flight

May 07 2013

For Jane’s 5th birthday, my sister gave her a pair of fairy wings of the kind that attach with loops over the shoulders. Jane showed her gratitude with a tantrum. “why does everything have to be pink pink pink” she yelled and burst into fits of tears. My husband and I gently restrained her flailing limbs and tried to explain to her that she was too old now to behave so badly. But Jane refused to calm down until she finally wore herself out and allowed us to put her to bed.

I thought of throwing the wings in the garbage, because maybe it was true that there had been too much pink in her childhood. We had wanted her to feel as precious as a princess and to have more than we thought she might need, but I saw that we had been wrong. Only my sister was so remorseful, that I thought how happily things could turn out if Jane might take just a little bit of interest. Pink edges aside, the transparent panes of the wings were still very pretty, the plastic dyed a pale green in imitation of glass.

I left them lying around on the sofa or in a corner, and for a week Jane avoided them to the best of her ability, but eventually she approached them with reluctant curiosity, and after a couple more days she asked for help in putting them on. School was on holidays at that time, and she began to wear the wings everywhere. To my satisfaction I was able to call my sister and tell her how favoured her gift had become.

One night during bath time, when attempting to wash beneath the wings, I found myself pushed away by my daughter’s little hands. “Come on Jane,” I said, “Off with those wings.” Jane refused. “no” she said simply. “i dont need you here anymore, i can wash myself now, i can put on my own pajamas”. I admit, I was surprised and hurt, and I left her alone without knowing what else to say. Later I thought maybe I should have pressed the point a little more, not because she couldn’t wash herself, but because she was becoming very attached to the wings.

Jane had almost always been a very good girl, behaving well towards others and playing quietly with her friends, and in this respect nothing much changed. But her body gained a new privacy, and I was barely allowed to touch her anymore. Any sign I showed of approaching the actual wings was met with impatience or even hostility. She seemed more distant from others, and chose to play alone. Her games did not change, but were the same imaginary games she had always played.

My husband and I were both alarmed when we noticed that the wings were no longer being worn over her clothes, but underneath them. We could not tell when it had happened, but we both realised at once that she had cut holes in all the backs of her dresses and shirts for the wings to fit through. He silently pointed at one of these mangled garments while she was looking the other way, and we stared back at each other not knowing what to do. We lay awake that night talking about it. Both of us felt afraid rather than angry, and we could not tell why. But Jane would be back at school soon, and the wings would have to come off then.

“the wings wont come off anymore” Jane announced the next day. “theyre part of me now im a fairy”. Her eyes were like hard pale crystals.

“You can’t be a fairy, Jane,” I said, “You have to take those wings off.”

“why mother do i have to do it” she declared. I could not tell where these words had come from. The little person who had once been my daughter had now become a stranger. It was true that the wings seemed somehow more permanent, both stronger and more fragile, and more mobile. I noticed that the pink plastic had been removed, or had even changed colour, and the imitation glass green had faded to a more neutral transparent tone. I felt a terrible apprehension rising inside.

“Because you have to be a little girl again and go to school and learn things that little girls learn,” I lied.

“it doesnt matter anyway” she said “its too late for all that”. With an unnatural speed she flew out the back door. I chased her and was just in time to see her rush up the trunk of the largest tree in our yard, where I lost sight of her forever, somewhere between a bird’s nest and a spiderweb. I wish I had told her the truth, that we just couldn’t stand to lose her.

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