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WINGED
Sample Chapter

     Smile patronizingly at my naming her Angel, but remember I was only eighteen and my child was born with wings.  Well, the doctor didn’t call them wings.  He called them a congenital anomaly and recommended they be surgically removed before we left the hospital.
     I had never heard the word anomaly before, and I only recognized three syllables of congenital, the three that had gotten me in trouble nine months earlier when two other twelfth-grade girls and I had crashed a fraternity party where I downed about a dozen drinks that must have been ninety-nine percent wine and only one percent cooler. 
     The drugs they gave me during the birth—more to shut me up than to ease any pain, I suspect—impaired my ability to detect reactions from either doctor or nurses that would have indicated I had just expelled a freak.  The words penetrating my mushy consciousness gave no clue there was a problem:  girl, umbilical, Apgar, turkey sub.  One of the nurses may have been placing her lunch order.
     Three hours later I was stitched up, cleaned up, and sitting up when a nurse brought me a pink wrappy thing with a tiny head sticking out one end.  Immediately upon off-loading the bundle to me, she gave a tight smile and left.  I had just enough time to register the features of the squinched little face before the doctor approached my bed, his own face fixed in a squinch.  It looked better on the baby.
     Once he had pulled the curtain around my ward bed—broke teenagers who can’t even come up with a baby-daddy name for the birth certificate don’t rate the premium accommodations—the doc began a rambling tale about how some babies are born with webbing between their fingers or toes, and that it was customary to do the simple surgical repairs before they left the hospital.
     “So what are you saying?  She has duck feet?”
     “No, no, no.”  He seemed panicked by my question.  “Her fingers and toes are fine.  It’s just that she has two very small membranous flaps on her back that we’d like to remove.”
     “I want to see them.”
     “I have to discourage that, Miss Fitzgerald.  These congenital anomalies are routine for medical personnel, but for a new mother, especially one as young as...”
     He might have said more, but I was already freeing my child from the pastel cotton burrito into which she had been stuffed.  Once unswaddled, her little arms and legs did a bit of slow-motion waving, and her mouth opened in a gummy yawn, while the doctor held out a clipboard and asked me to sign the consent form.
     I gently turned her over to place her on her stomach on my stomach and saw them for the first time:  wings.
     It wasn’t much of an argument.  I had only turned eighteen two months earlier, but I knew I was an adult in the eyes—if not the common sense—of the law, and that I had the right to say no to the mutilation of my child.  Frustrated, the doctor left and I was finally alone with her.
     Still facedown and sleeping on me, her tiny form rode the rise and fall of my belly as I breathed.  One arm curved alongside her head, fist extended, and the rhythmic movement combined with the facedown, arm-out position made me think of Superman flying.
     I wish I could say I had some warm and maternal feeling for that little stranger, but I didn’t.  There was a vague sense of obligation to handle her carefully, but no more than when I had held a puppy or a kitten as a child.  No, the only feeling I had was a curiosity about her, an interest in this creature created solely by me.  Well, by me and some unknown Sigma Tau Gamma.
     The doc had been accurate in calling them membranous flaps.  Though they matched the cream and pink mottle of her back, they looked more reptilian than human:  two tiny triangles of skin which emerged from either side of the small knobs of her upper spine, then curved and hugged her shoulder blades.  I gently stroked one with the tip of my index finger, Brailling the info to my brain.  Not as soft as I thought they would be, and with the slightest of ridges along the sides, like piping under the skin.  When I slipped my fingernail under the edge and lifted the flap, there was a small amount of tensile strength in it, enough to snug it back in place when I took my finger away.
     I carefully turned her back over and her arms and legs began that slo-mo dog paddle again.  Cradling her against me, I took in the brownish fuzz that capped her head, one piece in front almost long enough for my licked fingertip to paste into a curl.  I examined the minuscule diaper, deciding it looked like the one worn by the wetting doll I got for Christmas when I was five.
