Kate kept her soul in a box at the bottom of her wardrobe. There was a bronze key too, she recalled, leaning on the wardrobe door to unbuckle her waitressing shoes. The intricately scrolled key had hung from a gold necklace around her neck. The chain had snapped the day Kate got her wings, and the key disappeared. Kate sighed. She tried to flex her swollen feet and slammed the door.
The breeze from the door closing brushed against her cheek. Her wings, folded under her white shirt, itched. The stench of the creamy food she had served all day coated her mouth in a sort of quasi sustenance. She reached for the hard skin peeling away from where her mechanical wings latched into her spine, and scratched, vigorously. The golden pincers gripped deeper into her back like borrowing worms. She took off her shirt and attempted to straighten her shoulders. Her bones cracked. Kate groaned and tugged, harshly, at her wingtips. Several small brass rods snapped like dried bird’s bones and the feather tips crumpled to dust like medieval parchment.
‘Here are your wings,’ the women had said at the connection ceremony. ‘Here is your freedom, here is your strength.’
They had failed to mention the inventors of the wings always installed a kill code. Kate unfurled her wings, needing to stretch some part of her body as far as it would go. The rods clicked into place one-by-one until the twisted, matted wings spread to the length of her outstretched arms. Even broken and dying, they were magnificent. Kate imagined her body expanding into the dust motes swirling in a line of light from the window. From the kitchen came a familiar call, ‘what’s for dinner’. She inhaled, retracted her wings and eased on a dressing gown.
Her flying days were numbered.
Late in the night, once the dishes were dry and house hushed with fluid breaths, Kate crept over to the wardrobe. Her chest ached with the weight of a thousand river stones. The stones had piled on with each current, each outburst. Her feet begged for weightlessness. Her wings itched with an intolerable force. In silence, she opened the door and climbed inside the darkness.
The sharp points of her shoes wobbled and dug into her thighs. Quiet, quiet she begged of her body as she unbuttoned her nightgown. Shaking, Kate rummaged through the shoes until her hands caught onto the box. She tucked it into her lap. It was lighter than she remembered, almost as if it had been emptied.
The reek of decaying flesh and musty feathers filled the confined space. Her heart pounded as though it were a rivet machine. A descendant of the inventors slept in her bed. He woke at the slightest noise. The kill code had come into effect once she refused to keep her mouth shut and legs open.
The river stones gnashed and intensified in pressure. Kate grasped as much of her wings as she could. Then, before she could bargain with herself, she yanked, quickly, hoping to rip the wings from her body like a stubborn bandaid. But a shock of agonising pain caused her to hiss and let go. The descendant stirred.
The mattress buckled as he rolled over.
Perspiration trickled down Kate’s torso. Her breath shot in-and-out of her nostrils at a furious pace. She reached for a leather sandal and jammed it in her mouth. Dirt and wardrobe grit crunched between her teeth. White stars floated across her vision from dizziness, while blood rushed in her ears like a tsunami on a warpath.
She gripped her wings as near as possible to their connection point. The rods thickened with resistance. Kate bit into the sandal until her skull ached with the ferociousness of a seven-day migraine. In utter, gulping silence, Kate tore the mechanical wings from her spine, extracting the pincers from her flesh and bone as though they were monstrous staples parting from a book.
Blood drizzled and pooled at her feet. Kate rocked, forwards-and-back. A weight lifted from her in a surprising rush. She had forgotten the lightness of her own self. Thrown at her feet, the wings convulsed and turned to dust. With the box wedged under her chin, she crawled out of the wardrobe and slipped outside the house.
Kate stood in the middle of the street, naked and unfettered. Night-mist caressed her skin. The mechanical trick meant to entice her into believing in the princess myth—gone. She cradled the box in her arms. She feared it empty. If it was, what was left? The bitumen tickled her bare feet. The streetlight hummed and cast shadowy patterns across the curves of her hips. Still unable to fully straighten, Kate held the box above her head as if offering it to the universe.
The torn flesh between her shoulders split further apart and stung as though the air were sprinkled with Ajax. Kate winced and flung the box at the road. The crash echoed against the night, bouncing off trees, brick houses and parked cars. Kate froze and stared at her bedroom window, her heart quickened but no light switched on. She dropped to her knees. Wood dust from the broken box wafted into her face. It had splintered and cracked at the seams. She forced it open with her fingernails.
It was empty.
Kate searched for the moon. It hid behind a blackened cloud, deceitful and mocking. It was all a lie. She stomped on the fractured lid until splinters tore her skin. Exhausted, she hobbled toward the fork in the road. She fought a battle within her, insisting her soul must have existed, somewhere.
Kate implored the night.
At the intersection a fierce wind moved through her, evaporating all her river stones. Her broken skin repaired itself like a wave lapping over wet sand. She straightened and sighed in sweet relief.
A key materialised in her hand, and between her breasts, an ancient keyhole appeared.
Published in Windmills by words@deakin