“Oh, Marie, I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“What now, Gerard?”
“My wing is killing me.”
Gerard massaged the circular joint where his left wing and shoulder blade met.
“What part of the wing hurts you? Is it the pit or the tip?”
Gerard extended the wing and touched a faded feather with his forefinger, then flapped the appendage until a twinge of pain seized him.
“Ooooohh! It’s like somebody has the wing in a vice.”
Marie pretended to ignore Gerard as one of her petite hands raised a cup of tea to her lips. She took a quick sip and spoke without looking his way.
“It’s just your arthritis. We’re no spring chickens. You can’t let it bother you. It’s not like you have angel wing. Count your blessings.”
Gerard eased back into his soft leather recliner and sighed.
“I used to think it was a blessing, you know, when we got the wings. Now I don’t know.”
The couple could neither decide on the value of the wings or on when they first appeared. The way Gerard remembered it, his wings sprouted first, right after James was born. They started as tiny nubs, which he hid from Marie, who was still recovering from a difficult childbirth, was busy with the baby, and at that point was showing no interest in seeing him naked. Then one day when she was nursing, he noticed little nodules on her back too, and decided to show her his, which, anyway, were getting too big to fit under his shirt.
Marie had her own history of the wings. She claimed that neither she nor Gerard got wings until the children were grown and out of the house. She knew in her heart that she was right, and was quick to argue her case whenever Gerard raised the subject. She summed up her belief in three words.
“They’re an adaptation.”
Gerard couldn’t argue, but he wondered what he and Marie might’ve been adapting to. He believed that God had given them wings to help raise their children. His wife loved children, but she was tiny, almost frail. He loved children, too, but he was preoccupied all the time and easily distracted. While Marie was pregnant with James, he worried constantly that once the baby was born they would drop it on its head. He kept that worry to himself, but did voice his belief that the wings had arrived as aid. Whenever he did, Marie was ready with an answer.
“What are you talking about, Gerard? Wings would’ve gotten in the way. The kids would’ve pulled out our feathers. No, we got the wings after they left. Remember, once James went to college you were always complaining about taking out the garbage. I couldn’t stand listening to you. Then one day, just like that”–She snapped her fingers and whistled–“you could fly to the curb and back like no tomorrow.”
They both smiled. Marie remembered Gerard’s hair then, just going gray. How distinguished he looked whenever they had a dinner engagement and he fluttered out to the car in his modified sport coat. He had always been tall, thin, good-looking in a gentle way, with a high forehead, round face, wide nose, and deep-set brown eyes that watered a lot, but in the soft light of a romantic restaurant, those eyes gleamed with a spirit that could carry you away. The wings made him that much more attractive. No one else had a husband who could fly, even though he could never get too far, since his wings were smallish. Even now she loved him, she supposed, but lately he was as much a trial as a comfort.
“Marie, Honey, would you mind flying over to the refrigerator and getting me a yogurt cup?”
She lowered the bifocals resting on her long, straight nose, and cleared her throat.
“”I just landed here, Gerard. Are you really that tired?”
She longed for the days when they both had had the energy to host big house parties. How easy it was for her to zip between the sink and the stove, or to hover over the serving table, making sure her smorgasbord trays were lined up just right. And what joy she felt watching her husband beam as he rose to light the wicks of the giant Tiki torches placed next to each little patio table on the deck Gerard had built with lumber he’d airlifted from a hardware store delivery truck.
The parties themselves were even better than the preparation. The two of them would glide between klatches of guests, balancing cocktail trays of Brandy Alexanders served in bowl-shaped Champagne glasses. If someone had a special request, it was no problem for either of them to dart back to the temporary bar on the kitchen counter. And the sheer speed and unpredictability of these runs kept the kids from spiking their Solo cups of soda. Everyone praised Marie’s cooking (lemon chicken, scalloped potatoes, honey-glazed carrots) and Gerard’s attentive hospitality.
“Go ahead, Susan, and fly–Oh, sorry–I mean walk right into the den. Your husband’s there, watching a ballgame. Take a few of these pigs in blankets with you.”
Marie liked to flit around, too, but she was more an angel of the kitchen. Gerard was
cherub of ceremonies. Remembering it all now, Marie had the urge to fly over to Gerard’s chair and perch on his lap. When she turned to him, he was asleep, his mouth spinning a filament of drool into the crook of his wing. It occurred to her that her husband might be in real pain, the way he was after the accident.
It happened at one of their last big parties, on a warm spring evening. Their neighbor Johnny, a professional musician, sat at the piano, playing “Danny Boy,” one of Gerard’s favorites. Whenever the melody rose, so did Gerard. He got so excited by the high note, that he levitated horizontal, almost to the ceiling, where the spinning blades of the mounted fan clipped both of his wings, sending him face-first into the lap of Johnny’s heavy-set wife, Donna. Donna jumped to her feet, so that Gerard rolled onto the floor, pinning his already injured left wing underneath him. The wing was never right after that, and their parties were never the same.
