Since we opened our doors nearly 3 years ago, Tell Us A Story‘s mission has been a simple one: to publish stories about “true things” once per week, every week. We loved that model, and the way it allowed us to focus on one writer’s story each week.
But as we begin year 4 of the blog, we wanted to try out a new approach: we are shifting to a quarterly format. That means we will still be bringing you the best true stories we can find, but we will publish these stories 4 times per year: in the fall, winter, spring and summer.
We feel this new format will better accommodate submission cycles as well as our own busy lives.
We will close out year 3 with a few of our favorite recent submissions, then we’ll be back in the fall with our new quarterly schedule. First up? “Eat Crow” by Jaen Hawkins, first published on August 30. 2015:
October 31st, 2013
I woke up an hour earlier than usual to soak a few head bandages in blood and hot glue a crow to a purse. I sat at the kitchen table, mixing corn syrup and food coloring to find the best ratio for realistic clots. The cheap gauze I used kept sticking to itself and would either absorb too much blood or not enough. The pattern couldn’t be splattered and nondirectional. It had to be congruent with an entry wound from a sharp, slightly-curved beak that had just penetrated my scalp.
While the bandages were drying I poked two holes into the top of a beige plastic purse. I’d gotten it the day before from a thrift shop across the street from my apartment. It had the clean lines of a mid-century coffee table, and thankfully a thin but sturdy inner lining. I untwisted a crows wire feet from the branch stand it came attached to and threaded them through the holes. The wires were sturdy enough for the bird to stand on its own, so I’d heated up my glue gun for nothing. A structurally sound Halloween costume with no glue whatsoever? I couldn’t really believe it either.
My roommate left her Marilyn Monroe wig out on the kitchen table for me. Its styrofoam head support base donned 2-inch false lashes and red glittered lips. She was dashing, and one of dozens from my roommate’s extensive burlesque wardrobe that occupied the entire third bedroom of our Brooklyn apartment. The curls weren’t the exact look I was looking for, but the blond effect was there, and no one who pulls a highly conceptual costume together in twelve hours can be picky.
My hair was in the flattest bun possible and pinned to my crown. I cut a nude stocking at the calf, pulled it tightly over my head down below my ears, and looked like a baby conehead. I wiggled into the wig and discovered that blond is not my color. Luckily the hairline far enough down my forehead that the bandages could hold it in place without pins, so I started wrapping the cotton in different directions across my face.
I never appreciated my natural beauty as much as when I tried to make myself look glamorous and nearly dead. Can this much blood come out of my forehead? Does my coral nail polish clash with the blood clots hanging from the birds’ beaks? Is that a good thing? We should bring back this early ‘60s powder-blue eyeshadow look. Does the blood give me enough color or should I wear blush, too? Should I powder my face and risk matting-down the blood, or hope that my natural grease/sweat enhances the look? I wonder if Tippi Hedren had huge pores. Is there a difference between crows and ravens? Do I have time to make a fake eyeball to hang off the side of my face?
After securing the bandages with cloth tape, I took my favorite crow (the one with an open wingspan as to appear in mid-flight) and threaded the feet and wires through the wig’s lace scalp. I secured it with bobby pins on the top of my head and, after a vigorous headbanger test to System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!”, decided it would last through the day.
I concluded that the most effective costumes for any occasion are the simplest ones, because they allow you to finish so far ahead of schedule that you can cook steel cut oats for breakfast. While I was waiting for the water to boil, I walked out on our roof deck to watch the sunrise. The sky was orange over the row houses, silhouetting a pair of sneakers that dangled over the street from a power line strung between two buildings. Our neighbor came out onto her roof to water her browning herb garden. She me staring over the cityscape covered in blood and birds, and walked back inside. I felt my tummy rumble and did the same.
I hopped up onto the kitchen counter to eat my oatmeal. I always liked sitting there, because it made me feel tall. Our kitchen was a six-inch step up from the living room, and with my feathery friend atop my head, I could almost touch the ceiling. It was the tallest I’d ever felt.
I packed my work computer and coral lipstick into my bag and looked at myself one more time in the mirror. Tippy Hedren, about an hour and fifteen minutes into The Birds, no mistake.
I took a deep breath. What if I got my dates mixed up and today isn’t actually Halloween? Or what if this is the year everyone gets super serious and doesn’t dress up at all? I refuse to accept that I may be too old for this. Wait, what if everyone is terrible and has no idea who Alfred Hitchcock or Tippi Hedren is or what birds are? Luckily my neighborhood wasn’t very busy in the morning, so I could decide to abort at the last minute without too many social catastrophes.
My first encounter was with two guys walking a hotdog. All three were wearing neon trucker hats. Perhaps I wasn’t caught up on my pop culture references, but I couldn’t understand why a dog quite clearly dressed as food would need a hat on top of his relish and mustard.
