Register cliff sits at the end of Guernsey road off Highway 26 in southeastern Wyoming, about an hour south of Donald Porter’s family homestead. Register is a sandstone cliff, the Oregon Trail passed by it and so many travelling emigrants carved into the soft stone to memorialize their journey. To this day passersby can witness the etchings, now old and worn, on the cliff face. Register isn’t an impressively tall cliff, but it is high enough for Donald. Donald who has wings.
No one visits it this time of year, so today Donald decides to go.
Over the spare grass and red dirt he rides his mobility cart up; the state park agency has kept the rarely traversed path in decent enough shape so that though the cart’s tiny wheels groan in protest and the electric motor whines, eventually it reaches the top.
Register Cliff is not the Grand Canyon. Not even close. But, like the Grand, there is no safety railing at the edge of it.
Donald had played this moment before, though only in his head. The day would be bright like in that photograph with his daughter Sarah, and the sun would be on initial descent toward the horizon. He’d put the cart in reverse, he’d back and back and back. And then he wouldn’t have to look up to see the sky.
Baby bird blue, falling away from him. And then what? Black? Nothing or Hell.
A week later, they’d find him at the bottom popped like a big fat tick, an obese man burst open with an unusual amount of feathers scattered around him.
When Don reaches the summit he thinks he might be too cowardly to pull this off. He tells himself the light isn’t right, the clouds are hanging over the horizon like a dusty drape. In his picture the sun was peeking through one big cumulus beauty of a cloud.
Man up. Do something right for a change. He shifts the hover round to reverse. Back, back, back until the edge is under him.
This is it, the very last cut. The chair tips back and only now does Donald Porter realize he doesn’t want to die after all.
He pushes the stick forward hard. The cart lurches to safety. Donald looks back to find he is a good ten feet from the edge. He had never been near it. The danger was all in his head, and it drove him to a realization: he hates himself, but not enough to kill himself. He’d discovered that much today. Today has been better than most.
Don descends the cliff on his cart then drives home and does what he does every Friday. Family chicken deal. A bucket of fried chicken, five biscuits, a pint of mashed potatoes with brown gravy in its own styrofoam tub, and a two liter bottle of soda all delivered for $12.00, which is barely a blip on Donald Porter’s EBT card. Dinner for one. His family’s all gone. Not dead, but not here.
He sits on his cart, resting the chicken on his protuding gut. His wings, weakly narrow, pale brown, scarred, slump behind him while O’Reilly Factor plays out on a dusty tube screen with bent-wire bunny ears on top of it. Don takes a bite of chicken-leg and chases it with cola straight from the bottle.
The news comes in: Brown Man blew a makeshift bomb in a market Somewhere in the Mid-East; the National Debt reaches Many Trillion Dollars; Citizens (black folk) Take Welfare Money from Hard Workers; In This Great Country there exists A Bloated Budget and Dying Veterans and Suicide Bombers and Lazy Youths.
Don finishes his dinner and takes to looking at his ceiling and thinking. He can’t seem to stop his frantic mind these days. This home was built in 1915 by Don’s grandad and he must have been a short man for the ceiling is much too low for Don’s taste, it reminds him of kid-sized candyboxes which reminds him of Sarah as a child.
Strange that a man with wings lives under such low ceilings. The real world is more peculiarly cruel than anything Don Porter can dream up.
His thoughts drift to Register cliff. Register, the family place. Where his father had taken him, where Don had taken his daughter, Sarah, in years past. Where Don had almost killed himself today. Where a man with wings had very nearly fell splat at the bottom of a cliff face. But Don hadn’t done it, he hadn’t really wanted the end, and isn’t this vagary a worse end to the day than the one he had imagined?
Before college, when Don had normal aspirations of a normal kid, his father had taken him to the cliff one dusk. Don had refused any notion of enlisting like his father; instead he’d been offered a scholarship to college and fully intended on accepting. He was too intelligent for the DOD, or thought he was. His old man took him up there one evening to convince him otherwise.
