corinth picked up the ball and tossed it up into the air as high as he possibly could. the energy it took for him to do so left him gasping and his muscles stung a little, but to watch the ball arc high above the sky, black against blue, was worth it. when the ball started to sink back down, he ran after it, bumping past athens who had been watching mere inches away.
the enclosure was a backyard to a white building surrounded by concrete walls that cut open hands when rubbed too hard or when scuffles turned sour. in the corner, there was a patch of green grass. the rest was stained yellow from lack of water or from too much sun.
sparta sat in the dust, his hands red with dirt and blood. the stains wrapped around his fingers and wrists and spiraled up to his elbows. he rubbed the pads of his fingers along the dirt, picking up small twigs and stones along the way, as he drew circles around the bird. the bird was dead, long dead, but its brown and grey feathers still stayed in its skin most of the time and the blood was drying so sparta’s hands wouldn’t be red for too much longer. the cracks of flaking blood opened like wounds on small boy's hands: palms big for holding bigger hands and fingers short to keep everything close. sparrow feathers and tears smeared comets into the dust while he cried for his mama even though his mama never came.
corinth ran after the ball, his breath short and his face glowing pink from exertion. as he ran, his hand running along the concrete wall, he started coughing. catching up with the ball started the initial coughing fit that turned into a rattler. he held his hand against the wall, clinging to it with white knuckles, as he hunched over to cough and cough so hard he could feel his throat start to stretch ragged, could feel lunch starting to come up. athens kicked corinth's foot gently before backing away a few feet while corinth continued to cough. when corinth's lungs and throat settled, he stood up straight, grabbed the ball, and threw it up again, this time out of anger rather than play. the ball went sailing backward and athens ran in order to try and get to the ball first, having had a head start. corinth was still faster and managed to shove athens away with a rogue elbow to the ribs in order to claim the ball again. athens didn't argue against the bone.
play continued until the sirens sounded. sparta stopped crying, corinth dropped the ball, and athens picked it up. all three of them hurried quickly and clumsily inside the bunker, shutting the door behind them. as they crawled down the narrow passageway, sparta started to hiccup, a leftover symptom of crying. corinth stopped and glared, and sparta murmured an apology before wiping his sniffles away with the sleeve of his shirt. corinth led the way until the three boys dropped inside the hollowed out room. it was round and the walls were mixtures of concrete, dirt, and chalk drawings. they each had to hunch, especially athens, as the ceiling
they sat in a practiced circle around the center of the room. after a few moments of quiet, hushed breathing, athens began the processions.
“we all here?”
the other two boys raised their hands. sparta’s fingers trembled while corinth raised his arm as high as it could possibly go. his ******* scraped against the ceiling in his earnestness. the three then began the tradition discussion of their names. sparta, forgetting conduct, almost gave away corinth's name, but corinth shut him up quickly. sparta apologized quickly and shoved his fingers in his mouth to keep from saying anything more. dirt and blood mixed with saliva in his mouth, and as he swallowed he ended up choking and gagging on the combination. he coughed and coughed, and corinth slapped him on the back. it didn't help, and the more sparta tried to stop coughing, the harder it lasted. eventually, he had to turn and face away from the other boys as hot bile slid up his throat and onto the floor with a small splat. athens grimaced and edged away.
"alright… show your lungs. everyone."
all three boys began the process of reaching under their shirts and pressing the smooth button under their ribs that unlocked the hatch. the hatch was a small door that ran from the bottom of their ribs up to their collar bone. when they found the smooth button, no bigger than the pad of their thumb, then a small click allowed them to open up their skin. underneath their torsos was a small plastic box that kept everything inside. it helped protect their bones, their heart, and, especially, their lungs. their lungs were frequent targets for doctors; they needed to be accessed quickly. fewer and fewer doctors came by to see the boys recently. corinth wiggled his shirt until he could shove most of it into his mouth, opening his body up and showing gray and green lungs that expanded and collapsed with every breath. his lungs were swollen behind his rib cage, and he experimentally reached in to poke in between his third and fourth ribs. the muscle that was there had been replaced by plastic, and had come loose when he'd pressed the button. his lung shuddered underneath his touch, but he felt the odd relief of pain swoop over him. two blue shirts tumbled to the floor as sparta and athens decided to take off their clothing and help each other find the buttons to unlock their hatches. the boys clung to the small moments of touch when the effects of their touh felt so alien, even after all those years after the surgery.
athens’ lungs were pink and perfect. he coughed and corinth couldn’t help but watch the way his diaphragm moved as he did so, and he felt jealousy pang in his stomach. sparta’s lungs were purple and blue, bruised and small, and they merely fluttered.
“lungs in order,” athens said quietly after a quick inspection of everyone’s insides. sparta immediately closed his hatch, flinching when his finger got caught initially between his inside and his outside, and started to put his shirt back on. corinth stole athens' shirt and slipped it on over the one he currently wore, his other hand slamming shut his lung hatch. athens blinked but let corinth stare at him greedily as he quietly shut his own hatch.
as they waited for the background noise of wailing sirens to disappear, corinth hugged his knees and athens started to draw people in the dirt with his forefinger.