by Arin C., Age 14 , Grade 9, Thomas Jefferson, Council Bluffs, IOWA USA
Teacher: Rob Lindquist
The trays wobbled in her gloved palms as the various colored drink contents shimmered underneath the casino’s luminescent lighting, her flats making her feet ache at an excessive amount as her caramel eyes attempted to recognize which table was which - the smoky haze of many cigars and cigarettes masking many of the noticeable tables.
Man, her boss made these things sound a lot easier - but of course, reality is that, they aren’t. The casino was filled with drunks, sleazy rich avians and extreme gamblers - to win over riches and earn bragging rights.
Or else they’re wings will be chopped off, claimed by the Casino boss.
Forever in his grasp through a lost gamble.
Standing on her tiptoes just to reach the table, the smell of cigar and scented smoke reeking from the suited men and fancy dressed women of all bird specie, her smaller hands gently setting down the various beers, whiskeys and martinis as her toes trembled in pain underneath the crushing force of standing for hours on end.
The girl felt a feminine gloved and ringed hand softly land on her head, the silky voice of a woman waltzed into her ears, “Such a poor little thing, so young and to be working a dump such as this!”
The small girl made a sound of disgust from seeing a pair of shimmery golden goldfinch wings upon the woman’s back, the pearly gloves reeked of spilled rose wine - the sickening grape smell burnt into her empty stomach, tugging the silvery tray to her chest as a fake grin plumpeted onto her freckled features.
“I ask of ya not ta worry ‘bout me ma’am! My bro and I are just alright workin’ here!”
And yet the truth wiggled it’s ugly face to the adults, the woman’s purple colored lips curled downwards as her wine stenched fingers slipped underneath the girl’s chin - the bitterly cold, gold metal of her bulky pearl ring digging into the pale skin of her neck, it drove a gut-churning shiver down into the rattle of her spine.
The girl didn’t want to hear it.
She was one who became avaricious.
The chance at loads of gold and the bragging rights, just, so tempting to her as though she wanted to thoroughly avoid her twin brother’s advice.
Blinded by greed.
Her brother and her had to almost pay the price with their wings - still embedded with their baby feathers, and yet, the promise to slave away at the casino seemed to another horrible option.
Ignoring the woman and pushing her silk gloved hand away, a grimace overcame the young girl’s features as she trotted away. The curls of the tray contorting under her iron grip, the skin of her bottom lip being shredded as she felt a large hand shove her forward towards the bar.
“Get goin’ Sparrow, you have a job ta do.” The corner of her eyes finding the sight of bluebird wings, “East, I am working.”
The large hand grabbed at her dress shirt collar as the tray became collateral onto the hard floor as Sparrow’s back connected with the filthy wooden floor, the loud clang of the tray echoed through the dining hall of the casino.
All eyes on me.
“Listen here you little weakling. Don’t you dare take that tone with me! I-”
“May I ask what you’re doing East?”
Graceful colorful peacock wings shone themselves with the woman’s presence, the lemonade colored luminescent lights catching onto each strand of the pastel feathers, bound together in a haughty display.
Her navy painted lips contorting with a grimace as East paled, wings becoming flop of bundled lapis colored feathers from the mere scent of the lavender perfume sifting through the various raunchy scents of cologne, smoke and liquor.
“B-Boss! She was-I-!”
“East. I will not have to repeat myself. Leave this little hatchling alone. Now get going, the roulette table needs a dealer, since our dear Woody as left on a personal day off.”
Sparrow received a even harsher glare from East as he glared at her, “You got off lucky.” His navy wingtip shoes stomping towards the slots and roulette rooms - the silhouettes of wealthy avians gambling their chances away.
The woman sighed and extended a black gloved hand, various diamond and gold rings catching the luminescent lighting, “Always the troublemaker within my husband’s Casino, anyways, little hatchling, might I ask of you that you’re still doing well?”
Sparrow stood up on wobbly knees, the outer layer of her ruffled skirt had torn from it’s threads connecting the lace lining to the actual skirt fabric, the young girl’s caramel eyes gazed upwards towards the black clothed woman and caught the sight of silvery eyes - the boss’s wife’s pearly and navy blue feathers fanning out.
“I-I’m...okay...East always does that.” Slowly extending her gloved hand to the woman’s but the sudden invasion of lavender perfume in her nose caused her lungs to squeeze as the peacock feathered woman twirled her up.
“We’ll take care of him for you if he’s really being a nuisance, we want to ensure our employees happiness.”
Everyone suffered a loss here.
No matter their luck.
“I-” The words died within her tight throat, shivers running through the fine locks of her tawny brown baby feathers.
A silvery chuckle ran through her very soul as the woman slowly drew her hand away from her painted lips, “You were gonna say you weren’t at fault there? Don’t worry sweet hatchling, he’ll be taken care of.”
Sparrow’s heart clenched, her heart strings yanked, this woman utterly terrified her - it was clear to see that the woman had been born with a silver spoon in her beak.
“Sparrow? You okay?”
Her brother’s voice broke through the tensed atmosphere, the small boy’s brown and white baby feathers curling in as he placed the silvery trays down onto the bar counter.
“Finch-yeah, I’m okay…”
Sparrow straightened up and sluggishly dusted her ruffled skirt, she couldn’t even look her twin brother in the eye.
After all, their situation was all her fault.
“That’s good, I don’t want you getting hurt.”
The slightest tug of a small grin upon Sparrow’s face, her brother always knew how to make her feel better in gloomy situations.
“Such a adorable display of sibling love now, Finch, be a dear and tend to the bar as I fix up your sister’s skirt.”
Moment wholly ruined.