Don’s father, Allen Porter (Allen fiercely demanded that he be referred to as ‘Al’) made a career in the Air Force as an electrician out of the 90th Missile Wing. They claimed that during Vietnam Al kept a shot up F4 Phantom in the air all the way from Saigon to Pleiku base rather than parachute out to save himself and leave the plane in enemy hands. Al kept that plane in the air longer than any man should’ve, or could’ve. Don thought his dad just got lucky.
Don’s father didn’t care to retell the story. When Don asked, Al would say he’d done what they’d trained him to do. Didn’t see the point in celebrating that.
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Al said.
What we’re supposed to do. Serve and work and die. Don wanted more. He wanted a university education.
The week before Don was to enroll in college, Al packed a lunch not unlike that which Don would pack for his own daughter many years later, with one added ingredient— a case of Ballentine beer—and hiked with his son in tow to the top of Register.
Father and son dangled their feet over the edge, Al cracked a beer for himself and one for Don.
“Smell the wind,” Al said.
“Smells like grass,” Don said.
“No, below the grass. Salt. Salt of the Pacific. Way out here, I can smell it on the wind, and so can you.”
“I can’t smell it dad,” Don said.
“The Porters can always smell it,” Al said. “Your great-grandmother could even taste it on the wind out here. The salt that’s in our blood. And it’s in your blood.”
“It’s too far, it isn’t possible,” Don said.
“That’s my white collar boy,” Al said. “I love you son, but you’ll always smell the salt. You can’t leave it, much as you might try.”
Don had never been able to smell the salt. He’d never tasted it. Not in all these years.
Commercials air during these late hours that most never see. The one showing on his television now, he had first seen about five years ago. He’d been shut-in for a while then, but in the mobility cart featured in the ad he thought maybe he’d found an escape route. Two old women, Bernice and Joy, both sit in a mobile wheelchair at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The unseen narrator asks ‘hey, how did you get to the Grand Canyon?’ and the women reply in unison “hover round!” and their voices echo off the canyon walls, cue the jingle: “Now I’m free to see the world!”
Don laughed the first time he watched it, but there’s another scene in the piece, one in which the hover round is towing a passenger van. Donald figured if that thing could tow a van, it could tow his fat ass around. Medicaid covered eighty percent. The commercial hasn’t been updated in all these years, but neither has Don.
The phone rings. Telemarketer, but he decides to answer it anyway. Telemarketers are always willing to chat for a while. Swiveling the cart, Don rolls to the kitchen and pulls the receiver from the wall.
“Hello,” he says.
“Dad? Dad, it’s me.”
Sarah’s voice on the line. How long had it been? Six months, eight? She’d called on Christmas and today was, damn what is the date?
“Hi honey, it’s been…awhile.”
“I know dad, I’m sorry, just…”
“How’re you doing?” he asks.
“I’m good, dad, how are you?”
Fifty six, unemployed, somewhere north of 350, constantly eating, constantly hungry, constantly lonely, finding beauty in suicide but not man enough to follow through, but Donald smiles into the phone. It’s good to hear her voice.
“Same as last time, I guess,” he says. “It’s good to hear from you though. Really, what’s up?”
What’s up, let’s wrap, give me the skinny. Remember that time I fed you a lime? You laughed with that toothless grin, cheeks so fat your eyes near disappeared in that smile. Another mystery, revealed now, only ascorbic acid. She had been a blonde baby, brunette at eleven, what color was her hair now? Donald couldn’t picture it.
“Well, big news actually,” she said. “I’m getting married.”
“I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend.”
“He didn’t ask me…”
“Dad, listen. I told him not to.”
“You never even introduced us.”
“You want him to come see your place? You want to get on a plane? When’s the last time you left the house?”
Today. He had left the house today.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me. And anyway, it’s too late to undo the proposal now. I thought you’d be happy.”
“Sorry, I am happy. I truly am. Sorry for my reaction, and sorry for being…”
“Dad, just get here. Everything is planned.”
“But, I can’t,”
“I want you to walk me down the aisle.”
“How can I get the hover,”
“No. Don’t scoot me down the aisle. Walk. Walk me down it.”
Walk? Walk was like fly. Twenty-five years ago, sure, walk.
“Even if I could walk you, with a tux it would be impossible to…”
“Dad, don’t worry about them. I’ve promised everyone a special show as you walk me. A little non-traditional, more than a little expensive, a prop, a special thing you made just for me: a beautiful pair of wings. Everyone is so excited, no need to worry about them. I think it’s a decent plan”
“But if I can’t walk.”
