Three days after her 41st birthday, Jennifer grew a pair.
The wings were serious; not the fluttery confections her 6-year-old daughter wore, but avian appendages meant for soaring.
She could never say for certain when they started pushing through the skin between her shoulder blades, these awkward, feathered projections, but she suspected one swim-lesson Friday in March.
As she watched her son blow bubbles she half-consciously rubbed her prickling back against the concrete wall. Finally desperate to escape the damp heat, she rushed out of the Y and smacked into the frigid wind running wild along the sidewalk. The drafts pushed her forward. Then, in front of Harrison’s, they eased.
Pulled in by the comic book store’s warm air, soothed by the hush that was not 7 kick-boarding toddlers, Jennifer passed her son’s Super Friends and stopped in front of an alpha-ordered phalanx of caped women, mighty and stacked. She picked one up, a comic book. She liked it. She picked up more.
They’d soon become a minor thing with her, the Supers, the Wonders and the Bats. Every day she read them over coffee, and every night she dreamed of flying.
One spring evening, after the homework and after the tubs, Jennifer snuck outside to clear her head of the static that first crowded her brain when her oldest, then a newborn, cried for 45 minutes straight.
Static crackled when Jennifer couldn’t find mittens or keys. Static crept across the inside of her skull every time her children fought. It had sparked that morning when she realized she was out of cereal. It had surged as she supervised homework that afternoon. By suppertime, the static was drowning out her thoughts before she’d had a chance to hear what she was thinking.
With a sink full of dishes and the television loud, Jennifer fled out the back door and down the uneven brick sidewalk towards the Common.
Halfway there, she noticed her feet weren’t touching the ground.
Jennifer was flying.
As soon as she realized it, she wasn’t flying anymore, but that night she couldn’t sleep for the wings. She examined them in the bathroom mirror. They were ugly and strong and … wings.
Jennifer learned to use her strong, ugly wings and she soared. The static stilled. During the years when her children were young and beautiful and needy, she flew often, swooping over the Willows on a summer night, looking down on pink neon and inhaling the smells of chop suey sandwiches and popcorn; or, come winter, veering over the snow-covered, hipped roofs of Chestnut Street, occasionally daring to perch atop a balustrade.
She wasn’t a superhero and she wasn't saving anyone but herself. But still … to fly!
As her children grew, as their little fingers got bigger and managed the buttons and got their own glasses of milk and wiped their own noses, Jennifer flew less. One day, her smallest child, her sweet daughter, left. She was only as far as New York and how proud Jennifer was but how empty her house.
How full her heart and how empty her house and how clear her head.
As she sat hating and loving the quiet, as she sat crying with grief and relief, Jennifer leaned back and realized her wings were gone.
And it was okay.