Liddy, First to Fly

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - KIM FU

Liddy showed us her an­kles dur­ing first re­cess. First one and then the other, lift­ing the cuff of her blue cor­duroys, as we sat by the bro­ken pic­nic ta­ble in the patch of grass be­tween the park­ing lot and the bas­ket­ball court. Chloe and Liddy sat on the ta­ble it­self, their feet on what re­mained of the bench; Mags and I sat in the grass, avoid­ing the jagged wood. There were small, raised white bumps on both of Liddy’s an­kles. One on the out­side of each an­kle, a few inches above the rounded knob of bone. Per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal.

“Blis­ters from your boots?” I said.

“I don’t think so.”

Chloe tapped on her phone. “Ring­worm,” she said, hold­ing out her screen. Mags re­coiled. “Oh, gross. Oh my god.”

Liddy glanced over be­fore con­tin­u­ing to poke at the bumps. “It doesn’t look like that.”

“Maybe you should go to the doc­tor,” I said.

“They just look like zits to me,” Mags said. “Big ones.”

“My mom won’t take me to the doc­tor for some zits on my legs.”

“Can you stop be­ing gross and show­ing them to us, then?” Chloe said, still fid­dling with her phone. “We’ve wasted al­most the whole re­cess.”

Si­mon L. ran by, chas­ing an es­caped bas­ket­ball. “Dogs pee there!” he shouted at me and Mags. “You’re sit­ting in dog pee!”

Liddy showed us her an­kles again the next day. Only Chloe sat on the ta­ble, the re­main­ing three of us in the grass. Liddy laid her legs across my lap and I lifted her sneaker close to my face. The bumps had grown, the skin no­tice­ably thin­ning as it stretched, be­com­ing translu­cent.

“There’s some­thing in there,” she said.

Some­thing did ap­pear to be push­ing up through Liddy’s skin, the size and shape of the tip of a pen, only white.

“Maybe Chloe was right, and you do have worms,” I said.

“Ring­worm,” Chloe cor­rected, “is caused by a fun­gus.”

I couldn’t re­sist pok­ing at it. “It’s hard, though. Would a worm be hard?”

Mags was look­ing over my shoul­der, trans­fixed. “Ew. Ew, ew, ew.”

“Does it hurt?” I asked.

“It’s more . . . un­com­fort­able. Like I can feel how tight the skin is. Like wear­ing clothes that are too small.”

“It looks like bone,” Chloe de­clared, from above.

“It’s weird that they’re in the ex­act same place. It’s al­most like some­one ran some­thing straight through both of your an­kles. Like the bolts on the neck of the mon­ster in Franken­stein. Or Mags’s dog when he broke his leg and got that plate put in it.”

“Did you break your an­kles and not re­mem­ber?” Mags said.

We let this pass as a Mags thing to say.

“Any­way, you should go to the doc­tor,” I con­cluded.

“I don’t want to bug my mom with this,” Liddy said, pulling her pant legs back down. “She’s got a lot go­ing on right now.”

Mags let out a hor­ri­fied squeal.

“Wow,” I said.

“Shit,” Chloe said.

Liddy stood in front of us, hold­ing up the cuffs of her jeans. The bumps were now bub­bles of clear fluid, about the di­am­e­ter of a quar­ter, the skin al­most com­pletely trans­par­ent. Within each one was a coil of some­thing dark and un­rec­og­niz­able, bring­ing to mind mat­ted hair, a clog pulled up from a drain.

“You should go to the hospi­tal,” I said. Mags nod­ded.

Chloe typed swiftly on her phone. “Maybe Mags was right, and they’re just black­heads. Some­times peo­ple get huge ones that look kind of like that. See?” Liddy looked at Chloe’s phone. “So should I pop them?”

“Is it weird that I want you to pop them?” Mags said. “Like, I re­ally, re­ally want you to pop them.”

“Me too,” I said. Look­ing at them was al­most painful, like watch­ing an ob­long, over­filled wa­ter bal­loon bounce across the scraped con­crete of a pool deck.

“This web­site says you should ster­il­ize a nee­dle to do it, to pre­vent in­fec­tion.” “Can we watch?” Mags asked.

