THE GIRL WITH A BIRD’S WINGS
By Matthew Fogarty
She was a girl with a bird’s wings they locked in the attic. Her sister was a lion they kept chained in the basement.
This was in the old house, in the old neighborhood of auto workers and artists and immigrants, corner stores. The old blue house with three stories and shutters and a wood porch and a front walk lined with red and white flowers. The house with the chainlink fence and the tall gutter spouts where she’d watch a nest gather in the curve under the overhang of the roof. The house in which they were left behind, the sisters, after the family business collapsed, literally, the restaurant, it burned, the joists fell, and the family moved on. The house where the worst of things happened.
The two girls so young they formed few memories before what they became. For the eldest it was all at once: a collapse of the legs, the nose, the mouth, the ears, the golden eyes, the back arch, the pads and claws, the mane. The youngest, they grew over months, the wings, small bits of bone calcified into the changing shape of her back, under her skin, which stretched, minerals gathering into new joints of bone and sinew as though currented toward a delta. First she remembers noticing was sitting back in a chair, the discomfort. Then the welts appeared. The surface broke.
They are real wings, gray and feathered and grown now, and she hides them always under a coat, under clothing, even in summer. They can flap. She’s never wished to fly. In a wind she holds firm. In quiet moments, alone, before locking the attic door at night, her mother would say you’re our baby blessing and she’d run her fingers around each knot in the girl’s back and the fingers made a feeling close to love.
Though the parents, they were religious, there was so much they hid in shame, why they hid the girls at opposite ends of the home, why they scuttled the middle children away from the city into the Thumb like the animal parts of their daughters were some strain of contagion.
Left, the girls grew together. Out from the cold of the basement and the empty of the attic they imagined a future they could live out together, a life among farmland like where they pictured their siblings. Cows and a tractor. A barn the shape of an ark. A family the shape of a bruise. Sheltering woods.
After months, the sisters left the house, too, to explore the city for companions. In fact it was the other left children who lived under the bridge amidst the shifting flowing forms of the strangenesses of weather and the swift currents of the river, it was they who gave birth to the idea that the girls—that they all—had some graver purpose in life in service of nature.
And this is when she saw it, that first night, alone among the others, under the bridge: The violent hailstorm, that it could come on like nothing and a wicked wind that whipped waves into the shores of the peninsula, a wind so hard it could blow over signs and blow out storefronts and blow down barns, tear eaves from attics. In the worst of the storm strong enough to blow down even her make believe farm’s ship-shaped barn. A storm in the shape of a freight train locomoting through everything in its path. Her face, it’s sweet and tired and worn for her age, but warm, her face with the easy wonder of a youngest. That they might come looking for her—for a blessing, for safety, forgiveness. She’d be outside then in a future woods, hidden away by nature and watching as they searched. This: all of what she wished would appear within the haildrops.
In waking in the morning in the soft humid light of spring and the warmth of the fur of her sister next to her and the shadow of the bridge above, she remembered as a child, her sister stalking above her bed, her tail flung wild and wailing, the broad smile of teeth, and the way she would sing out a sweet roar as a welcome, to welcome them both back to the wide awake world and all the wild wide joys of being two whole real things alive, sweet and soft, spreadwinged and taildriven and alone in the city, together.
Matthew Fogarty is the author of a collection of stories titled Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely (Stillhouse Press, 2016) and is currently at work on a novel.