A Shed Is a Shed Is a Shed
There’s this thing:
A bird. She lives inside my chest. She’s always been there, and her name is Gail.
And when the waves crash against the rocks, I can’t think. I only get my thinking done in between waves.
We couldn’t find a good place to build the shed.
I want it to be twenty feet long, I say.
There’s no way we can afford a shed that size, Tennessee says. And then.
Well, it should be on flat ground then, I say.
We hike through the woods, looking for any section that’s been miraculously cleared for us. Tennessee’s braid bounces up and down. She lifts her boot and the braid swings up and out and with every step it slams against her back.
We reach a clearing, and it’s close enough to the house.
What a great spot, I remark, because I know what I’m talking about.
No shit, Tennessee says.
She pulls out her measuring tape and stretches it across the clearing. It’s too small, I think. Way too small. What will this be? A shed for a squirrel?
Gail and I leave the ocean, and I can think again.
The other boys change into their t-shirts and gym shorts. I duck into a bathroom stall to squeeze into my undershirt. Gail is too loud. People don’t like to see my bare ribs with no skin, just a bird. A bird who can be a bitch at times.
She’s really boy-crazy right now.
The other boys take their shirts off and she goes bonkers. She flaps and squawks and hollers like she’s at a strip club on ladies’ night. When Roger, the new boy, first showed up to Mr. Folden’s PE class, she went absolutely crazy. So nutso she knocked against my heart and gave me chest pains. Then she stumbled and ran into my lungs. She knocked the wind out of me something fierce, and I had to sit with my arms over my head until the pain went away.
I change into my gym clothes and walk into the gymnasium.
Mr. Folden’s face is bright red and he holds up his coffee mug in front of his chest like he’s moments away from taking a drink. Everyone at school knows he puts whiskey in that coffee cup.
Line up, fellas, he says. Today, we study the great art of jujitsu. We will finish the week with a tournament that will end in death for some of you.
A man walks out in a white robe and nothing underneath.
Mr. Folden takes a sip and coughs down his whiskey.
A woman comes in with a note, asking that I be excused from class. My uncle is here to pick me up.
We are at the ocean, and Tennessee has all of the materials. This should take no time. Hammer this, screw that, saw this, rivet that. Bang, bang. We have a shed.
Okay, I have everything measured and cut, Tennessee says.
It’s not going to be made out of wood? I say.
No. Sheet metal will last longer, shithead, she says.
The air is salty here. Gail always complains about that. The air is tight with salt. When I went to the mountains with my other uncle, the air was light and it smelled like water. When I went to the swamp with my grandma, the air was heavy and weighed you down. Here, at the beach, the air is tight with salt and it gets stuck everywhere, even when you don’t go in the water.
Won’t it rust? I say, because I definitely know what I’m talking about.
No. I’ll take care of it. Things only rust when you don’t take care of them.
My hands are cold and I put them under my shirt to warm them up. Gail nibbles on my finger. I shiver and pull my hands out, so I can hold a large two-by-four in place at Tennessee’s instruction.
The hammering and the orders from Tennessee take over the waves crashing and soon, I can’t do any thinking, not even in between waves.
When the sun goes down, my uncle, Tennessee’s dad, comes out and tells us to come inside. Dinner is ready. I’m cold and Gail shivers so I head straight into the bathroom. I draw a hot bath and eat my bowl of stew in the tub.
Here are some jokes Gail told me:
How many punk rockers does it take to mow a lawn?
Punk rockers don’t mow lawns they mow hawks.
What’s a ghost’s favorite food?
Two nuns are driving to church and one says, “I’ve never come this way before,” and the other nun says, “It’s the cobblestone road.”
I’m behind in PE because I missed class yesterday. Students are already sparring with their partners in preparation for Friday’s tournament. It’s a big deal because a lot of parents are coming to watch it, and everyone is saying Mr. Folden will flunk you if die during the contest.
Mr. Folden keeps sneaking off into the corner of the gym to smoke a joint with the guy in the white robe and nothing underneath. My sparring partner looks like Clark Kent, so I spend most of the period lying on the floor with a bloody nose.
Gail tells me jokes and I wish I was at the ocean.
Clark Kent tells me that he can’t wait to murder me on Friday.
Gail tells me it’s hyperbole, that I’ll be the one murdering someone on Friday.
So, the deal is:
I always wonder how long Gail will stay. I ask her if she’s trapped. She tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about.
We finish the shed before the end of the week. I’m glad because I’m pretty sure I’m going to die on Friday. My form has not gotten any better, and my partner is not helping. On Wednesday, Mr. Folden shows up high on LSD, so he isn’t much use either.
Tennessee attaches the door to the shed while I’m at school. She shows me when I get home. The inside is dark, save for a little light that crawls in between the corrugated metal and the dirt floor.
Gail wants to see it so I lift up my shirt.
We could live in here, she says.
I like the idea because I can’t hear the waves crashing, so I rub my thumb across Gail’s beak.
It’s the day before the tournament, and Mr. Folden cuts up lines of cocaine for himself and his favorite students and the man in the white robe with nothing on underneath.
Clark Kent is one of Mr. Folden’s favorites and when he returns to the mat he’s clapping his hands together and telling me he wants to fight.
Come on, he says.
You should take the first swing, Gail says. Really knock him out.