     I leaned over to check out the itty-bitty eyelashes, so we were almost nose to nose when she opened her eyes.  We both flinched, and I pulled back far enough to focus.  The cliché caught me off guard, that intense rush of love that bonded me to her instantly.  That alone would have been a powerful enough experience, albeit shared with virtually every other new mother since the beginning of time.  But that was only the first jab of the one-two punch that changed my life forever; the tap that laid me out was looking into her eyes and seeing my own face—twice, tiny—reflected back.  Not the face I had then, but my future face, the one that bends over a yellow pad tonight as I sit on this bunk and scribble out my life.  Was that future me trying desperately to communicate answers to questions teen me had not yet begun to ask?  Before I averted my eyes to break that frightening connection, three powerful thoughts surged into me:  one, that this child would save me; two, that I would be willing to give up my own life for her; and three, that I would one day see her fly.  All three have come true.
     A tall, silver-haired priest was the next person to try to persuade me to have my daughter’s wings removed.  As I was in a Catholic hospital, I was not surprised to see a priest, but from the embarrassed look on Father Paul’s face, he was surprised to see a female breast.  Hey, what could I do?  It was snack time for the kidlet, and an open ward doesn’t offer a heck of a lot of privacy.
     Father Paul was almost too easy a target.  When he speculated that my daughter would be teased by her school chums—he actually used that word, chums—when they learned of her secret deformity, I countered by claiming to be reluctant to interfere with God’s plan.
     “If He created her this way, how can we mere mortals presume to improve on His plan?  And she doesn’t have a deformity; she has a pair of wings.” 
     “Allison, you can’t actually believe they’re wings.  That defies logic.”
     “Oh, right.  But a pregnant virgin and a dead guy waking up after three days make perfect sense.  Sorry, padre, but I’m sticking with the wings theory.”
     I’m not sure if it was my blasphemy or the sight of my swollen, blue-veined boob as the baby finished brunch and lolled away from it, but the good father stood quickly, scraping his chair back.  I’m sure part of him wanted to stay and fight for the soul of a child born to so obviously a lost-cause mother, but I also sensed the larger part of him would be relieved to get back to the terminal patients who welcomed his comforting words.  I decided to absolve him of my sins.
     “I’m naming her Angel.”
     Camel’s back, meet the straw.  Father Paul didn’t have much of a poker face and, looking appalled, he choked out a tight blessing, then exited ward left.
     I had only said it to be a bitch, but when micro girl burped in her sleep and I looked down at the milk bubble inflating and deflating in the corner of her mouth, I figured Angel was as good a name as any.  You don’t have to believe in God to believe in angels.
     I had three days in the hospital getting to know her, learning how to take care of her basic needs, and wondering where we could go when St. Luke’s threw us out.  Brian’s mom and dad had been amazing, letting me stay at their house when I started looking like I was hiding a basketball under my shirt and my own parents ejected me from their vinyl-sided Eden (with detached garage), but Brian was taking early college entrance and I could hardly ask Mr. and Mrs. Haywood to let me stay on with the bambina.  Nice as they were, I knew half the reason they invited me in the first place was their fervent, long shot hope that Bri was the father.  They clung to the belief that being gay was a phase he would snap out of and that Greg was just his study buddy.
     Brian came to the hospital the day after Angel was born, carrying a bouquet of daisies for me and a really inappropriate teddy bear in a black leather onesie for her.  That was the day he told me he was leaving for Berkeley the following week.  We had been good friends since the tenth grade, and his departure would bring me down to zero in the best-buds department, as Heather and Chelsea—my two partners in the great frat party debacle—had been forbidden to have any contact with me since our drunk and disorderly escapade.  Most of the rest of my semifriends had pulled back when my pregnancy became obvious, with the few holdouts falling away when the principal told me I could no longer be a Gettysburg Cougar.  (Go, silver and blue!)  I think it was less that the other kids were judgmental and more that we didn’t see each other every day at school anymore.  Face it, the foundation for ninety-five percent of all high school friendships is proximity.
     I bonded with Angel, ate instant oatmeal and green Jell-O, and resisted two more attempts by the doctor to change my mind about removing the wings.  On the fourth morning I was released.  I stood on the steps of St. Luke’s without a home, a job, a clue, a high school diploma, a family, or friends.
     But I had my baby and, thanks to me, she still had her wings.
     Jesus, I wish I had listened to that doctor.

 

 

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