Chloe looked up from her phone with a dis­gusted ex­pres­sion. “Mags!”

“Sure,” Liddy said. “You and Grace can come over af­ter school. My mom won’t be home un­til late. She has a date.”

“I’m com­ing too!” Chloe in­sisted.

While Liddy hosed off her legs in the shower, Chloe lit a can­dle in Liddy’s bed­room—a scented left­over from Christ­mas, fill­ing the room with the waxy, can­dysweet smell of ar­ti­fi­cial pine nee­dles. She ran a sewing nee­dle through the flame. Once it was cool, she dipped it in rub­bing al­co­hol and left it to dry on a pa­per towel.

Liddy sat on her bed, her feet up on a clean white towel taken from the hall closet. We were go­ing for a sur­gi­cal at­mos­phere, or a cer­e­mo­nial one—an ap­pen­dec­tomy, a bap­tism—but in­stead it felt more like a game of pre­tend, the kind of game we’d only re­cently out­grown.

Chloe and I sat on Liddy’s bed with her. Mags sat on the floor, rest­ing her el­bows on the mat­tress with her chin in her hands, her face level with the bul­bous hor­rors.

Liddy pressed the nee­dle to her skin length­wise, par­al­lel to her leg, and slid it down to pierce the first of the two bub­bles. We in­stinc­tively all leaned away, as though it would ex­plode and spray the walls with pus, but Liddy had to draw the nee­dle up to tear through the out­side layer of skin. Clear fluid ran down her leg. She mopped it up with a hand towel.

When she lifted the towel away, we could see the mat­ted clump that had been un­der­neath, re­sem­bling a downy, slimy, just-birthed an­i­mal, newly ejected from its mother. Liddy got up and went back to the bath­room, and we fol­lowed. She left the shower cur­tain open as she stood in the tub and splashed the lump with tap wa­ter.

The coil un­furled. She turned off the wa­ter and fluffed it out with an­other towel, help­ing it along. “They’re . . . feath­ers,” I said.

A bird’s wing stuck straight out from the side of her leg, the span ap­prox­i­mately the length of her hand. The feath­ers were dark grey, lean­ing black. The wing flexed away from Liddy, stretch­ing to its full out­ward dis­tance, be­fore trem­bling and fold­ing back, the tip point­ing down once more.

One by one, we called our moth­ers and asked if we could stay the night at Liddy’s. One by one, our moth­ers said no, but we could stay for din­ner. My mother asked if she could talk to Liddy’s, and I lied that she was in the bath­room and

couldn’t come to the phone. Din­ner was a vague con­cept; we could rea­son­ably stay un­til bed­time be­fore Chloe’s par­ents would call her phone and the rest of our par­ents would call Liddy’s house phone.

Liddy lanced the re­main­ing bub­ble, free­ing the other wing. Clean and dry, folded down in a re­laxed po­si­tion against the sides of her legs, they were beau­ti­ful, with an oily, iri­des­cent blue sheen, like crows’ necks in a cer­tain light. They looked or­na­men­tal, an in­ten­tional con­trast to her milky skin and the downy blond hair on her legs, like part of a cir­cus per­former’s cos­tume.

The things we said, at first, just re­asserted the ob­vi­ous: are those re­ally grow­ing out of your legs, are those re­ally wings? And then de­tails: does it hurt (not re­ally), can you con­trol them (Liddy fo­cused, ex­per­i­men­tally, and the tips of the wings would drift a frac­tion of an inch; she couldn’t get them to un­furl com­pletely again, and she couldn’t con­trol them in­di­vid­u­ally—“Like you can’t flare just one of your nos­trils,” she ex­plained).

“Why aren’t they grow­ing out of your back?” Chloe asked. “Like an an­gel? It would be sex­ier if they grew out of your back.” Chloe was al­ways mak­ing strange, know­ing dec­la­ra­tions of this kind.

“Do you think you can fly?” Mags asked.

“They feel . . . stuck,” Liddy said, again mak­ing the wings ruf­fle faintly. “Like they want to open and lift again, but there’s some­thing in the way.”

“You should prob­a­bly tell your mom now,” I said.