“If you can’t walk, you aren’t welcome. Wouldn’t it be beautiful?”
“I don’t know, a fat man with wings?”
“It’s only a symbol, shows how you’ll protect me, or something. You spread your wings over us during the ceremony and everyone will think it’s a beautiful gesture, or cheesy, whatever, at least you’ll get to be there. Besides, you have eight months. You don’t have to be fat.”
Eight months. She hadn’t a clue what her father looked like today. Even fifty pounds lighter, he’d still be morbidly obese, but if he could walk without struggle, well, he’d see her at her wedding. No embarrassment in wearing a tacky set of prop wings when your daughter’s getting wed. After, she might call more, if not visit.
“I’ll do it. I’ll walk you down the aisle, wings and all.”
“Dad, thank you so much! I love you.”
“I love you too. So about the groom.”
“He’s great. You’ll love him. Mom just thinks he’s...”
“I don’t wanna talk about your-”
“Oh, dad, I’m sorry mom just walked in. Look I’ll call soon with all the details, okay?”
“Okay. Call me soon.”
“Alright. Bye dad.”
Don puts the phone back on the wall. Sarah and Monica. Don could’ve raised her, given the chance. Another thing the wings stole from him. Sarah had just started high school when the things started growing on his back.
In 1986, Donald Porter couldn’t fly, but he’d argue that point.
Black Monday of 1987 was far off and unpredicted. Reagan was president, the market was king, and Don served in its court. Companies raced to buy one another out, eat or be eaten. Merger mania was the term for it, and if a merger were in the works, Don heard of it before any outsiders. That year, Don had purchased major stakes in RCA and ABC before any member of the public heard wind that both were being bought out: he pocketed the substantial rise in both stock’s price after the news broke.
Some called it insider trading, Don called it harmless talk. Harmless talk afforded Don a long-legged Italian girl named Monica. Monica wore Prada and gave Don a daughter in private school and a curvy nanny on the side (with knowledge and consent), so long as Don kept liquid. He trained for ironman, he served on the board of the Young Republicans, he went to church every Sunday, and above all else he made beaucoup amounts of money.
Don lived with his family in a high-rise overlooking Boston Harbor. The rent was too large even for his income but the view seemed large enough to make up the difference. Seemed like the whole city laid out in rows before them, like an orchard and Don had his pick of fruit from it.
Ask Don then which power he’d like to have best—flight or invisibility? He’d answer flight without hesitation. A man among the eagles, a man inspiring others to reach impossible heights, shit, Don could be that man. Donald remembers that younger man now, and he wants to reach back in time and show him what’s happened since those days like some fatass ghost of Christmas future.
So when a pink-haired punk kid behind the counter at Spitz’s Slices asked Donald whether he wanted cheese or pepperoni (cheese only- watching my weight) and followed it up with whether he’d want to fly or become invisible, Don answered “flight” without hesitation.
The kid grinned and said “ya, thought so, that’ll be $1.99,” and Donald paid and went on with his day.
When one morning he noticed two pink lumps exiting the back of his ribcage, he didn’t think of the kid or his question. He made a mental note to schedule a Doctor’s visit.
Two weeks later, the lumps had morphed into little featherless wings, pink and hideous but responsive.
Don was convinced. Not that he had cancer, a man training for a triathlon and avoiding saturated fats doesn’t typically worry about tumors. Not that he was an alien or some government experiment gone wrong, UFOs and government wrongdoing went against the party line. But that he had been chosen.
Chosen for something, if not by God then by someone. And, every bit the trader, Don hedged his reasoning as he would any long position. If he hadn’t been chosen by some power for an as-yet-unrevealed high-minded cause, he’d make himself famous to the commoners.
Don was as sure of his destiny as he was of trickle-down economics. He’d be famous, richer even than he already was.
Monica wasn’t so sure.
So, their marriage was the titanic and Donald’s two little chicken wings the tip of the iceberg. And not unlike that doomed ship, everything sunk in one night.