Finch worryingly watched as the black gowned woman led Sparrow to the back, a deceiving smile driving a dagger through his heart - nothing came out of the Boss’s wife handling things and the slight frown on his twin sister’s freckled face only worsened the feeling welling in his gut.
“I sure hope she’ll be okay…”
Pushing aside the sliding halved plank of dark wood to behind the bar and lead-footedly putting his small wingtip shoes upon the stool for behind the bar and hoisting his body up, he sighed and grabbed at one of the empty beer mugs and a rag, beginning to clean.
Pale mint eyes gazing down at the spotted glass, Finch’s heartstrings was tugged as he realized that their situation was more dire than those of debtors - one slip up and their chances of having a full fledged wingspan being cut off.
“You and your sister have some uncommon, take excellent care of those precious things okay? Not many hatchlings are lucky enough to have wing designs such as your sister and you.”
“Easier said than done ma…” He sighed.
“Howdy Finch, workin’ the bar? I thought Sparrow was supposed ta.”
Gazing up from cleaning the cloudy mug, Finch notified of the western-esque hat upon the man’s head - wild pale brunette locks and beige owl like wings.
“Oh, heya Donny, the boss is currently fixin’ Sparrow’s skirt, East was bein’ a prick again.”
Donny made a ‘tch’ sound and sat down upon the cushioned barstool, his cream colored eyes rolling. “East’s always like that, just cause he’s a senior employee doesn’t mean he can treat a little lady like that!”
Finch nodded and set the small glass down, its bourbon contents sloshing around as Donny plucked the glass up - downing the amber liquid quickly.
“I swear, it’s always those rich folks who pick on us! Ones who think-”
“Believing that they’re of a greater wingspan, me and Sparrow had to live with one.”
The dining hall was filled with all types of chatter from various gendered avians, but the silence between Donny and Finch was the absolute worst as the two spoke of nothing.
“Bro, boss asks of you to start serving tables, it’s my shift to tend to the bar.”
A wave of relief washed through Finch’s system at the sound of his twin sister’s voice, perfectly safe and unharmed.
“Well heya lil lady! Glad ta see ya okay!”
Finch stepped down from the bar and smiled at Sparrow, “I’m glad you’re okay, I was worried.”
“I ask of ya bro, do not trust the boss or his wife.”
As soon as Sparrow’s gloved hands landed onto his shoulders, a snaking shiver ran down his spine, questions now swimming through his head - what was the meaning of this?
“Just don’t trust them.”
He hadn’t known the reason for his twin sister’s reasoning for it but maybe he had to take her word for it, his heart-strings being tugged on - yanked and played like a harp, his nerves alight with unknown anxiety.
An absence of lies within his sister’s caramel eyes but there was a hidden fear within them, bullets of sweat shedding down her neck as her gloved nails dug into his the shoulder portion of his dress shirt.
“I-I get it sis...but-”
“OI! Hatchlings! Get ta work! Boss is comin’!”
Finch’s pale green eyes searched his sister’s face once more, still finding no ounce of lies within those freckled features - nodding to his sister as a tub of dirty dishes and glasses were abruptly dropped into his arms, watching as he noticed Sparrow make an attempt to throw him a smile, her lips faltering to create a whole-hearted gesture of contentedness.
Sparrow sighed and stepped behind the bar counter and took note of the glass Finch was cleaning previously, there was now water spots upon its sparkling surface, the soles of her flats felt as though they were pinpoint needles stabbing the heels of her feet - but this was her price to pay.
Tolerating the suffering even with bleeding toes.
Plucked feathers and bruises.
Verbal and physical abuse.
This is your price to pay.
“Ya look offly long faced darlin’, rough time?”
Refilling Donny’s shot glass with gin, Sparrow nodded and cautiously watched as the devilish peacock feathered woman sashay into the slots room, a sickening knot tying itself around her insides.
“The boss’s wife, she-”
Should she say it?
But what would be the point?
Was there even a point to it after all?
Ensuring that the devil herself was gone to mingle with the debtors, Sparrow spoke softly to Donny making sure the shot and wine glasses she was cleaning were a distraction in case of the devil showing her feathers around the dining hall.
“She said that if me and my bro didn’t do our jobs that our wings would be chopped off, which, I don’t get when we’ve been working our feathers to the very last strand and that discourteous woman believes we’ve just been wandering around…”
“I don’t get it, she’s said that former employees even when it’s best of the best, and yet she believes that the work they’ve done isn’t good enough.”
“There’s always something about peacock avians to be vain, she believes that the work we do isn’t anything but a wash upon her stilettos.”
Sparrow and Donny’s head turned to see a pair of hummingbird wings and brown eyes, “Hello Donny, Sparrow.”
“Oh howdy do there Ming!”
Ming set down the tray of empty champagne glasses upon the bar counter and sighed, tugging on the vivid red ribbon around her blouse collar, “Full house at the roulette table, East was having a hard time keepin’ up with bets! Shaking till the last strand of his bluebird wings!” Ming’s hearty laugh carried through the various chatter as Donny chuckled.
“Saw him get roasted by the Boss’s wife, he looked like he saw the Eagle himself!”
The hummingbird winged woman rolled her eyes and grabbed the full wine bottle, “You mean that menace of a woman? I don’t trust her one bit.”
“I don’t think anyone does Ming.” The freckled girl chimed as Ming took the wine glasses from her, “She threatened to chop off me and Finch’s wings off even when we’ve done nothin’ wrong.”
“Now, see! That’s the thing! She falsely accuses people of things they haven’t done! I swear it’s like all chemicals from her sickening perfume went to her head and intoxicated her brains - or, whatever brains she has.”
Sparrow hadn’t known how much longer she could’ve tolerated all the prejudice against her and her brother, but, this was something she had to make up - even if it meant sacrificing her wings for the better.
‘Finch would be extremely angry if I did that.’