I am taking a 2 week online writing class during this time of social isolation. Every day I will receive a prompt to write from. I figure I might as well put my efforts up here. They are first drafts and not well researched. I am not going to include the prompt because they are from the class and I don’t want to take the teacher’s content. These stories are fresh and raw and I want to share them with you.
“Marni , change your shirt. Your wings are poking through the back.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Marni ducked her head and went back upstairs to change. She was stupid to think she could pull off a racerback tanktop. Sure, it was what all the girls were wearing that summer, but she wasn’t all the girls, as her grandma never tired of reminding her. When she’d left the bedroom, her wings had stayed tucked neatly between her shoulder blades, but leave it to them to start poking out the minute she turned around. Stupid things. They had a mind of their own. Marni pulled off the tanktop and stood with her back towards the mirror, trying to look at the wings sternly.
“Could you stop showing off?” she asked them. “Could you just let me be normal for once?”
They didn’t have to say a thing for her to know the answer to that. She would never be normal. She would never be anything but a freak.
Marni couldn’t remember her mother, but she had a letter from her. She found it in a book of fairy tales that had always lived in her bookshelf. “Dear Marni,” the letter said. “You are a miracle. A girl with butterfly wings! What a magical wonderful being you are.” Marni used to read that letter over and over. But one day she made the mistake of telling her grandma about it.
“You’re mom always was a nut,” she laughed. “Should’ve been locked up, that one. Good thing she passed when she did; she was a menace to society.”
Marni knew that she would be a menace to society too, if she were to ever let anyone see her wings. Such things were not acceptable. Best case scenario, she would be locked in a lab and poked and prodded for the rest of her life. Worst case scenario, they’d rip her wings off and burn her as a witch.
She came back downstairs wearing a pink t-shirt that said Arizona in sparkle letters. “Can I meet Rachel and Gina at the mall?” she asked.
Her grandma flicked her blue lighter, lit a cigarette, and waved her off, coughing and leaving a plume of cigarette smoke encircling the air above her. Marni got on her bike and rode through town toward the old mall. Half the stores there were closed and it smelled like mold and stale popcorn, but the AC worked and it was the only thing to do in the heat of summer. Cooling off at the lake wasn’t an option. It was like stepping inside of a vat of sweat, and you never knew when a mutated fish skeleton might float by.
Marni didn’t think it had always been like that. She had a distant memory of getting into the bed of a big truck with a bunch of neighbor kids and going to the lake, and the water had seemed cool and clean. But it was warm and murky this summer, and that’s the way it was last summer too. Things always seemed to be getting worse, but no one wanted to talk about it.
For example, they could no longer eat vegetables for dinner, because of some toxin or something. One morning she had found a piece of fruit in the backyard—she couldn’t remember which kind, but she tossed it into the garbage heap because she was too afraid of what it might do to her. Half the roads were melting and so you never knew when your car might get stuck, and if you did, you had to abandon it forever because it was part of the landscape now. Junked cars lit the byways like cell phone towers of old, almost blending in, almost part of the scenery, but not quite.
In town, Marni watched an old man yelling at a child. She winced and screeched to a stop. Used her leg as a kickstand. Everywhere, horns were honking, drivers sticking their middle fingers out of their windows. “Get out of the way!” A driver yelled at her. She looked again at the kid. He was only three or four and looked so sad and helpless. But she was in the way, allegedly, so she balanced and pedaled away.
At the part of town where the buildings got more broken down and dilapidated, Marni pedaled faster. She didn’t want to read the insults and racial slurs spray painted on the crumbling walls. She closed her eyes. In this part of town, she knew, they kept children in cages, separated from their parents. With her eyes closed, she flipped over a boulder and landed sprawled against the asphalt.
She lay there for a long time. She lay there and a shadow crossed the sun. A bird with white wings. She squinted at the bird. Sat up and shielded her eyes. It was a bird, wasn’t it? Was it a bird, or was it a child with wings?
Could it be so easy? Could she just fly away from this place? It was a question she would keep asking herself all that day. She would ask herself at the mall, when her friends made rude comments about her baggy t-shirt. She would ask herself that night at home, burnt mac n cheese and Grandma shouting at her to scrape the pan good. It was a question she would keep as the world kept dying all around her until finally one day she felt a lift beneath her shoulder blades and answered it herself.