Now, Don remembered that night often. His downfall had begun before his first flight. He can’t help but shake his head in awe at that naïve little man in the overpriced pinstripes. Monica had put on a pink lace teddy and matching thigh high pantyhose. They hadn’t made love in the last few weeks. Don hadn’t even let her see him without a suit jacket on, and tonight it was clear she wished to break the streak.
“Baby, take your jacket off,” she said from her knees, him standing over her pantsless.
“Promise you won’t freak out,” He’d said.
Don thought now, what if he had waited? At least until they looked like real, believable wings. The night of the reveal, they looked more like a set of poorly-plucked chicken wings stuck to his back, like the punchline of a mean-spirited joke.
“I’m going to fly,” he said, proud as a bully who’d never been punched in the mouth.
“You need to see a doctor,” she said.
“Wait, watch,” he said and flapped, fast as he could.
“Oh, God,” Monica said and covered her mouth as she retreated toward the toilet. She didn’t make it and vomited red wine and pasta onto their white carpet.
As he watched his wife retching at the sight of him, Don wasn’t jolted, not mad; only concussed. He remembered being struck with the overwhelming need to sit, with the notion that he might not be famous in the way he’d fantasized, and with strange certainty that the wine stain would never lift from the carpet. Though he shook her reaction that very night, the effects of that confusing trifecta of information permeates Don to this day. It is like the memory of a new smell.
But he still loved her. The only time he’d doubted his love for her was at the signing of the divorce decree. She’d had her lawyers draw up a new copy. Same financial details (not that he cared much on that—he clung to the idea he’d be famous soon after all), but the visitation had changed. Only once a year. He said he’d sign if she agreed to let him see Sarah more than the papers said.
Monica agreed and in her eyes he thought he’d seen the truth. What had he seen? Not the truth, that much proved clear all these years later.
And all these years later he’d discovered Monica had been right about the whole thing. A man with wings can’t expect to see his daughter in polite company. A man with wings can’t expect to see her at all.
But, he might see her at the wedding. At the wedding, Donald Porter could spread his wings as a symbol for both his daughter and his ex.
Does he love Monica still? He’d have to admit he does. Every once in a while he’ll call her after downing a bottle of Kentucky Gentlemen. She’s only ever answered once.
A knock at the door. Pizza guy. Oh yeah, he’d ordered seconds.
How did he ever think he’d lose weight. Don points his chair toward the door and rolls on.
Fuck Don Porter. Thinking he could break this. Thinking he could be anything more than a homebound humanish form. Jacket, put on your jacket dope.
Don pulls his duster over his wings. This way they can’t see them. Think he’s got an unhealthy body-type sure, think he’s a freak oh definitely. Think he’s so odd they ought to call the authorities? Nah, just another shut-in.
Don opens the door, a young delivery boy stares back, looking bored. Probably trying to make some extra cash to get out of town. Don wants to tell the kid, ‘Stay. Keep the salt in your blood. You’ll never get it back otherwise. The alternative is worse.’
Instead Don takes the pizza and hands the kid a twenty and says “keep it,” and rolls back in front of the television.
But when he opens the box the photo of her as a little girl catches his eye. Faded to straw yellow, it stands alone on his bookshelf. He takes his jacket off and opens the pizza box and eats the first slice and he thinks.
Before the chair, before all the weight and the close-fitting house and before the divorce, he’d taken her on a father-daughter trip. For him it is a lonely sweet memory of a road trip back home, for her it was a visit to her roots.
They would follow the Oregon Trail as close as possible, until it hit Oregon City. Divorce was looming, and he feared that summer might be his last with her. So he hid his knobby new wings under a blazer equipped with silly large shoulder pads and off they went.
Mostly silent, Sarah watched the land pass by through the passenger window. Her build was thin to the point of scrawniness but her eyes were full and sharp, she seemed to enjoy silence and stretches where nothing but land and sky were visible. Quietly she took in the wide open spaces, the flatlands and the gorges and bluffs and brush stands, the summer smell of prairie grass and the hum of the road. All of it held “the mysteries of the past,” according to her, and though they did not speak much on the trip, his heart was full.
