At first, her feathers are pale gray. Baby wings, they span seven inches and flutter eagerly to the touch. In time, they turn robin’s egg blue, stretching toward the easy insides of her elbows. Her skin is very tender then, like a freshly healed wound, and when her best friend Lyla strokes a finger between her shoulder blades the first time she shivers and asks Lyla to stop. A silence falls between them then. Her parents are upstairs, fast asleep, and the house is dark but for the familiar glow of the widescreen TV in the basement where the girls always have their sleepovers. Almost every other Saturday for the past seven years, Lyla and her hypoallergenic pillow have been right here beside her, sneaking candy bars from the kitchen, pulling the blanket over their eyes when a midnight monster bursts onto the television screen. She used to think that nothing would separate them, that they would still be clutching each other when their city sunk below sea level and water flooded the house, but now Lyla looks at her as if she’s drifting off into another dimension where Lyla cannot follow. She tries. She sits up straighter on the pullout bed, attempts to refocus all her attention on the scene ahead of her—on the image of the pristine ballerina resting her chin on the major’s brocade shoulder. When that doesn’t work, the girl says, “Do it again,” then removes her t-shirt, revealing the blue wings bound beneath them. Lyla helps her unwrap this binding, leaning forward in the process, so her lips almost touch that sore spot where the muscles yearn to stretch. Once her wings are free, they extend beyond her arms—beyond Lyla’s—nearly knocking a lamp off a table and upsetting the pillows on the bed. “Again,” the girl says. But Lyla hesitates, resting her forehead against her friend’s back, then nuzzling it there, pressing her face deeper and deeper into the flesh, as if two could become one.
Ruth Joffre’s fiction and poetry has appeared or are forthcoming in Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, The Masters Review, Lightspeed, Mid-American Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the story collection Night Beast.