Kyrie sits astride his young wife’s back and massages a fleshy mound between her shoulder blades. “It’s time.”
Zelia tries to squirm from under her husband. Raised to believe she’s one of the lucky ones, she’s seen what awaits: Exhibitions, competitions, swollen ankles, saddle sores. “I don’t want to be a flygirl.”
“That’s stupid ... Here they come.” Kyrie grabs the protruding bones, crouches on his wife and pulls. Zelia screams as the wings rip through her flesh and flop at her sides.
Over the next couple weeks, Zelia builds wing strength through a regimen of indoor exercises Kyrie supervises. He graduates her to jumping off the roof. Then she experiences a tether for the first time as she glides down a slope in a vacant field near their house.
“You’re ready to start the certification process,” Kyrie says as Zelia rubs her ankle. “Don’t let me down.”
As Kyrie and Zelia arrive at the wind tunnel facility, another couple is leaving, the woman limping, face bruised and swollen. The man says it’s her fault. The woman keeps saying she’s sorry.
“Don’t forget the diagrams we studied,” Kyrie says. “You don’t want to end up like her.”
I’d rather die, Zelia thinks.
... Zelia takes her position. The blades start turning. A breeze teases her feathers. The roar of the turbine builds. She adjusts her helmet, purposely angles one wing incorrectly and takes a deep breath. OK, she tells herself, this is going to hurt.
Dr. Sarah studies the X-rays of Zelia’s right wing. “Lateral tear. Not flight-threatening.” Zelia’s heart sinks. “You need to rest it at least three weeks,” the doctor says and looks at Kyrie.
He rolls his eyes.
Zelia apologizes to her husband then asks to speak with Dr. Sarah alone about a “female issue.”
Kyrie checks his watch. “One minute,” he says, leaving the room. “Try not to fall out of your chair and tear your other wing.”
Zelia watches the door. “I want a real life,” she says in a low voice.
Dr. Sarah nods at Zelia’s wings. “Some women would give anything to have those.”
The physician looks around her office and at her diplomas. “No.”
“Can you help me? Do know someone who can?”
Dr. Sarah shakes her head. “I’m sorry. Nobody will risk it anymore. And please don’t try to take care of it yourself. I’ve seen the results. It’s —”
Kyrie barges back into the office. “Time’s up.”
Zelia and Kyrie, a bronze feather pinned to his lapel, exit the wind tunnel facility. “My diagrams worked perfectly,” he says. “If you’d followed them last time, we wouldn’t have lost a month.”
Zelia apologizes. “When can we start my open field training?”
Kyrie buckles the tether to his wife’s ankle. Above her, flygirls soar and dive like kites. Zelia notices flashing blue lights at the far end of the aviation field. When a gust of wind slaps her in the face, she opens her wings, shoots upwards and veers side to side.
Kyrie fires a volley of curses at her and says to concentrate. Zelia reads the wind, nestles into an updraft and soon is soaring higher than all the other flygirls. After a few minutes, varying altitude and direction seem natural as walking. She wonders what would happen ... She bends her knee and reaches for her ankle. Immediately she lurches forward. Kyrie has jerked her tether and is reeling her in. She knew it was a long shot. Besides, where would she go?
When she’s back on the ground, a flight marshal approaches and asks what happened.
Kyrie tells the marshal his wife had a little dizzy spell. “Nothing serious.”
The marshal says “work on it,” pins a silver feather on Kyrie’s lapel and walks away.
Kyrie warns Zelia to never try that again.
“You know what they’ll do to you.”
“And then you’ll have me to deal with.”
Maybe not, she thinks. “I’m ready to go for full certification.”
Towering construction cranes scar the sky. From them hang hoops, tunnels and slalom poles. A flight marshal holds a stop watch. “You have two minutes ... Go!”
Zelia flies to the hoops, streaks through each and speeds to the tunnels. She folds her wings and glides through the first, flaps twice, glides through the second and repeats the choreography for the last.
Only the slalom remains. She banks left, flaps, banks right, flaps. Her wing snags a pole. Somersaulting, she sees the sky, the ground, the sky. Now, she tells herself and regains control with an aileron roll. Heart pounding, she rushes to the missed gate, completes the course and crosses the finish line just before the flight marshal blows his whistle.
Kyrie punches his fist in the air.
Zelia glides to the ground. When the flight marshal is within earshot, she says she had a dizzy spell but powered through it.
The marshal hesitates then pins a gold feather on Kyrie’s lapel.
Kyrie untethers his wife, cinches the saddle and mounts her. Zelia puts the treetops below them. Kyrie whoops. “I’m flying! I’ll be king of the circuit.”
Zelia elevates until their house is a tiny rectangle, lifts her chest and rises higher.
Zelia puts her hand to her forehead. “I’m having one of my dizzy spells.”
“You don’t — Oh, I see what you’re doing.”
Zelia cants left, then right, feels her husband trying to grip the saddle with his thighs.
“You know what they’ll do to you.”
“I’m counting on it.” She inverts. Kyrie claws at her neck. Then his scream is receding below her. Zelia rights herself, circles a few minutes and descends.
Back home, she stands before a mirror and smooths her wings. So beautiful, she thinks. So limiting.
On a clear night, Zelia sits outside and sips champaign. The wounds where her wings have been surgically removed are sore but mending. She raises her glass and watches the bubbles mingle with the stars.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in various journals including Gone Lawn, Fictive Dream, Pithead Chapel, Moonpark Review, and Literally Stories. His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.