“Yeah, I should,” Liddy said, look­ing down at her softly twitch­ing wings, with a far­away ex­pres­sion that meant she wouldn’t.

There was a way in which Liddy’s wings didn’t strike us as ex­tra­or­di­nary. Ev­ery­thing was baf­fling and covert then, es­pe­cially our own bod­ies, sprout­ing all kinds of out­growths that were meant to be hid­den, des­per­ately ig­nored and not dis­cussed, hairs and lumps that could be weaponized against us. On some level, it seemed like this would just be part of Liddy’s even­tual adult­hood, tuck­ing her wings be­neath sen­si­ble slacks and off to the of­fice, just as our moth­ers scooped their breasts and rears into elas­tic and wire. And the realm of pre­tend—more darkly and in­dis­tinctly sex­ual than we let the adults know—had only just closed its doors to us. That the fan­tas­ti­cal should leak out through Liddy’s skin seemed only fit­ting.

And though we never would have ad­mit­ted it, we were grow­ing bored of each other. We couldn’t ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber how or why we be­came friends. It was a story our moth­ers told: what we said when we came home from our first day of kinder­garten, in­ex­pli­ca­bly en­am­oured with each other, a story that em­bar­rassed us now.

I wasn’t in the same class as the other three any­more. I had a class­room friend; we only talked dur­ing class and went our sep­a­rate ways dur­ing lunch and re­cess. And some­times—of­ten—I re­al­ized I’d rather be talk­ing to her about our egg launcher for sci­ence class, or the books we were read­ing, and all that I felt for Chloe, Mags, and Liddy was a kind of loy­alty bond, an obli­ga­tion. Mags had joined the chil­dren’s choir at her church, Liddy some­times went to drop-in in­tra­mu­ral dodge­ball at the com­mu­nity cen­tre, and Chloe was spend­ing as much time with a glam­orous older cousin as the cousin would al­low. They would talk about these other friends in a way that made me aware of us drift­ing, and it ter­ri­fied me.

Now we had some­thing to bond us again, a new hid­den world.

Liddy didn’t come to school for three days. We as­sumed that I’d been wrong about that look on her face, that Liddy had shown her mother and the adult, bu­reau­cratic ma­chine had kicked in. We’d see Liddy on the cover of Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can or Weekly World News, or she was in the hospi­tal, get­ting her wings sur­gi­cally re­moved. We imag­ined a tall, men­ac­ing doc­tor lean­ing over her as she drifted un­der anaes­the­sia, say­ing, “Don’t worry, you’ll be a nor­mal girl again soon,” and dig­ging the bones of her wings out from un­der her skin, those lovely, shin­ing feath­ers tear­ing away in a mass of blood and vis­cera. (Chloe was the chief ar­chi­tect of these night­mares.)

On the fourth day, I called Liddy’s house in the morn­ing, af­ter break­fast. Her mother picked up, and I asked how Liddy was do­ing, said we missed her at school.

“Oh, how sweet of you to worry, Grace,” she said. “Liddy is fine. She just left for school, in fact. She had what my mother used to call a ‘grow­ing fever.’ Do you get those?”

“No? I don’t think so. I don’t know what that is.”

“I had them at your age. A fever that lasts a few days, you sleep the whole time, and you wake up a teeny bit taller. Part of the grow­ing spurts you’re all go­ing through.”

“Oh. Uh, I’m glad Liddy is feel­ing bet­ter.” I hes­i­tated. “And noth­ing else was wrong with her?”

“That’s the funny thing about grow­ing fevers! How you know it’s not the flu or some­thing else. You don’t have any other symp­toms. You just sleep it off.”

Liddy’s mom al­ways sounded ex­ces­sively cheer­ful, and it made me un­com­fort­able, like she was con­stantly ly­ing. I wanted to ask if she had also sprouted wings at our age. I tried to re­mem­ber if I’d ever seen her bare legs, if she’d ever joined us in the pub­lic pool in the sum­mer­time. Would Liddy ever be able to go to the pool again? “I bet­ter get to school,” I said, fi­nally.

