Jennifer Dane Clements

Susie Rides a Bird, or Flights of Passage

By Jennifer Dane Clements

Susie rides a bird.

— Matt Perez


It should come as no surprise that my permit picture is horrid. My hair looks too candyfloss and my eyes have gone pistachio and I can’t imagine anyone will take seriously my status as a newly minted adult. Adults are sewn together so the stitches don’t show, and in this picture I am nothing but knotted twine--can this be true? I suppose the man who inked my likeness onto the permit was tired. It was late in the day and his knuckles creaked like bedsprings whenever he shifted his pen; it would have been unkind to ask for a revision. Instead I am alone in the bathroom, crouching on the ledge beside the sink and maneuvering to rearrange my features. My hair, at least, I can color with berries or chop off with my penknife. But how does one change her eyes? Someday I will be old enough not to feel things so intensely and my stitches will melt into subtle seams. 

I step onto the sales lot expecting to be approached by a three-foot mustache and olive plaid blazer, both less than clean and attached to a roundish man with a name like Karl or Herb. A disproportionately high number of Herbs sell vehicles, I’ve noticed. Someone should have told their mothers this before they signed off on personal nomenclature. 

Who knows what they want at my age? Everyone and no one. I am certain of my voice and my taste for cocoa-dusted trifles, but from one hour to the next I find these certainties spring holes and stain the floor in the shape and memory of something once believed. I am certain I must drive something. I’ve obtained my permit, after all. Soon I will shed my child-legs and need an alternate means of movement. Every choice signifies something larger, but I am still too new to know what exactly might be signified. I am certain I smell of ranunculus blossoms today, but I cannot fathom what meaning others might extract from this but flowers, girl, or clean.  
My friend Anise rides a Gabali rabbit, but its leaping makes her queasy. It’s a vintage style, handed down to her after her mother died, all long fur and russet coloring and an impeccable navigational sensibility, even though it sometimes is prone to distraction. It seats three: the driver straddles the neck, and two passengers settle in along the row of spine. She takes me and Raia with her sometimes to the malt shop across town and we review our notes from class. When a girl called Hannah began to study with us after school, Anise overfed the Gabali for days and days, hoping for the surface area to seat one more friend. 

The man tending to this sales lot has the posture and silhouette of a reed and no visible hair anyplace. Instead of olive plaid, he wears a woven tunic with a hem that flutters at his hipbone when he walks. His name, he tells me, is Constantine. I don’t think his name is abrupt enough for this job. But then, maybe all I thought I knew of used vehicle lots was myth. Or maybe the salesman’s friends all call him Stan. 

The first girl in our class to get her permit brought acorn tea and iced clovercakes for everyone when it happened. Her parents had arranged in advance for her ride--a tortoise of all things! Sure, it has state-of-the-art safety features, but nothing could have been further from her taste. I’d seen her cut out pictures of foxlings from all the trade magazines and tape them to her cubby. She wanted the long-eared kind, the racing style with the sleek lines. How does one mount a tortoise? Against the seat’s lacquer and bone, she slid right off. Eventually she upholstered the upper shell. Now the cotton keeps her aboard, but the thing will never race. 

I’ve been saving up for months, ordering nothing but lakewater when we go with friends downtown, mending my own school shirts on the sewing machine I found in our attic. The sum is too small to buy anything new, so whatever I drive won’t have grown to fit my form. I like this. I like that it will have a story independent of me. I am still too new myself to justify raising another anything, it is all I can do to raise myself.  

Constantine bristles when I call him Stan. He’s wearing a mustard tunic today. I know I’ll have to return at least once more between committing. He walks me around the lot, gesturing at the hedgehog (quick movement but uncomfortable seating), the opossum (handles well at night but may freeze when spooked), the mighty rooster (somewhat noisy, not aerodynamic). He asks what sort of terrain I expect to travel and what movement style I prefer. I consider what my answers might reveal about me. 

The difference between a dove and a pigeon is all in context and connotation. They begin as doves--yes, all of them, even those who dwell in city streets--and only after life crashes into them and rust-mottled scuffs in its wake do they abandon hopes of loveliness and take the pigeon title. I do not know whether the model I select is a dove or refurbished pigeon, but it doesn’t matter to me: either way, it can both walk and fly. 

My hair looks too candyfloss and my eyes have gone all pistachio and I’m sitting side-saddle but there’s a wing in my way. I have my permit and have given the down payment to Constantine and scheduled my monthly fees. I chose the bird because it says about me the things I hope might one day prove true. I chose the bird because someday I will fret over safety features and maximum seating capacity and whether it runs on leaf fuel or seeds. Today I am young, and it’s enough just to touch this cloud.

Jennifer Dane Clements writes prose, poetry, and plays. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Intentional, Luna Luna, WordRiot, Psychopomp Magazine, The Transnational, and elsewhere. Jennifer has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Best of the Net Award, and other honors. She holds an MFA from George Mason University and serves as a prose editor for ink&coda. Visit her at