Clark Kent will never be loved, so I swing my hardest and knock him upside his head. His head turns sideways with the punch and he slowly rotates it back towards me with a grin. His first punch blisters the capillaries around my left eye. The blood army-crawls out of the vein and under my skin, laying out a purple and green blanket for a picnic. Gail starts flapping around. She tells me to block his next move.
Kill that asshole, she says. Make him pay.
Clark Kent sweeps his leg under mine and I’m on my back. He takes his boot and presses against my neck. Gail is trying to break out.
I’ll kill him myself, she squawks.
His boot on my neck, an ocean of air sloshes in my head, begging to be let out. Mr. Folden blows his whistle and announces that it’s time for more rails of cocaine. I slip out of the gym. Gail and I walk home.
Tennessee is in the shed. She hangs pictures on the walls and has laid out a small cot.
It’s nice in here, I say.
I like it, she says.
There’s a karate tournament at school tomorrow. You should come, I say.
Oh, yeah? she says. Should I line the pictures up with the shed or with the Earth? Either way it looks crooked from a certain angle.
The shed, I say. You know, tomorrow might be my last day on this planet. Clark Kent wants to kill me, and I’m no good at stopping him.
Well, make sure you finish your homework, Tennessee says.
In the morning, I open my window and let the waves keep me from thinking.
Gail pumps me up. No more mister-nice-guy. Nice guys finish last. You can do it. You’ll kill him. You’ll pummel him something good. He’ll never know what hit him. You’ll float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Tennessee is in the stands at the tournament. Mr. Folden is riding a meth bender from the day before, and a half-erected arena sits in the middle of the gymnasium. Mr. Folden spent all night trying to get the thing built. It’s mostly made up of old shopping carts and coat hangers. Clark Kent’s eyes are bloodshot, and I know, for a moment, I can beat him.
We are first up.
Parents and wrestling fans make up the crowd. The man in the white robe with nothing on underneath is at the back of the stands. Mr. Folden walks out into the ring and announces our match.
When he says, to the death, the crowd goes ape shit. Then he leans in and tells me I’m supposed to take off my shirt. That’s how these things are done, boy, he says.
Gail agrees. If you die, I die with you and I don’t want to die in darkness, she says.
I take my shirt off and Tennessee stands up in the front row.
That’s my cousin, she says. Biggest badass on the block.
Clark Kent smirks and tells me I’m dead. He tells me I don’t have any skin where Gail is, that I have a bird living in my chest. He tells me things I already know.
Mr. Folden blows the whistle, and Clark Kent nails me in the nose. Like clockwork, the faucet opens and blood runs freely. He kicks at my knees and I step back. The crowd throws whoops and hollers at us. Gail calls Clark Kent a pretty boy. He knocks me to the ground. The parents in the crowd go wild. They love it. Mr. Folden hands Clark Kent a trashcan and he knocks me over the head with it. Then he drops his elbow against my chest and knocks against my ribs. They crack and I tell Gail to be safe.
I die when you die, I say.
A parent throws a folding chair to Clark Kent and it’s the last thing I see.
It’s dark, save for the little light that crawls in between the corrugated metal and the dirt floor. The cot is taut under my weight. The air is tight with salt and it’s tight in my chest. I scramble to get my hand under my shirt, to feel around in the darkness. My hand falls against my ribs and the bone is cracked, smashed up against the next one. Two prison bars bent together.
No word from Gail.
Tennessee opens the shed door and light floods the room. The sound of the waves crashing against the rocks walks in and I get a break from thinking.
Morning, sleepyhead, she says.
I notice half of the pictures on the wall are crooked.
Tennessee holds a bowl of stew.
Gail’s gone, I say.
Where would she have gone? Tennessee says.
I don’t know. Half of those pictures are crooked, I say.
Tennessee sets the bowl of stew down and walks around the shed, shifting the pictures so they’re all crooked.
Now they’re all crooked, I say.
Tennessee smiles and starts to leave.
Hey, I say. There’s some rust growing on the edge of the wall there.
Oh, who cares? Tennessee says. It adds character. A shed’s a shed is a shed.
She turns and walks back towards the house.
I feel a flutter in my chest. My shirt is cold against my chest where there is no skin, just ribs and no Gail.
Gail, I say. Gail. Gail.
I feel a hiccup in my chest. It feels like Gail is standing on my spine, an incredible weight.
There it is, a nuzzle against my ribs.
Want to hear a joke? Gail says.
Yes. Yes, a joke, I say.
A man stumbles across a magic lamp and a genie comes out, Gail says. He tells the man you can have one wish and you can wish for whatever you’d like.
Marcus Lund is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He lives in Oakland, California and holds an MFA from Mills College. He is happy to have had his work published in a variety of venues, including McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, 34th Parallel, Boneshaker: A Bicycle Almanac, 580 Split, Xenith Magazine, Bad Futurist, Nib Magazine, sPARKLE & bLINK, Brink Literary Magazine, and Skate[Slate] Longboarding Magazine. He won the 2012 Ardella Mills Prize for Fiction. In 2014, SFWeekly named him one of the Bay Area’s best writers without a book. He is currently working on his first novel. He is the cofounder and co-editor of HOLD: a journal.
Illustration by Meghan Murphy.