When I ar­rived at school, I saw Liddy for just a mo­ment across the black­top be­fore the first bell rang and ev­ery­one went in­side. I couldn’t catch up to her in time to talk, but from that dis­tance, she did look taller some­how, her cheeks a lit­tle more re­fined, her blond hair a lit­tle darker than be­fore.

Liddy didn’t come out at first re­cess. Mags, who was in her class, re­ported that she’d stayed be­hind to talk to the teacher about what she’d missed while she was out sick. At lunch, we clus­tered be­hind the lone tree near the pic­nic ta­ble. We were vis­i­ble from the park­ing lot but not from the bas­ket­ball court. Liddy was wear­ing navy blue sweat­pants, loose legs with an elas­tic cuff at the bot­tom. When she pulled them up, the cuffs held just be­low her knee.

The wings had grown dra­mat­i­cally. The point where each one con­nected to her leg had ex­panded up and down—no longer a point but a line, a full joint, stretch­ing from just above her an­kle to just be­low her knee. Folded down, against her leg, each wing traced the same curve as her calf mus­cle, rounded at the top, ta­pered to­ward the ground.

“I’ve been prac­tis­ing,” Liddy said. She glanced around, mak­ing sure no one could see us, and then stood with her feet apart, her legs form­ing an in­verted V. The wings spread to a ma­jes­tic span, flex­ing con­cave and con­vex as she flapped them slowly, back to front. They were an­gled slightly down and be­hind her, and their curv­ing shape made the low­est, out­er­most part of each wing drag in the loose dirt, throw­ing up small, smoke-like trails of dust. When Liddy stilled the wings and folded them down again, they were no­tice­ably stained by the lighter-coloured earth.

We were too stunned to speak at first, but I found I was quickly think­ing about the me­chan­ics. I’d had sci­ence right be­fore lunch, where I’d been work­ing on my egg launcher with my class friend. It wouldn’t just be sex­ier, as Chloe had said— what­ever that meant—for Liddy’s wings to be em­bed­ded be­tween her shoul­der

blades, but more use­ful, too. She couldn’t get any lift with her wings scrap­ing along the ground that way, and it in­tu­itively seemed like it would take more force to get off the ground, with most of her weight above the wings, than if they’d ap­peared some­where higher up on her body. They also seemed pro­por­tion­ally small, if one pic­tured Liddy as a bird, es­pe­cially with her heavy, hu­man skele­ton, rather than the hol­low bird bones that fa­cil­i­tate flight.

I started to ex­plain some of this—why I didn’t think Liddy would be able to fly. Chloe in­ter­rupted. “We don’t know what Liddy’s bones are like. She’s pretty light. Maybe the wings aren’t the only thing that’s dif­fer­ent about her.”

“They do drag on the ground, though,” Mags said.

“Maybe if you jump?” Chloe sug­gested.

“Maybe Liddy is like an os­trich or a di­nosaur,” I said. “They’re not for fly­ing, but they’d help sta­bi­lize her when she runs.”

“Or she’s like a chicken,” Mags sup­plied. “She can fly, just not much.”

“I think I can fly,” Liddy said. Her voice, I thought, had a new au­thor­ity to it, was even slightly deeper than be­fore. It broke us out of our spec­u­la­tive reverie, out of pre­tend. “I just haven’t fig­ured out how, yet.”

“Try jump­ing,” Chloe said. Liddy jumped straight up in the air twice; each time, there was only a half-sec­ond of sus­pen­sion, in which the wings flut­tered fran­ti­cally, not the full, swoop­ing ges­ture Liddy had shown us be­fore. “You need to jump from higher up,” Chloe said.

A bas­ket­ball bounced past us, and Si­mon L. came run­ning af­ter it. Liddy tugged down the legs of her sweat­pants a lit­tle too ag­gres­sively, and the low waist came down, show­ing the top inch of her pink un­der­wear.

“The girls are show­ing each other their un­der­wear!” Si­mon crowed, re­turn­ing to the court. “They’re back there pulling their pants down!”

We stood close to­gether, eye­ing Si­mon with dis­dain. We’d been told we would de­velop a new in­ter­est in boys; they would sud­denly be­come in­trigu­ing, in­fu­ri­at­ing. Look­ing at them would make us sweat our new, ranker sweat. For me that had not hap­pened. They seemed yet more dis­tant, less in­ter­est­ing, as the girls around me mor­phed in ways that were truly fas­ci­nat­ing. As they grew wings.

