“KARLA!” a ten-year-old Hermann screams as he races as best he can to the bathroom. “What did you do to me?!” His hair feels sticky and his feathers cling to each other like they’re coated in syrup as the air drags across them. He hears all three of his siblings laughing behind him, Karla loudest of all.
He staggers to a halt in front of the mirror and stares in horror at his reflection. His hair is a darker shade of gray than usual, which troubles him slightly, but the state of his wings makes him nauseous with worry. The familiar white smudges appear the same gray as his hair, as do the rest of the feathers. Worse, nearly every one looks bedraggled, barbs unzipped from each other.
“What did you do?!” Hermann wails as Karla, still laughing, steps up behind him.
“Blue is a good color on you, Manny,” she giggles. “Now you’re a little bluebird instead of a boring little brownbird.”
“You dyed my feathers?! Why?”
“Not quite. It’s only spray-on color.” She crosses her arms over her chest and smiles. “You were asleep. You made it too easy for me.”
“Father is going to be mad at you,” he declares as he fiddles with his hair and notices the dye seems to contain glitter as well.
“I doubt that. He’s going to be mad at you for letting this happen,” she replies with a smirk. Hermann’s heart sinks as he realizes his sister is right. As far as his father is concerned, any trouble involving Hermann is Hermann’s fault. Karla ducks out of the room as their father’s footsteps sound in the hallway. The man takes one look at Hermann, commands the boy to stay where he is, and stomps off mumbling under his breath. Hermann fidgets, even his wings twitching nervously.
“Use this to clean yourself up,” his father declares on returning as he hands the boy a bottle of strong liquid soap. As Hermann reads the instructions, he continues, “You mustn’t let you sister abuse you like this, Hermann. Once you have a reputation for weakness, everyone will look to exploit it. ”
“Father, Karla is twenty-five centimeters taller than I and twenty kilos heavier. I can’t fight her without hurting myself,” Hermann says, adding more quietly, “I was also asleep when she did this.”
“You need to learn to defend yourself. You won’t be able to trust anyone else to do so. Do you understand?” Hermann nods sadly. His father leaves the room calling for Karla to come help her brother.
Karla arrives and the two work together to wet both Hermann’s hair and wings and thoroughly saturate them with the soap. His wings absorb so much water it becomes a struggle to move them and he must lean forward to keep his balance. Karla wanders off, promising to return in the recommended twenty minutes to help rinse the soap out.
Hermann sulks as he sits on the edge of the bathtub drumming his heels against the cool porcelain sides. Waiting for Karla takes an eternity with nothing to do but listen to water dripping from his wings into the tub.
No apologies are requested and none are offered as the siblings finish removing the dye and soap.
Hermann spends the rest of the day alone in his room, cold and huddling under a steady parade of towels, waiting for his wings to dry. His back and shoulders ache from the weight of the wet feathers pulling on them and he struggles to focus on the work his tutor assigned. Mostly he thinks of how much he hates being small, hates his wings, and hates being alone.
Maybe he’ll never escape from those things, but someday he’ll get away from his sister and her cosmetics. That’s something to look forward to.