After two days on the road, they made a morning stop at the Porter homestead, in the old house where Don lives now, and in the afternoon they ate at the base of Register Cliff. The day’s heat reflected off the ancient rock and reminded Don of the heat shimmered from the sky high glass buildings stacked up in Manhattan. They sat on the dry grass and ate turkey sandwiches, hers with mayonnaise, and his with mustard (no calories in mustard).
She took a bite, squinted and looked at the names etched into the side of the cliff, an ancient travel-log of all those hopeful travelers, and she said “they were all scared. All of them. They were all afraid.”
“No, well maybe, but more than that they were brave. They founded this place. They were patriots.”
“They didn’t find it. They were greedy at first, then afraid. And they were right to be.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know because I know.”
Sarah stood and ran her fingers over one of the carved names, breathed deeply and shielded her eyes from the sun and held her head high as she could manage and watched, still and silent. Every stop they made she’d held this pose until her breath was gone, then she’d gasp and turn back to Don, ready to make the next leg of the journey.
He had pretended not to notice before but now he asked “Why are you doing that?”
“We owe it to the dead,” she said.
Don didn’t ask anything further as he ate. She said things like that. Even as an infant, she had always been gifted. Like she had some inside information on the universe no one else was privy to. Her intelligence had turned her into a pariah by middle school. He wished he could stop her saying those sorts of things, knowing what others might make of her, but then he didn’t want to stunt whatever other bit of her made her so piercingly smart. She had a difficult upbringing after that summer, and Don has no one to blame but himself. But that one trip, she was happy and so was he.
When he finished eating, Don raced her to the summit, beating her by nearly a minute. At the top of the cliff, covered in sweat, panting and happy, he set up the tripod and ran to put his arm around her before the camera timer went off.
The light had been dreamlike, and in a way it was a dream, an ethereal moment before the fall to reality. The man in that picture, fit, proud, and above all a father, had already went over the cliff edge, he simple hadn’t noticed yet. So he suspended in mid-air for one final moment, for that one swift summer trip before he noticed gravity had its hold on him and nothing but a steep drop remained.
When he looks at that picture now, Don can make out a small rise in his blazer; the visual hint of those wings which he thought were a blessing but now knows was an omen. Sarah lives among countless buildings that Don supposes hold some new, greater mysteries for her.
He sits at his kitchen table at six in the morning. Hunger woke him. No hope for fame or money or even a single woman these days, but as Don mixes that first scoop of unflavored whey into a tepid glass of water nearly two decades after the fall, he thinks he may get his daughter back. He holds the glass up in the pale morning light for a moment, and then slugs it back. He can lose the weight.
He thinks he can do this if he gamifies it, thinks of it as a reverse siege, or like the outside world holds her hostage, and in exchange for her he’ll pay ransom in the form of pounds shed. All he has to do is consume the little liquid protein shakes and nothing else.
Essentially rabbit starvation, he’d read, but for someone as obese as him, the effect would be extreme weight loss. Some had even reported losing ten pounds a week! Hell, he’d be happy with a steady five a week.
Two weeks later, Don has had some success. He can’t sleep and he feels like an entire pile of shit during the day as opposed to the single piece. For the sleep, he loads up on anti-histamines, for the days he washes caffeine capsules down with his chunky weight loss concoction.
Probably not great for the ticker, but he’s already fifteen pounds down. In eight months that would put him around 160 pounds down. Incredibly, he will still be considered obese, but not morbidly so. At the wedding, he’ll be a tubby father with a tasteless prop set of wings. But he’ll be at the wedding, and that’s the part that matters.
Today, Don allows himself a cheat meal. The guides all say a cheat meal is okay, recommended even. For mental health. He rests on the porch for a while, smiling and liking the peace in his mind. At seven o’clock, Don orders a large hand-tossed pizza, supreme, and a two liter of cola, diet. Some hidden switch flips inside his brain after that first bite.
Something deep, the same switch that shaped the younger Don into an extreme workaholic and a hopeful ironman. The same switch that made him choose to fly, makes him consume now.
So he consumes. Pizza first then the cola, and without a conscious thought he orders a bucket of fried chicken. Then another pizza, another cola, full flavor this time. Another, another, until he passes out.
The next morning he sits distended, greasy-pored, red-eyed and in fear of the scale.