Af­ter school, we went to Mags’s house. Their fam­ily had a large, fenced-in back­yard in a kind of bowl shape, curv­ing down from the road that ran be­hind. At

the high­est point, just be­low the road, there was a grassy plateau atop a ten-foot re­tain­ing wall, be­fore the smooth slope of the bowl. In the win­ter, it was per­fect for sled­ding.

Stand­ing on the ledge above the stone wall, the drop seemed higher than we ex­pected, the grass be­low not quite as lush, a bare patch here and there. Liddy stood at the edge, her wings spread and puffed out. Her back to us, we couldn’t see her face. She faced the sun in the western sky, the light haloed around her.

Liddy took a small, neat jump for­ward, both feet leav­ing the ground at the same time. Her wings flapped fully just once, for­ward and back, be­fore she hit the ground. She landed on her feet but tripped al­most im­me­di­ately, tum­bling, som­er­sault­ing for­ward and down the curv­ing lawn. When she re­cov­ered onto her side, she was at the low­est part of the bowl.

“Liddy?” Mags called. “Are you okay?”

Liddy jumped to her feet so quickly it star­tled us. She came run­ning up the hill, scram­bling back onto the ledge with us be­fore we knew it.

“I feel like I had some­thing there,” she said, panting. “I could feel a lit­tle lift.” Her grey T-shirt had fresh grass stains, and dirt was em­bed­ded in the skin of her fore­arms.

“We should do an ex­per­i­ment,” I sug­gested. “One of us should jump off at the same time as you. Then we could see if your wings ac­tu­ally slow you down.”

“I’ll do it,” Chloe said. She stood from where she’d been sit­ting with her legs dan­gling off the ledge, brush­ing off the seat of her pants. Her ex­pres­sion, in­cred­i­bly, seemed bored, in need of a change, in need of at­ten­tion.

Liddy was still catch­ing her breath. “I want to do a run­ning jump this time. See if I can get more air.”

“You guys have to try and jump at the ex­act same time in the ex­act same way,” I said.

“Sure, what­ever,” Chloe said.

Liddy peered over the edge, and then took a few steps back­ward. “Let’s start from here,” she said, di­rect­ing Chloe to stand be­side her. “Mags, say, ‘one-two-three, go!’” “One-two-three, go!”

They ran to the edge. At the last sec­ond, her feet al­ready in space, Chloe seemed to change her mind, awk­wardly fum­bling in mid-air as she fell with a shriek. Liddy re­leased one foot and then the other with in­ten­tion, arc­ing out­ward

as she jumped, look­ing grace­ful and fear­less. Her black feath­ers glis­tened and we could hear her wings slic­ing through the air, a whoosh­ing rush. All the same, she landed only a mo­ment later than Chloe, if at all. Chloe landed in a crouch, and then sat back on her butt in the same spot. Liddy rolled all the way down the rest of the hill again. And again, she popped right up, hurtling to­ward us. It was un­nerv­ing, like a zom­bie in a movie who’s been hit by a base­ball bat but won’t stay down. Chloe took her time, groan­ing as she pulled her­self to her feet, trail­ing be­hind.

“That was bet­ter than the first time,” Liddy said, hoist­ing her­self onto the ledge. “I re­ally think I’ve al­most got it.” There was dirt in her hair and streaked across the side of her cheek.

Chloe came up af­ter her. “Je-ee-sus, that was scary,” she said. “I am not do­ing that again.”

Just then, Mags’s mom stepped out through the slid­ing glass back door and into the yard. She called out to us. “Mags?”

“Hi Mom,” Mags called back. Liddy’s wings were al­ready re­tracted, folded flat, un­likely to be vis­i­ble at this dis­tance.

“I just got home. What are you girls do­ing up there?”

“Just, you know, play­ing.”

“Well, be care­ful not to fall!” she said. Chloe gig­gled be­hind her hand. “Do you girls want a snack?”

“We’re fine, Mom.”

“Have you seen your brother?”

