Bird and the Bug Catcher

They spent summer’s daylight outside their apartment building herding bees and spiders into a plastic box and terrorizing everything that wasn’t chained up. Bird was a fourth-grader who tore trash to pieces, littering the block between 11th and 12th, and squawked home to the mother anytime the older one, Bug Catcher, tried to apply any discipline. “Caw caw caw,” he cried, “he pushed me, he hurt me, he called me F.A.G!” And each time, without a hint of investigation or evidence, the mother berated Bug Catcher because he was the oldest and responsible.

Most mornings when their neighbor’s overgrown lot was still shaded, Bug Catcher tended the leaves of the giant laurel and old rose bush that grew alongside the back of the house. Very delicately, he sprayed each leaf with water from a spray bottle, an old Windex with worn labels, he’d picked from the trash. If he happened to disable a little winged creature with his water, he’d pluck it from its leaf and place it in his plastic box. Immobilization by partial drowning was his method of capture. He did it ever so delicately, peering at each prisoner up close through his spectacles, as if through a microscope, prior to permanent lockdown. Meanwhile, Bird squatted within feet, silently disappearing in the unkempt crab grass beside the cracked patio, searching for eight-leggeds to add to his brother’s container. 

For the most part the brothers stayed within a few feet of each other. There were occasions when they were separated, though, like the time the mother had one of her front-porch hamburger parties with the rusty charcoal grill and a dozen drunken Crips. Bird exited stage left and headed to the back of the building when one of the belligerents took it upon himself to teach Bug Catcher how to “fight like a man,” pushing, pulling, and whipping him around in his best hammer-thrower imitation. They also each had a ride that drove into some other world away from the drops and deals. Bug Catcher had a grandma with a Caddy and high heels. Bird had a dad who took him to football and paid for his modified mohawk, his cockatoo clip.

In the heat of day, Bird was the renegade who flew through other people’s lawns on the bike with the clickity-clackity chain. Bug Catcher was the polite boy who used the sidewalk. He was Bird’s protector, a silent backer-upper when the adults came out to do the discipline their mother should have done. When Texas, the porch sitter in the blue house gave Bird a stern talking to, Bug Catcher felt the words as if they were aimed at his heart.

On the first day of school in September the two brothers went their separate ways. The street was quiet, the insects relieved. Being a bug catcher must be easier for an eighth-grader on the streets of the city than within the walls of a middle school. After changing out of their uniforms that day, lighthearted little Bird wanted to run and yell, but Bug Catcher didn’t want any of that. He held Bird to the ground in the same green grass they’d played in summer mornings and choked him over and over again until he screeched home to the mother. The Bug Catcher was, this time, responsible.

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