“Wings,” Patricia Abbott
She was lying on the bed, midway through a book, when she heard his footsteps on the stairs. He paused on the floor below, probably fumbling for his key. They’d forgotten the European practice in numbering floors.
Polly sprained her ankle the first day, clumsily prone to such things. She could hobble about now, the third day. “Stay off it for a few days,” the pharmacist in the corner shop suggested. “You’re here two weeks, right?” She and Saul had nodded simultaneously. “You have time then.”
The door opened and she heard him putting the wine in the fridge. “Should I leave the cheese out?” The flat was so small he didn’t need to raise his voice.
“I guess,” she said, putting her finger in the book. She paused. “Saul, it’s still there.”
He stuck his head in the doorway and sighed. “So we’re going to go through this again?”
“Not if you’re going to be like that about it.” Flouncing back, she opened the book and began to read. She hadn’t expected to like this book, but set in Paris, it was the perfect choice. The streets in the book seemed as real as what she saw out the window. Sometimes life seemed safer from a book length away.
“Still there, huh?” Saul sighed and walked over to the window.
Up on her elbows, she could see bright light flowing through the fly-specked glass. “Do you see it?”
“Definitely a costume, Pol. Not as large as it looked last night. The light behind the curtain probably magnified it…somehow.” The wings had seemed gigantic then, taking up half the window. She was awestruck. Him—not so much.
“Look at it through the camera. You can see it better with the telephoto lens.” Her voice was too shrill, but why did he insist on diminishing it? Making it seem smaller, less magical.
He followed her instructions, snapping a few pictures. He’d tried this last night, but the light was stronger. He looked at what he’d shot and shrugged. “Probably a dancer lives there. Swan Lake? Isn’t there an opera about birds too?”
“No one could dance wearing wings that big.” She was positive, having taken dance for years.
“Okay, so it’s a costume for a party then.” He put the camera down and came into the bedroom. “A masquerade.”
“It’s not Halloween.”
It was, in fact, May—the month they’d thought best for their five-year anniversary even though they married in July. Paris seemed perfect.
“Do the French celebrate Halloween? Isn’t it some Rip Van Winkle thing? Salem?” He sat down on the bed, examining her ankle. “Swelling’s gone down. Hurt still?” He pressed on it lightly.
“Not unless I try to walk.”
“Maybe you should try and walk around more. How can you stand it—coming here and hardly leaving this place? If it were me….” He paused. “Maybe it’s for a costume ball?” Conciliatory so she’d be too.
“I guess I could hobble across the street for a crepe.”
He smiled. “I’ll open the wine.”
She’d first noticed the wings last night, limping out onto the tiny balcony after dinner for some air. In one direction, lay a noisy café; in the other, a pricey shoe store. But across the narrow street was a window much like theirs—except for the wings, seemingly suspended in space. Angel, swan: it wasn’t clear.
“These flats are small,” he said when she called him to look. “Maybe that’s the only place to store whatever it is. Be gone tomorrow.”
But it wasn’t. She’d looked at the wings so often today she thought the impression had been seared in her eyes. Television programs were all in French so what else was there to do? Read her book. Look at wings.
When they got back from dinner, the apartment across the way was dark, and although she tried, she couldn’t tell if the wings were still there. It felt like they were, but she thought if she mentioned this to Saul, he’d scoff. Felt like it. An odd thing to say.
She couldn’t sleep. Her ankle throbbed, but that wasn’t it. She’d slept too much, drifting in and out of sleep while Saul visited Musee D’Orsay, the Rodin Museum. Tucking the book under her arm, she crept into the living room, turning on the lamp on the desk.
It took a minute to see it and she would have expected to scream, but didn’t. The wings had migrated over the course of the night. They had, in fact, traveled across the street to the inside of their windows, not ten feet away.
Now that the wings were close, she could see they were much larger than she’d imagined. They were as tall as she but wider. It wasn’t a costume or anything like it. Whatever it was, and she didn’t have the answer to that question, it was quivering: alive.
Across the street the window was wide open, the curtains streaming outward.
Slowly, she drew closer, looking into its eyes. And there were eyes, on each side of its head. A moth, she thought, and a giant one. Its coloring was not the white it appeared to be from across the street, but something closer to a lavender-gray. It twitched, fluttered, quivered. She put out her hand.
“Polly, are you up again?” It was Saul, his voice sodden with sleep.
“Just looking at the…wings,” she said, deliberately vague.
In a second, she was enveloped, inside the wings. Willingly. An embrace. The moth’s wings were less than solid. She could see through them, out into the night, back into the bedroom.
“You’d better come into bed and get some sleep,” Saul said, sounding sleepier yet. “You don’t want to miss any more of Paris.”
“I won’t,” she said with confidence. The moth, Polly on its wings, flew out the window and into the night.