But he must know. Don forces himself up out of his cart and upon the scale, and learns a hard physical mystery: consume ten pounds of food and this will roughly translate to fifteen pounds of bodyweight.
He’s gained it all back, every ounce of it, in one night. He looks up at his ceiling, at his four enclosed walls, and knows that he has been buried alive, not really living and not yet dead. Grounded, ground down, and ready for the ground. It’s sort of funny when you think about it.
So, a few short hours later, Donald finds himself at the edge of Register cliff again, and thinking of his daughter. Thinking of that picture of them both. Donald and Sarah at the cliff, all those years ago. He’ll never see it again.
He’ll never fly again.
In 1988, Donald Porter wanted to impress more than his daughter.
He wanted fame, fortune, and he would have both and more. First though, he’d have to master these wings. A man can’t expect to swoop dramatically from New York rooftops, speed through the tight-packed space between Manhattan skyscrapers, impress millions and charge a fee for the privilege, until that man can master the wide open spaces.
So on a frozen morning at the top of Register Cliff, Donald tightened his goggles, spread his wings, then strong and un-scarred, through holes cut out the back of his parka, and leaped over the edge.
The sandy cliff face passed quick below his eyes as he fell head first. The gravel path on the ground came closer, ever closer. Hold, envision the Empire State building. Impossibly close, then Don flexed his great wings and flew up toward the rising sun.
Wright Brothers? Peasants.
Don knew he was the first man to truly master flight.
And Icarus had been full of shit. The thing that would stop a man flying isn’t the sun’s heat; the gradient simply isn’t steep enough to make a difference. No, the thing to stop a man flying is thin air.
The first time Donald had braved real altitude, facing off with a lonely cumulus cloud, he had also become light-headed. His wings felt like anvils in an instant and he began a hard descent. His air came back to him in time to glide safely down, and he learned another lesson in flight. Donald hadn’t quite reached Sherpa status by that frozen morning, but he did fine.
No fear stopped him from pushing the limit out here. He grew his hair out long because he liked the way it trailed him as he sped along the skies. That day, he’d chosen the cold air as his challenger. Don faced true cold, the kind that burned skin and tugged at one’s own sense of self-preservation after only a few seconds, that morning.
Baring his teeth, Don screamed into it, leaving a steaming trail in his wake. He’d defeat this frozen air like he’d defeat every other thing in his way. Monica would regret the divorce, when he became famous people would ask what was she thinking leaving him? Leaving a damn superhero.
He wouldn’t even bother trying to win her back. He’d have his choice of women. He’d been practicing his signature. He made a big swooping barrel roll of a ‘D.’ Most of all, he’d get full custody of Sarah again.
Donald sped on. He screeched at the air, cursed the cold, taunted it for daring to challenge him. His lungs burned but they’d burnt before and he knew this only made a man stronger. As he raged and panted like a wild animal and imagined carrying his daughter through the clouds, unseen ice began to crystallize, first on the tips of his feathers and then it chained nearer his body.
It occurred to Don that he moved faster than any natural man ever had. He extended his wings to make a final roll, one more pass by the cliff face. Something strange occurred, a sensation he hadn’t felt before.
His wings locked up, he couldn’t move them. He looked over his shoulder and gasped.
Ice built up like honeycomb. Thick sheets of it encased every feather, and Don plummeted.
“Shit,” Don muttered as he reached for his left wing, scraping at it, punching the damn thing, frantically pulling the ice away. Finally the wing broke free, he flexed it and sent himself spinning.
He went to work on the other wing. His hands were freezing now through his gloves and they felt sticky wet as he tore at the remaining ice fragments. The wing freed, Don flexed it once and looked forward just in time to see the ground as he impacted.
Now, Donald can’t remember much after that. He remembers tumbling, an immense stretching sensation under his ribcage, like his chest plate might tear from the force of it. He suspects this was some sort of neurological response, his wings acting as a parachute to slow his momentum, but he can’t be sure.
After the stretch and the tumble, he was confused like the night he’d drank a liter of vodka after signing the divorce papers. He stumbled through Manhattan’s closeness that night like he stumbled through Wyoming’s expanse that morning.
