Kelly’s Blackbird: A Spoon Knife Preview

March 14, 2016

The Spoon Knife Anthology: Thoughts on Compliance, Defiance, and Resistance, is the first literary anthology from Autonomous Press, the independent publishing house I co-founded. The Spoon Knife Anthology is also one of the first books to be published under Autonomous Press’ new NeuroQueer Books imprint. 

The Spoon Knife Anthology is available directly from Autonomous Press, from online retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble (though it’s better for small publishers when you order from us directly), and from your coolest local bookstore if you ask them to carry it

In the Memoir section of the anthology, you’ll find my story “Kelly’s Blackbird,” the tale of a formative experience I had at the age of fourteen. Here, to whet your appetite, is a sneak peek of the opening scene.

This year I’m in the Gold Star class for art.

I don’t like the name. The Gold Star class. Sounds like we’re in kindergarten. If I hadn’t been sent to this place, I’d be a freshman in high school now. Instead, I’m in the Gold Star class.

Despite the name, the Gold Star class doesn’t entirely suck. For one thing, no one gets into the Gold Star class unless they have a solid track record of making it through art classes without engaging in what the staff call disruptive behaviors. Most of the time I’m a great fan of disruptive behaviors, but it’s nice to be able to concentrate on my art without being distracted by a lot of shouting. And without having to watch out for flying crayons, clay, paint, and other airborne hazards. And without having my table crashed into by people who are fighting, flipping out, or being tackled by staff. The absence of that sort of thing makes the Gold Star class a major improvement over the art classes I was in last year.

Another improvement is that in the Gold Star class we get to use the good art supplies they don’t trust the other kids with. Like today I’m using this little wooden-handled tool called a gouge, which looks like the offspring of a chisel and a potato peeler. The kids in the other art classes don’t get to use anything sharp. Not even pencils. Which is ridiculous, because they all use pencils in math class.

I’m using the gouge to carve a picture of a bird into the surface of a square piece of linoleum. I’m almost done, except for a few final touches. Then the square of linoleum can be coated in ink and pressed against paper to make prints. That part of the process isn’t so interesting to me, so I might skip it. The carving is the interesting part.

The art teacher advised me to draw the outlines of the picture on the linoleum first, but I decided to ignore this advice and just let the bird emerge as I carved. And now here it is, almost fully emerged from its hiding place within the gray linoleum, spreading its wings like it’s about to take flight.

“That’s really nice,” a girl’s voice says from somewhere above my right shoulder.

At first I don’t even realize it’s me she’s speaking to. Once I get into working on something, it’s hard to shift my focus. Fortunately, someone else is here to help me this time. A head with dark hair and neon pink lipstick leans sideways into my field of vision. “Hey, queerboy,” the head says. “Wake the fuck up. She’s talking to you.”

This is Trina. I don’t want to deal with Trina, so I twist around to look up at the first girl, the one who said “That’s really nice.” She has pale white skin and long straight hair a dozen shades of blonde. This is Kelly. Kelly and Trina are best friends, even though Kelly is always kind to people and Trina is mean to everyone except Kelly. No one is mean to Kelly, at least not here. General opinion among both guys and girls is that Kelly is the coolest girl in school. Though even the kids who are considered cool in this place were once outcasts among the normal kids, so I guess coolness is relative.

“Will you make me a blackbird like that?” Kelly asks.


Until this moment I hadn’t given any thought to what kind of bird it might be. I don’t think it looks like any real-life bird at all. It’s come out more abstract than realistic, the carved lines jagged and wild, emphasizing motion. If I had to guess, I’d maybe say it was a raven.

But girls mostly don’t talk to me at all, certainly not girls like Kelly who is the coolest girl in school and also so beautiful it hurts to look at her. So now it’s a blackbird. And I’d gladly make her one, or give her this one when I finish it. Or maybe I should use this carved piece of linoleum to make a print for her?

Before I can decide which option would be best, Trina grabs Kelly by the sleeve of her denim jacket and pulls her away, walking fast. “Come on,” she says. “Fuck this shit. You don’t need to talk to that little fucking faggot.”

Kelly’s pretty easygoing, but in ordinary circumstances she’d never allow Trina to drag her around like this. In the team of Kelly and Trina, Kelly is the leader and Trina is the sidekick. But Kelly seems to have become mesmerized by this bird I’ve carved, and she just looks at it over her shoulder and blinks in a bewildered sort of way as Trina leads her back to their seats on the other side of the room.

I go back to putting the finishing touches on the carving. By the time I’m done, art class is almost over. Across the room, Kelly and Trina are whispering to one another with fierce intensity, heads together, not even pretending to be working on their art projects. This doesn’t look like the kind of conversation I want to interrupt, so I guess I can’t just walk over there and hand my finished carving to Kelly. Instead, I hand it in to the art teacher for safekeeping. The art teacher loves it, and by the time she’s done bubbling about it the bell has rung and Kelly and Trina are gone.


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