These days people left them mostly alone. James was living a thousand miles away, and
Linda had recently moved into the city, with the latest in a parade of boyfriends they’d met once and never again. In a past that seemed nearer than it was, their phone would ring every hour, and one of them would rush to get it. If they could help it, they never let a call go to what Gerard still called “the answering phone.” Many of the calls came from Marie’s frenemy, Nancy. While Nancy chattered away, Marie would answer in single syllables and drift to the dining room, then drift back next to Gerard, where she’d hover, holding the phone a foot from her ear, to signal to him and to the world she imagined might be judging her that she was as charitable as any reasonable person could expect. When anyone else called, either of them was content to sail from room to room, small talking for the better part of an hour about an upcoming wedding or funeral or divorce or confrontation between a parent and an ungrateful adult child. The phone was their friend.
The doorbell was another matter. When it came to strangers in or near their home, Gerard tended toward paranoia. Phone time was down time, but Marie otherwise had enough to do that she didn’t like being interrupted by a knock she wasn’t expecting, and in the suburbs, where a phone call usually preceded a visit, most knocks were unexpected. If she told Gerard to see who it was, he would automatically float to the top of the front room window casement, to ID the ringer and decide whether or not he should answer the door. If, for instance, Nancy showed up, Gerard would hug the ceiling until he made his way back to Marie, whisper who it was and wait for her to flap her wings once for “yes” or twice for “no.”
One day their daughter Linda showed up at the door. She hadn’t been by for a couple of months and, as Marie had remarked the day before, hadn’t been calling much lately. But here she was, her pretty face one big grin. She rushed in and locked Gerard in a tight hug.
“Ooooohh! Careful, Sweetheart.”
She stepped back.
She sized her father up.
“Flap for me.”
Gerard grumbled, then grudgingly complied, wincing a little as he did.
“I worry about you, Dad.”
Marie appeared at Gerard’s shoulder, smiling against her will.
“Yeah, since when?”
The two women embraced, and Gerard led them to the dining room table.
“Where’s your boyfriend?” Marie asked, wanting to sound interested.
“Tom’s at work.”
“We’re happy you’re here. Your mother was just saying how much she misses you.”
Linda pushed up the sleeves of her knit sweater.
“I wanted to ask you both something.”
Marie puffed up her feathers.
“Is it money?” she asked.
Linda shook her head.
“No, it’s something I’ve never asked you about before.”
Gerard couldn’t stand to see his daughter uncomfortable in the house where she’d grown
“Anything you want to ask, Honey.”
“I wanted to ask you about you.”
Marie and Gerard looked at each other and chuckled. Marie made an involuntary gesture,
brushing invisible crumbs off the table with one wing.
“We’re not very interesting people.”
Linda’s lips curled into a sarcastic smile.
“No, your mother’s right,” Gerard said, shrugging, “Where do we go? What do we do?”
Linda took his hand.
“Dad, it’s not what you do, it’s what you did.”
“Well, that’s a depressing thing to say.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean it’s who you are, especially considering, you know…”
Gerard raised his chin to the height of his outermost primaries, which were splayed now as wide as his shoulders.
“The wings,” Marie huffed in a way that made Linda suddenly defensive again.
“You made me say it.”
Marie was ready to teach her daughter yet another lesson.
“Wings don’t make a person interesting.”
Linda shifted her eyes to her father.
“Do you think that’s what I think?”
Gerard shook his head in sympathy. Linda turned back to her mother.
“No, I guess I wanted to know whether or not you two were happy together. Did the wings make you any happier?”
Gerard looked at Marie, who was staring into space, like she was working through a math problem.
“Sweetheart,” he said, “if I had wings and didn’t have your mother, I don’t know if I’d’ve even used them.”
Linda opened her mouth, miming disbelief.
“No, really. They’re more trouble than you think. I might’ve had them clipped.”
Marie gazed at her husband as she might have on their wedding night. She imagined him soaring above the roof of the house, a corona of sun rays framing his full head of dark hair. Only the sound of Gerard scratching his leg with a wingtip broke her reverie.
“I think your father’s exaggerating,” she said, gathering herself. “To me the wings were just another thing that happened to us. Like the way we met at the flea market, or getting married, or you and your brother. You accept what comes, and you can’t predict it.”
She extended one wing regally, considering it.
“We did the best we could with what we had.”
Linda stood up and hugged her mother. Marie’s face suddenly took on a suspicious cast. She stared at her daughter’s face, then her belly.
“Are you pregnant?”
“Mother, you have a one-track mind.”
Gerard tried to spring up, to hug Linda, too, but caught a feather in the scrollwork of his
“Oh, wait a minute, ahh.”
“Dad, take it easy, I’m not pregnant.”
Gerard looked wounded and sat gingerly back down. Linda leaned over to hug him, and
as she did Marie noticed the two small lumps on either side of her back. As her daughter settled into her seat again, Marie lifted a pen and pad from the kitchen counter and recorded the date for posterity.
George Guida is the author of eight books, including The Pope Stories and Other Tales of Troubled Times (Bordighera Press, 2012). He teaches writing and literature at New York City College of Technology. His latest book, Zen of Pop (Long Sky Media, 2020), is a collection of poems about the enduring truths that do or do not abide in popular music and popular culture.