"Ma-ma told me," the blonde girl whispered to the black bird, "that you own your sins. That they're a part of you, even if they're forgiven."
The bird on her finger cocked its head, but neither croaked nor twittered.
"An' Ma-ma told me how when you die, the whippoorwills try an' catch your sins as they leave your body."
Another black bird flittered down to the ground, joining the flock that surrounded her. Though she only spoke to one, she held the rapt attention of all.
"I think that's where I got the idea - if'n I own my sins, then I ain't rightly the one being caught by the whippoorwills, now am I? No ma'am. They's the ones being caught by me."
Then the girl smiled. Innocence had no place in that face.
"You've had many sins, ain't you girl?" The girl tensed at the voice, and the bird's talons clutched her fingers tighter, til a trickle of blood welled up. She turned.
A dark shadow in a tomboy cut and overalls greeted her. Blood and feathers clung to her brown arms, especially her hands, which were caked with old filth, and the hammer in her hands, the shine of the metal almost lost from the pink viscera and egg shell clinging to it.
"I know you, Cora Haynes." the blonde girl said. Wings fluttered about her as birds came home to roost. "Knowing what they say about you, I'm thinking you might understand."
"An I know you, Doraleen Mayberry. I understand bein' born in sin," the black girl wiped the hammer against her pants legs. "I understand your whole life being considered a sin, just for bein' as you are. Maybe too I know how that burns you, 'til maybe you calculate how to grow your own sins, just to spite them. When you're already damned..."
The blonde smiled. Tiny scars graced her lips, almost invisible except when they moved.
"...but growin' your own sins is one thing. But the parson's wife?"
The smile died.
"She ain't no saint. Showed me more sins an' even you know, Cora. More'n you and the Blackwell girl got up to in that meadow last summer, beneath the old tree during the thunderstorm. Oh yes," she held out a hand, and a white dove lighted on her outstretched wrist, "I watched that too."
"If you've seen half as much you thought, you ain't understood half of it." The black girl held up the hammer, pointed at the blone girl. "I seen babies wailin' as a black cock ate out their eyes. I seen a woman hounded by watchful wings, 'til she ran in pure fear into a railroad. I seen your own father cored out by a pair o' buzzards while still alive..."
"Time was he found out what it felt like."
"...and I'm here to tell you, you ain't got sins enough for what's comin'. Whatever you thought you had against those folks, I got worse. But I came through it, 'cause I got a Name. Hard-bargained and hard-won, but I got a Name. An' I gave it to this here hammer. You know what that Name is, Doraleen?"
As a body, the birds raised their wings to full extant. The blonde girl threw her arms out, fingers outspread. The scars on her lips pursed. "I'll rip your Name from you, Cora Haynes."
"It's Name is Forgiveness. An' I'm a use it to beat the sins out of you."