The Wing’s Caress
What was it like to live with a man whose wings brushed everything fragile in the house, whose joy swept his daughter’s tea set to the floor, his grandmother’s wedgewood that had survived the fire bombing of Plymouth, a flood, a sea voyage. To be so well-intentionedly awkward was a kind of cruelty. When he embraced his wife, she could feel each shaft rubbing against her, its soft tip trying to press through her clothes till it hurt, these quiverings, these many, separate lives along each quill. She had to breathe through feathers. Where he fondled her there were white scratches, a rawness. When he caressed her, he tried to hold back his strength as if he might draw a barbed thing over her skin so lightly its sharpness wouldn’t be felt. He struggled to tilt the tips down, to make the feathers respect her tender places. He wanted to be gentle with everyone, to move quietly when his children were asleep and the dark had turned the house larger, less crowded, and he could step past a vase or a toy airplane without shattering it. He could look down at his sixteen-year-old, his fourteen-year-old and they’d not notice his feathers brushing across their faces, and when they were troubled he sought to take them in his arms and say the right things, but they always carried shadows from his embrace, were uneasy all day, feeling the feathers next to them, growing out of their own pores. They had to claw at themselves to be rid of this softness, and at night when they stood naked in the mirror they were surprised to find wings not on their shoulders. He was a man to be careful near especially when happy, trembling with love, rushing across a room of people to greet his children who’d learned to let their limbs go loose in his arms so they’d be only a little marked afterwards. In public each knew not to deny he was their father, but to speak as if it were only a joke they could share with their friends. And his wife? She had learned, too, to turn at the right time, duck her head, pivot, step out of the way, wait till he was tired and frightened of the harm he could do and had folded his wings under him. It was then she caressed his lean, ungainly body, she could love him then, her tongue flickering over the small hairs of his chest, her fingers lingering in the shadows of his groin though soon she’d have to be watchful, again, soon joy would seize him, she’d have to beware.
With A Man With Wings
How could she not mind the stiffness of the feathers, each’s feline pleading, the lifting of the spine under her fingers. Beneath all that softness bone, inflexible quill and yet, against her, yielding, the soft tip slipping off her, snapping back. Did she love the stiff thing for the slight spring to it, the weapon for the little bend to its blade. Once he’d undressed her, it was her face he found most naked. How could she bear the taste of feathers, the salt winds in them? Just before, they’d been beating, beating against these gusts, seeking currents in the air to float on, to be carried over the sea he’d not believed himself ever capable of crossing. Was this why, once he’d thrust himself inside, he was shuddering? As if the winds had rushed through him, a black ocean was about to crash down on him, its great swells rocking him. Surely he’d be destroyed, the waves would spill over and break this woman too, the dark, fathomless weight of infinity descending on them both. Surely she could feel the sudden coolness as if the whole sea had cast its shadows on them. Was this why he was sobbing, knowing how much peril he’d put them both in? They’d have to claw their way to shore, dig their nails into each other, cling so they’d not be swept back, not be drawn under by the tides they could feel going out over their arms and legs, his feathers limp, dark, this once barbed and glistening body bedraggled now, alien as if its weave had been broken. How could she not mind this broken winged thing with its cat smile, this shaft that had pierced her little more than a pet now, content, curling next to her, its claws drawn in as if it had never meant to harm her, as if it knew what he could never know.