She was born with wings, but no knowledge of flying. Her parents never commented. Maybe they didn’t notice, since at first the wings were more like nubs or odd bumps, and anyway, they were often too busy with the drama of the day’s many logjams and potholes to notice much but each other’s inadequacies.
When she herself noticed the wings, they seemed like sixth toes or something, useless appendages, though at least not as froggy as extra toes. At first she hid them. If she stood a certain way and dressed right, they seemed pretty much like large shoulder blades. Later, she wound beads and scarves in their feathers, tied them into a plume like a long pony tail, and made them into a fashion accessory.
Then, one high summer noon, she saw how free and light, how sweetly deep, that blue dome above her was. Maybe the wings actually worked. And well well, come to find out, they did. Her first few flights were careful: up into leaves, a bit of leaf muss and flurry, awkward bounce forward on to branches, teeter, and then an exultant perch on a branch, almost in the clouds it felt like, looking down with no fear.
On her next aerial adventure, practicing swoop-turns above a meadow, she encountered a large raven dangling some grapes above a fox’s raised and drooling mouth.
“What are you doing?”
“Shh,” said the raven, “I’m concentrating.”
“Yeah, beat it,” said the fox. “I’ve just about got him hypnotized.”
Her first thought had been sympathetic to Fox—she’d always had a soft spot for those pointy noses and furry tails and of course that red—but, given this last remark, Raven’s burnished black seemed no less striking, possibly even more attractive, than Fox’s red.
Interesting, like the undetermined contest between ground and sky.
So she tried to hover. The problem was her starboard wing had a tendency to pull. This caused first a slow drift and then a faster veer, and abruptly she went into a spin, unfortunately in the moment’s crisis flapping her arms instead of her wings. Blam, ruffle thud! as she careened into Raven, whose hover, she had time to notice before she bashed into him, was perfect. Most of the grape cluster, in the commotion, dropped into Fox’s mouth, and, alert as always, he immediately swallowed both the grapes and Raven’s foot. Raven squawked loudly, beat his wings frantically and actually managed to drag Fox, clamped on to his foot with grape-juice running down his jaw, upward off the ground. Fox looked down at friend Earth as it grew farther away beneath the glorious red of his tail, now tucked between his hind legs. Raven pumped his wings. “Grab her! Grab that. . . thing with the hair!” Raven squawked. “Grab her instead! She’s bigger!”
Oh oh, she thought, thinking of those sharp little teeth, and accelerated when she should have braked, ending dangerously close to the melee. Fox opened his mouth and made a snap at her foot, which, being nimble in that department at least, she snatched back just in time. The sound of his teeth snapping in air lingered in her mind.
A thud, a most unfoxlike yowl, and Fox, now a reddish-brown heap on the ground, quickly metamorphosed into a ragged streak of iron oxide after-image that disappeared into a bush. There was a sound of whining from the greenery.
Raven flew up close to her and peered at her with his black, calculating eye. “Don’t fly too well, girlie, do you? I offer lessons. Cheap.”
Tobey Hiller is the author of six books: a novel, four collections of poetry, and, most recently, a book of short stories, Flight Advice: a fabulary, just out from Unlikely Books. Her poetry and flash can be found in a variety of magazines and journals, online and off. She thinks the rivers are telling us something. Tobey recommends Doctors without Borders.