“Yo, that’s dope,” one of them said. The other took out his phone and took a picture. And then another picture. And then another. He took a photo of me every second as I was walking by. “That’s goin’ on Facebook, man. Happy Halloween yo!”
Okay, date confirmed, so far so good.
An old man with a long gray beard was sweeping Twizzler wrappers off the sidewalk outside of his deli.
“Hey!” he said, “It’s The Birds! That’s neat.” Not neat enough to stop him from sweeping, though.
Okay, I’m on a role here. I’m killin’ this shit. Best costume of all time. I win Halloween.
I was one block from the train station when I recognized a man. He was tall and black, with a lot of aged acne scars on his nose and cheeks. He didn’t appear exceptionally overweight, but his hands were interlaced below his belly and it looked like he was supporting a sack of yams underneath his baggy t-shirt. He’d followed me home from the subway two nights prior, whispering details the whole way about how he wanted to be my “ass-pussy king” and “fuck me all night hanging from the rafters.” As if anyone’s apartment in Bushwick had visible rafters.
I’d like to say that encountering this goose was an isolated incident – a blip during the playback of my roaring early-twenties in New York. But he was only one of many sexually-charged stalkers who thought it their solemn duty to tell every trans or gender non-conforming person they saw how sweet their ass-candy was, often so aggressively that we’d rather spend 20 minutes inside a bodega than lead them to our apartment buildings, where they’d no doubt break in and hang us from the “rafters.”
I turned my head and looked across the street so that he couldn’t make eye contact. I hoped that in the harsh light of day he’d be distracted by my crows and their gory mutilation of my body.
“Woah, that’s crazy,” he said. “Those birds ain’t real?”
Okay, he doesn’t recognize me. I didn’t answer and walked around him.
“Girl, that’s the best costume I’ve seen all day, and that’s still the best ass I’ve seen all week.”
Oh, my, gods. I need someone dressed as a pizza slice to walk by so that he’ll look away for two seconds and I can disappear behind one of these parked cars.
“Damn that’s a tight-ass skirt on top of a tight-ass ass,” he said. “Let me eat that ass-pussy for breakfast.”
I turned red and clenched my jaw. I contemplated taking my backup vile of blood out of my purse and smashing it into his right eye socket.
“I’ll let you fuck me, too, girl, after I lick your hole all day.” He stuck out his tongue and made a horrific slurping noise, not unlike Anthony Hopkin’s tonal description of human liver with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.
This was always the case with these overgrown turkeys; they’d say phrases like “I’ll let you fuck me” and “give me that ass-pussy” to infer “I know you have a penis and I literally want you to put it in my ass after I give you oral and put my tongue in your butt.’”But they could never actually say that, because it would be too gay and uncomfortable and embarrassing and humiliating to say those specific words to a stranger on the street.
All I wanted to do was get away from this loon, but a garbage truck pulled up and blocked the crosswalk to the other side of the street. He stepped closer, talking about my “sweet nectar ass-juice” so aggressively that a drop of his spit landed on my left forearm.
With no means of escape, I turned around, stomped my heel to the ground, and yelled, “THERE IS A DEAD CROW INSIDE MY ASS RIGHT NOW, SIR. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO EAT A BLOODY CROW OUT OF MY ASS FOR BREAKFAST? RIGHT NOW? HERE? ON THE STREET?”
A few people within earshot turned their heads as they walked by. The man seemed offended, appalled even, clutching an imaginary set of pearls atop his collarbone.
“Yo, that’s nasty, you fucking faggot.”
He walked away, hugging his sack of yams.
I stood on the corner and cried. I don’t think anyone noticed the tears, because people generally cry when they’ve been assaulted by crows.
I had programmed myself to fear only the men who hated me for being feminine. I never thought men would pursue me for sex, let alone so aggressively and in public spaces. They started following me home and touching me on the train and dive-bombing me on the street. At first I thought it was a blessing, because I’d rather be called ‘sexy’ and have my ass grabbed than be called ‘tranny’ and punched in the face. But now it felt dirty and destructive, like a strategic invasion and declaration of war on my body.
I shook and couldn’t breathe. When is this shit going to stop?
The train roared on the elevated tracks above my head. I closed my eyes and let the sound of scraping metal drown out everything around me. I tilted my head back and pictured Tippi looking up to a sky blackened by swarms of birds. The flocks were threatening and infinite. She squinted her eyes, pressed the wound on her temple, and said, “Don’t they ever stop migrating?”
About the author
Jaen is in her mid twenties and splits her time between NYC and Raleigh. She forgot to finish college and has yet to accept her status as an adult. You should read her blog and watch her YouTube videos.