Gerry isn’t that different from you and me, except for the fact that he was born with scarlet scales on his arms. From the tops of his shoulders to the ends of his fingertips blazed thousands and thousands of scales. Sometimes, when Gerry walked into direct sunlight, he would swear his arms were on fire. Gerry loved his scales. When he was younger, he would trace his fingers along the curve of his arm, which was always slightly warmer than the rest of his body. Gerry believed it was because his scales could catch light. His parents were confused about their little boy and his peculiar scales, but they loved him—scales and all.
Anne isn’t that different from you and me, except for the fact that she was born with feathers on the tips of her ears. Her feathers were softer than moss and always seemed to change color, depending on her mood. When Anne was happy, her feathers were a shade of yellow. If you squinted, you could see a small trace of orange running down some of the spindles. When Anne was embarrassed, her feathers were a flushed pink. Her little sister loved to brush her round face against their softness. Like Gerry, Anne appreciated her uniqueness.
Gerry’s first day of kindergarten was especially windy, so he wore a jacket to school. As he sat down for class, Gerry shrugged off his sleeves and looked up to see ten pairs of small eyes staring at him. Was it his hair? He probably shouldn’t have let his mother comb it. As he lifted his hands to fix his hair, the eyes followed. “Your arms are weird,” muttered a voice in the back. The realization dawned: they were scared of him and his scales. Gerry quickly slipped back into his jacket and vowed to never come out.
One day, Anne went with her mother to the grocery store. Her mother sent her to aisle 5 to get the orange juice. The carton was on a higher shelf, so Anne had to balance on the tips of her toes. Just as her hand grazed the carton, she was dragged to the ground by the ears. From the ground, he looked even larger. The boy was likely no older than she, but his teasing face and twitching hands made Anne seem smaller, younger, weaker. He pointed a stubby finger at her feathered ears and laughed. Then he ran away before he could see her cry. Anne tucked her ears underneath the curtain of hair, hiding her feathers away from bullies and everyone else.
Fast-forward 80 years, Gerry still wears his jacket every day and Anne still covers her feathers with her hair. Gerry no longer traces his scales with his fingers. Concealed from the sun for so many years, his scales have grown cold. Old Gerry, who blocks his arms from light, lost a light of his own. While he is content with his life, he cannot shake an unnamable sadness. Perhaps it is loneliness. In all his years, Gerry hasn’t met anyone like him. He walks alone.
For Old Anne, her feathers no longer change color. Every day, her feathers grow limper—fading into a sad, washed-out blue. Her little sister is afraid to touch Anne’s feathers for fear that she may cry. Anne doesn’t cry anymore. The tears have disappeared and have left emptiness in its wake. Anne wonders if there is anyone out there who will accept her feathers but quickly shakes her head. It’s better not to indulge in fantasies, she sighs, and decides to go for a stroll outside to clear her mind.
Old Gerry and Old Anne are walking on Laurel Avenue, Gerry coming from the south end, and Anne from the north. They pass each other without seeing the face of the other. As Anne walks away, she notices a dull red scale on the ground. She turns back, but Gerry is already gone. What if…