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THEA REDMOND

 

 

Thea Redmond

Thea Redmond was born in the US and has taught in several American universities. She has recently settled in Wicklow after years of commuting to Ireland. Her fiction has been published in New Irish Writing and was nominated for a Hennessey Award in 2007.

 

 

 

 

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SHEDDING HER WINGS

 

It all began with a form of devotion, and that led to the flying.

It was a long way down the mountain if she made a mistake flying, and there were a lot of bruises and broken bones each time she landed. That was because of the wings, though, she thought. All those cords and jointed projections. It was very complicated, flying. She tended to err when thinking in terms of accelerator, brake and clutch. It wasn’t that simple.

It was usually cold at that height, but he stood naked with his dainty bottom facing her. Yes, it was odd, but his was dainty. When he turned round, it was the usual. She was too fleshy and it weighed down the wings. He had fingered a fold in her middle, disapprovingly, to illustrate his meaning. She’d already been told her wrists and ankles and the curve of her neck weren’t right either. She laced purposefully into the wings, looking down at her ankles. They seemed the usual ankle configuration to her. Could everything depend on such things? She doubted it, but carried on. She was only learning to fly, after all. Besides, ankle was such a comic and ugly word, wasn’t it? Ankle, angle, mangle, manacle, dangle, rankle, wrangle – it was much the same in her mind.

Another swoop on the malfunctioning wings. She swerved, and clutched, and avoided downdrafts, but it was a rocky landing all the same. Then he swooped down gracefully as ever, frowning. Dusting herself off and reclaiming her clothes, she fumbled, placing feet into panties. It was the ankles, probably, again.

She was far better at mornings in bed. They didn’t require such physical co-ordination, and reclining she felt luxuriant. Mornings were different. She decided it would be best in her case to opt for horizontal, as vertical didn’t suit. In the bed she gazed down at her ankles which looked better when stretched, rather than supporting, and thought they didn’t look half bad. Delicate even, her polished toenails glistening in the sun.

The flying lessons were new. At forty she was past her prime for flight, and freefall was beyond her. In years past she’d only had a few flaps of the wings in domestic interiors, but she wasn’t quite ready for a crutch either. He thought that might be the next best thing for her. “Think of your ankles”, he said. “Totally unsuitable, insupportable really, in both senses. You should get sense.” But she was devoted, and also determined. It was like lighting candles, which she also did. Lighting all those candles was time-consuming, and it added up. The constant supply of coins for the candles, taking two buses, the umbrella for bad days.

He was the one who had introduced the idea of the flying lessons, so she had tried, and thus far had failed. He never quite pushed her over the edge of the cliff, but it seemed that way at times. And then there were the bruises to contend with. Each time it seemed to take longer to recover. Some day she’d land in traction, she was sure. But she never said that, only thought she would be wise to prepare for the Big One. That’s what the flying people called it.

It happened the day he brought someone else along. This girl must have had better ankles than hers and naked she was convex – good torque. The girl sailed into the sky in an arc while he smiled. So it was left to her to struggle then to the edge of the cliff alone after the pair of them had gone. She threw herself over, hoped for the best, and landed in a heap of rubble. They had already walked away, dainty, convex and intact. She had fished out her mobile and rung for an ambulance. It took ages to arrive and the swelling had got worse - ankles, wrists and neck. They had placed her in splints and told her not to move, the damage was yet unknown. But not to her.

They then came in a pair, nearly naked, to visit her in hospital. They were life, whereas she was covered in bandages and nodded slowly. They each took a hand and wished her well. He asked if she’d saved the wings he’d given her, and she admitted she’d left them there. She didn’t think the ambulance crew had picked them up. They weren’t in the bag of belongings the hospital staff had given her, she’d looked. The nurse looked askance and said they’d stayed far too long.

When they left she picked up the devotional manual by the bed. “First do no harm.” Wrong manual. The next said “Love, give generously, listen, help, don’t stint and expect nothing in return. When you are gone they will weep for a day or two, remember for a bit longer, and wrongly. They will grieve for a time, and then they will go on to other things. When it’s too late for them to fly, they may remember, but probably not.” So she put aside these devotional orders, pretended to fold her wings, and fell asleep dreaming of flight. She dreamt of birds soaring above and below her, and of falling in tandem through the skies.

When she awoke a bird was perched on the window ledge, airing its wings in the sun. It had the most slender of ankles. She dressed and left quickly, leaving fluttering paperwork behind her. Returning to her cave she set up her quill and calm, thin sheets of paper. Days passed, weeks of quills used up and discarded, sheets with bird scratchings taking shape, then taking flight, forming origami wings and soaring round the cave.

When he descended into the cave one day to borrow a quill he found her laughing and watching the handmade birds flying. He said he wanted one, so he could see how they were made, but she said he’d have to catch one in flight. He wasn’t deft in the darkness of the cave. Crawling on all fours he began to bruise. He belonged on the mountain, in the air. Here even his ankles looked thick and ungainly. He wasn’t quite awkward enough to be an auk or a dodo, more an odd duck, finally. Waddling. Better at sea or airborne, but comic on earth. His convex companion had flown - a great flyer in her own right, and not in need of his lessons in the end. She had set up a flying circus in foreign parts. They were in all the papers.

So in the darkness of her cave she caught one of her many ornate and phosphorescent birds and handed it to him, as she prepared to retire. She was dark and alone, and padded softly on her own two feet, supported by her sturdy ankles. She glanced at the sinews of her neck as she passed the mirror, and folded the sheet on the bed about her like a pelt this time and dreamt, not of flight, but of roaming great and silent distances on foot. In her dreams she wore not the usual devotional robe, nor wings, but a fine coat that had the spots of self-possession. She called out to him to lock the door behind him and to put the key in the slot. When she awoke it wasn’t there. She knew he had taken it with him so that he could return.

He still had to learn to grope through the cave, and then to stalk the plains, but she wouldn’t be a very good teacher. She had just learned herself. There wouldn’t be broken bones on this journey, but there could be blisters. It wasn’t for the dainty - one had to have thick pads. One could always sport wings, she would tell him, but they would be merely decorative in her world, and, finally, an encumbrance. It was a world that required sturdiness not delicacy. That would be what counted now and in the end.

©2009 Thea Redmond

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©2009 Southword Editions
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Munster Literature Centre
   

Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15