I like very much that I sent him “bikini photos.” He told me I’d led him on by doing it.

I want to describe the photo, tell you how it was 109 degrees that day and I was outside and the point of the photo was how comfortable I was and how good the sun felt and that the book I was reading was very good and I felt happy, but it’s not important. I shouldn’t have to explain.

My body is mine. My body is still mine if you see a photo of it. My body is still mine, even if you fuck it, which he hasn’t, but what good has explaining that ever done me?

My body was mine when I was raped. My body was mine even when I hated it. My body is mine. Do men know how much women need to repeat these things to themselves to survive? Do men know how much women need to repeat these things to themselves because of them? Do men know what it feels like to try to trust anyone again after you’re told your body is everything and then they take it from you like it’s nothing?

This man also called me unkind. Said if I was unkind again he’d make me feel “fucking terrible.” All of this because I had, with the no of my voice and my body, made him feel some version of fucking terrible.

My body is still my biggest weapon. I know this. And I am also aware that it will grow dull with age.

I think the body of the quail must be somewhere nearby. I think she must have died while I wasn’t listening.

I think I shouldn’t write this and, certainly, I shouldn’t publish it. Because the man might read it and the man might be angry and the man might yell and I will have to try to explain something I can’t ever seem to explain to men. That I only care as much as I think they can take my body away from me.

And just when I think my point is that I’m envious of the quail somehow, I read California Quail are pretty as well as popular with game hunters and know I am just beginning to write this.

writer & former librarian • A LIGHT forthcoming from Chicago Review Press 2022 • amandaoliver.comtinyletter.com/decorouslines

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