By Jessy Wallach, TIWP Student
Sabrina’s grandmother could fly. That’s what everyone on her mom’s side of the
family says, what she sees when she stares at pictures of the woman, with her hard
face and dark eyes. She sees her rising up and turning and twisting in the sky on
brown feathered wings, eagle-like. Free. Things were different in those days, her
mother tells her. It was years and years ago. Back when people could still fly.
Sabrina looks in the mirror for her own wings. She feels her shoulder blades for
some sort of bump or bone poking out, something of her dark-eyed eagle-winged
grandmother. Her back is smooth, and she shrugs the shirt back on and tries to
forget about it, but every time she’s in her house alone, she checks again.
Her grandmother lived in a time before buildings were big, too big for women
with birds’ wings who just wanted to feel their feet lift off the ground and be able to
soar up off of gum-spotted sidewalks, to hear their wings beating behind them and
know that they beat to no one’s command but their own. Who wanted to fly so high
above the world that they were somewhere no one had ever been before, to feel cool,
untouched air in their lungs and see the stars. Sabrina’s grandmother had lived in a
time when you could always see the stars.
Sabrina puts wings on her wrists with a wet rag. Hold it there and count for
thirty seconds. During the day, she’ll wrap her hands around her wrists and feel the
wings beat to her pulse until the temporary tattoo peels off from the touch and her
wings are gone. When she’s older, she gets them tattooed on her back, from her
still-smooth shoulder blades all the way down to her hips. Not angel’s wing, she tells
the tattoo artist, my grandmother’s wings.
She goes to college to study engineering, but everyone there wasn’t to make
buildings taller, and only she hears the stars whispering to be let alone. She switches
majors to math, and then English. She meets a girl who asks her why she has wings
on her back, who doesn’t laugh when she talks about grandmothers and stars’ pleas
and crowds that trample out every noise but their own. The girl takes her to a place
where they can see the whole night sky, where time doesn’t rush back like the rest of
the world. It stops and looks around, lingers for a while before moving on. It’s the sort
of place that’s content to mediate on a minute for days. The girl traces the wings on
Sabrina’s back and smiles. She lifts her shirt and shows Sabrina wings of her own.
After college, Sabrina struggles to find a job. She shares an apartment with the
girl, and together they meet other people who are trying to run back through time,
who feel too solid with both feet on the ground. They seek each other out in quiet
parks or empty museum gardens or dark tattoo parlors. But none of them are happy
in the city, full of noise and smoke and dead birds trampled on street corners. The girl
leaves, and Sabrina cries holding her grandmother’s picture. She wishes more than
anything to fly up from her body and soar away from her apartment and the city and
the girl with the tattooed wings who showed her how to see the stars until it’s only
her and the sky and the wind in her ears.
Six months later, she moved out of the city and gets a degree in conservation
at a small community college. She gets a job as a park ranger, and feels freer than
she has in years, surrounded by trees and foxes and deer. She’s especially good and
naming the birds who lie in the park to campers or fellow rangers. She thinks about
her grandmother when she sees them, wonders if she flew here once, too.
One day her phone won’t turn on, and instead of driving out to fix it, she
throws it in the trash. The next week she gives away her computer and her speaker,
too. She hikes off the trail until, more due to chance than anything, she finds a small,
abandoned cabin that might be a hundred years old. It’s half-caved in and covered in
spider webs, dirt, and dust, but she cleans it and fixes the roof. She packs everything
she needs–food, clothes, a water purifier, a sleeping bag and an emergency first aid kit
and a camping stove, and anything else she can carry and moves in. She sets her
grandmother’s picture on the empty hearth, and falls asleep warm to the sound of
crickets and the soft hooting of owls.
Sabrina doesn’t show up to work after that. She spends her days working on
the house or hiking or fishing in the stream, and watches the sunset on her porch
every night. She lets nature choose when she wakes and when she sleeps. There are
things she misses; her friends, the final episodes of her favorite TV show which she
never got to see, washing machines, and warm showers. She could hike back out of
the park any time she wanted, back to those things. She never does. She has
everything she’s been missing right here.
One day, she’s sitting on the roof of her house, fixing it before the next rain
falls, when she sees two golden eagles twisting and soaring over the trees, against
the backdrop of the endless cornflower sky, their wings beating and powerful, and
she feels a peace inside her that she’s never felt before. Like she’s finally found
something she’s been searching for her whole life. She watches them glide and
swoop above her, and feels, if only for a second, as if she too has wings that are finally
stretching, reaching towards the sky. Sabrina thinks of her grandmother, thinks, finally, I am home.