The world came to him in still frames. Standing up. Removing his gloves. Hands like burgundy skin ribbons. Feathers strewn as far as he could see. Upturned icy dirt and flattened grass in a haphazard line stretching beyond Don’s sightline.
But, he had landed. He had survived.
He smiled and looked up, “Fuck you,” he said to the cold sky.
He’d face it again. Donald picked one particularly bloody feather from the crash site.
He limped to his Jeep and started driving home. He remembers thinking of an adjustment he could make to avoid the mishap in the future, some type of hot-hands for his wings. He remembers a flash of green out of the corner of his eye. A car speeding toward him.
Maybe he was concussed and didn’t stop at the intersection like he should’ve, but if that was the case why had the other car fled the scene?
He woke up in his own bed two days later, Sarah standing over him and for a moment they were in flight together. He hadn’t seen her in two years. She’d become a woman, and he’d missed all the in-between.
The low popcorn ceiling of the house came into focus behind her. It was the first time he doubted his decision to fly.
“How you feeling, dad?”
“Not good. So, the cat’s out of the bag?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. They did some work on you, I’m not sure if they finished or not. Some men came. I stole you. Stole all the papers I could. Mom helped.”
“I find that hard to believe,”
“I helped,” Monica said from the doorway, “not because I wanted to. Because your daughter asked me to.”
“Well, thanks anyway. How the hell did you get out of there?”
“Very quickly. Dad, I don’t know what they know. Probably they know something. You need to lay low.”
“Ah, I was gonna let them know anyway.”
“You were going to let the public know,” Monica said. “Do you see any public around Guernsey Park? Come back to New York.”
“No. I have to heal up. Get back to practicing.”
“Dad, your wings are, well they aren’t right anymore.”
Monica handed Don a mirror.
Following the wreck Don didn’t move away, instead he removed all the mirrors from his home. For months he worked to get back in his old condition and he tried not to think about how his sixteen year old daughter and his fashionista ex-wife managed to steal a winged man from the hospital. Rather than question his luck at this second chance, he fought. Early mornings he’s spend sweating as he beckoned the wings to move. He iced them in the bathtub, he tried hot water after the ice didn’t work. He applied salves and creams and salts and wraps. He prayed daily. He’d bootstrap those damn wings up with him. He’d fly again. Except he didn’t. The month passed and the wings remained immobile. There are no physical therapists for winged-humans.
He learned that he wasn’t a hero after all, but a cardboard cutout of the real thing, if such a thing ever existed.
Suicide is easy; you’ve just got to want it.
He doesn’t need the right light after all. The sun hangs perilously in the west, pregnant with red and flirting with the mountains which stand full black on the horizon.
He’s composed the note this time. All the others were practice runs. The note is a seal, a bond with himself but he hadn’t known so until he made it.
Left the legal pad on the kitchen table atop an extra-large pizza box, empty. Typical suicide fare: he is sorry; sorry for ending it, sorry for failing Monica and Sarah and even the husband-to-be, sorry for the timing too. But his time on this earth had come to an end. Live on, happy in the knowledge that I left on my own terms. I made my peace. I’m up in heaven flying. Goodbye, until we meet again.
He hopes Sarah will find some comfort in his lies.
Don edges the hover round forward. He won’t have baby blue falling away, he figures he hasn’t earned that much. He’ll watch the brown dirt into which he’ll soon be placed, he’ll scream in mortal terror, helpless, and then he’ll die. Dust rises from the cart’s small wheels as it rolls on.
As he reaches the precipice Don sees his only daughter, a child again, floating above the edge of the cliff. She seems to hover for a moment until gravity takes over inertia and she falls free toward the earth.
Without thought, Don flexes his wings, ready to leap and save her, then the vision disappears.
He shakes his head and sits back in his cart. His daughter is a shade over thirty, half a country away planning her wedding with her mother and some stranger named Ralph and every other bit of Donald’s hallucination is gone, it had never been…except his wings are fully open. Donald looks over his shoulder and there they are spread wide and high over his back. Emaciated but responding for the first time in a very long time.
Alone at the edge, Donald weeps as the sun descends below the mountains and the sunlight reflects in clouds like flame and blue-stem in spring. Don lets the earth goes on its way round and he lets the stars pack the sky. The next day will be a bright one.