“He’s in his room.”

“Your brother is home?” Chloe hissed. “What the hell! What if he’d looked out his win­dow and saw the fly­ing freak over here?”

“Hey,” Liddy said. A rip­ple passed over her closed wings.

“He’s in there play­ing games on his com­puter. He never comes out or raises his blinds,” Mags said. “I kind of for­get he ex­ists.”

“Mags?”

“Yes, Mom?”

“It’s go­ing to get dark soon. Maybe your friends should start get­ting ready to go home, and you should get started on your home­work?”

“Sure thing, Mom.”

As soon as the slid­ing door clicked shut, Liddy an­nounced, “Okay, I’m go­ing to jump again.”

“Are you crazy? My mom might see.”

Liddy let out an ex­as­per­ated noise through her nose, like a horse. “This isn’t high enough, any­way. I don’t have enough time in the air.”

“Any higher wouldn’t be safe,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure we could’ve killed our­selves just from this height if we’d fallen the wrong way,” Chloe said. Liddy paced back and forth along the ledge.

“You know where you should try?” Chloe went on. “The Spring­board.”

My mom had pointed out the Spring­board to me when we drove past, cluck­ing her tongue in dis­ap­proval. It was a place along the shore where a high cliff­side jut­ted out over the ocean, where teenagers went to jump and dive in the sum­mer. The tip of the rock out­crop­ping was vaguely squared off, like a div­ing board. Of­fi­cially, it’d been cor­doned off for the last five years with a stout fence and a sign with red-on­white let­ter­ing, but that hadn’t stopped any­one. Every sum­mer, some kid broke their leg or their arm and the colum­nist in our lo­cal pa­per called for a higher fence. And over the decades, six teenagers had died, oddly in clus­ters: four one sum­mer in the 1970s, and two the year they put up the fence. My mom was friends with the mother of one of the kids who’d died most re­cently.

That Satur­day, in the late morn­ing, we told our par­ents we were go­ing to the mall and walked the three kilo­me­tres along the two-lane high­way to get to the Spring­board. It was too early in the year and in the day for any­one else to be there, but in the day­light, there was a risk that we would be spot­ted from the road. We’d dressed in dark colours to bet­ter blend into the strip of woods that sep­a­rated the road­way from the cliffs.

We hopped the fence with ease. Liddy peered over the edge. Mags asked, “How do peo­ple get hurt do­ing this?”

“Mostly they fall off the wrong part of the cliff while wait­ing for their turn,” I said, “where the wa­ter is some­times too shal­low, in low tide. They’re usu­ally drunk or high, and there’s a lot of them, and some­one just gets crowded off.”

“So no­body gets hurt if they go off the ac­tual Spring­board?”

“No, some­times peo­ple just hit the wa­ter wrong, or the tide is strong and they get scraped up while they’re swim­ming back.”

“What about the kids who died?” Liddy asked. I watched her tak­ing off her hoodie and her T-shirt be­fore an­swer­ing. Un­der­neath, she had on a black one-piece bathing suit that I’d never seen. Last sum­mer, we’d all got­ten match­ing tank­i­nis— mine had been turquoise with stripes, and Liddy’s had been rose-pink with darker pink flow­ers. Her new suit was plain, the neck­line a sim­ple, aus­tere scoop in the front and the back, the armpits cut deep.

I’d looked up the news ar­ti­cles, but they didn’t say. Chloe looked them up right then on her phone and couldn’t find any­thing more. Ev­ery­thing I knew came from my mom, and I didn’t know where her in­for­ma­tion came from.

“They al­ways ques­tion if it could have been sui­cide,” I said. “Es­pe­cially the last kid who died that sum­mer in the sev­en­ties—he was the boyfriend of one of the girls who died, and he was alone when it hap­pened.”

“That’s weirdly ro­man­tic,” Mags said.

“Rita’s done it dozens of times,” Chloe piped up, re­fer­ring to her older cousin. “And she doesn’t have wings.”

Liddy was still wear­ing the sweat­pants she’d worn all week over her swim­suit. The ocean was loud where we were, care­fully sit­ting, care­fully to­ward the cen­tre of the out­crop­ping, away from the edges. We sat in si­lence for a few mo­ments. A seag­ull cried out in the dis­tance.

“Are you scared?” Mags asked.

Af­ter a beat, Liddy replied, “No. It’s weird. It’s like there’s a part of my brain that knows I should be, but I just don’t feel it.”

When Liddy stood and added her sweat­pants to the stack of her clothes, I had the sud­den sense that we were say­ing good­bye. The span­dex sheen of her black bathing suit matched the sheen on her feath­ers. I imag­ined the feath­ers grow­ing up her legs, spread­ing, merg­ing with her suit. I saw her blunt-cut blond hair dark­en­ing, wrap­ping around the sides of her head, puff­ing out as yet more feath­ers. I imag­ined this strange, up­side-down bird crea­ture with my old friend’s blue eyes, and I saw it alight, leap from the cliff. I saw it fly straight into the sun, van­ish over the hori­zon. And I felt sad, but happy for her, too. She had be­come what she was meant to be, and maybe we all would.

As in Mags’s yard, Liddy took a few steps back to take a run­ning start. Just as she started to sprint for the end of the board, we heard rustling in the woods we’d just come through.

It was our moth­ers, push­ing through the trees as a unit, with Mags’s mom lead­ing the pack.

“There they are!” she shouted. “Girls! What in God’s name are you do­ing here?” Liddy’s mom screamed.

Liddy had dis­ap­peared over the edge. Mags and Chloe were both on their hands and knees, crawl­ing to the end to peer down at where Liddy had jumped. And I knew, sud­denly, with­out look­ing, what they saw, what the moth­ers push­ing past me would see as well: a girl with long, pale, un­re­mark­able legs, fall­ing fast, straight down into the ocean like a rock. I knew be­cause all the moth­ers were here. If it had been just one adult, the magic could have lasted; she might have seen what we saw and been writ­ten off as crazy. But not four. Four adults can’t see a mir­a­cle all at once. Liddy’s wings would dis­solve into the air or re­ab­sorb into her skin with­out leav­ing a mark.

I still hoped Liddy would sud­denly swoop up, fly­ing past us, laugh­ing with joy. But now Liddy’s mother was run­ning the other di­rec­tion, scram­bling and jump­ing down the stomped-down path to the beach where the cliff-divers even­tu­ally swam up. My mother and Chloe’s fol­lowed, while Mags’s mother stayed with us on the cliff, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween shout­ing at us and star­ing wor­riedly down be­low.

You might ask: where were our fathers? Why was it only our moth­ers who were pulled from their Satur­day rou­tines for this—Liddy’s from work and the rest from home, from leisure, from car­ing for our sib­lings? And which one of us told, left the tell­tale clue? All of us would deny it later.

The three of us watched from above as Liddy’s mom ran straight out into the ocean, fully dressed in her den­tal-hy­gien­ist scrubs. We were all kneel­ing, more aware of the height than be­fore. The sun made the wa­ter a blaz­ing sil­ver, dizzy­ing to look at.

And then we saw Liddy’s head pop up out of the wa­ter. Her hair did look darker than be­fore, more am­ber-brown than her true blond, but I sup­pose that’s be­cause it was wet. She swam cleanly to­ward her mother. She paused to tread a few feet away. Her mother was up to her chest in the wa­ter, and we could tell she was still scream­ing, though not what she was say­ing. Liddy even­tu­ally, re­luc­tantly, doggy-pad­dled a lit­tle closer, her feet still not touch­ing the sand be­low, and her mother grabbed her by the arm. As her mother jerked her for­ward, Liddy’s head dunked un­der.

I ran for the beach. Mags’s mother went to stop me but I dodged around her, jump­ing and run­ning down the rocks and crushed beach grass. When I got there, Liddy and her mother were out of the wa­ter. Liddy was on her hands and knees, her head hang­ing down, her sop­ping wet hair draped over her face. Her mother stood be­fore her, fum­ing and rav­ing, her scrubs soaked to the skin. She didn’t seem to no­tice what I, and my mother, and Chloe’s mother, were all star­ing at: the drenched, salt-ru­ined mass of feath­ers cling­ing to Liddy’s legs.

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