“You want the blended vanilla swirly drink, right?” I said it loud. He wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of me.
“Yeah, and you’ll have the black coffee that you don’t like!” he shouted. Everyone looked in that way that single people do; we’re the most annoying people in the world.
“I like it,” I said, tugging on his hair on the crown of his head. It was quite the reach to run my fingers through it.
“Yeah, I know you like me ugly,” he chuckled. Odd and serious.
I pulled my hands behind me ‘cause all I wanted was to hold that hair. This must be the year of the long hair cause both of us had hit record lengths. Mine was the kind that sat in my lap when we waited for coffee. My hair just sat there grazing. His was gentle on his shoulders. I tried to meet his eyes. We weren’t eye contact kind of people I suppose. We’re not bashful, we just like to look around.
The morning had been what you want out of a morning: foggy windows. His long hair was on the pillow and I was waking from a dream that I already knew he didn’t want to hear about. This was the third time I woke up last night. I looked at his hair halo before thrashing around, signaling my nightmares and a need to be held.
“Tell me,” he said, rolling to face me.
“I’m in bed and I’m getting kicked, kicked hard, and she’s yelling.”
“Who’s kicking?” His fingers struggled through his crumpled hair.
“I keep saying, like soft and mean, ‘Kick the devil out of me, mom. Yeah, kick the devil out of me.’”
I actually don’t think it was my mom in the dream. I don’t think I’m the one getting kicked. I’m the reporter watching the scene, watching the bed splinter but on the wrong side and the board game pieces spill out onto the floor from under the bed.
“You still there?” He had rolled back over and I held him from behind. His jet pack. We nestled in our sheets which smelled too much like us to wash now. His mouth opened and I wasn’t mad at the escaping snores. He started snoring the year we sold our washing machine. I think he knew I was staying.
He was asleep again. I touched his neck. He always asked me to but I never did except in secret. My bitten nails wound around the crux of his nervous system.
It was the second time I woke up that I found the wings. They were just aching knolls on my shoulder blades, festering sores of breaking flesh and straining growth. I couldn’t reach them with my fingers but they burned against our sheets. I couldn’t remember which dream woke me up this time.
I didn’t look behind to see the blood on the sheets; I fell asleep to the rhythm of snores. It wasn’t raining anymore.
The fourth time I woke up I noticed that the wings didn’t seem to be going away any time soon. I got up to make tea and I unhinged myself. My wings, which I didn’t know had gotten so big, unfurled and knocked the pot of the table. I made that in pottery school. I stumbled under the weight of my wings. The clash woke him and his flat footed patter came to me in the kitchen.
He sat down for energy and I faced the flitting sun for mine as he crossed his legs the way men are sometimes told not to. The wings folded on their own, in time. I was puzzling on what he’d address first, my wings or the shattered pot.
“So, the dreams,” he began, he always started this way. The dreams he was concerned about were the ones where I dug my knees into his back and made the bed drip with sweat.
“Yea.” Nobody can dream every night except for me. “We don’t have to talk about them, love, I’ve basically forgotten them all anyway.”
“Oh well I remember, you talk in your sleep enough to piece it together. Restless, love?” I nodded at the fluttering of my wings and the tapping of my nail-less fingers on the counter. The walls around him hung as drapes. And he was there with straight eyelashes and long hair. The kind of long that blew into his face—he complained about this in the wind. He wouldn’t cut it, he likes seeing my eyes move across the strands and flit up and down the plumage around his neck.
He moved back to bed with the kiss, bumping his hip on a table on the way. He gave me slanted eyes, telling me to stop rearranging the furniture. I felt my wings. Long silken feathers to a point. I extended them manually. Care was taken not to pluck. The purr of the feathers rubbing against each other. Warming up to the sun, hanging reflected in the walls of the room. I refolded them, crossed in the back.
The first time I woke up we’re in arms. The kind of wake up without falling asleep. The comfort and bickering. The fear of submersion. On the first wake up with his arm resting on my neck it was time to go. The ocean would be nice. The air was the kind for the morning.
The first wake up was dark and we didn’t move, just eyes in our dark, not even wings yet. I doubt he could hold them, they’re so heavy I can’t stand straight any more.
“I don’t want you to take care of me,” I mouthed.
When I woke up for good this morning he tugged the shirt from my back, stuck.
“Sweaty, love?” He asked, observing the wounds and the wings. He beheld them, witnessing. His hands hovered over them. Then he held them. Tracing his fingers like he always asked me to over my back. Wordlessly we decided that it was time to just go ahead and get out of there.
We always had the ocean as a backup plan. I’m still shocked he didn’t grow wings before me, I mean, it’s weird, but if one of us was gonna get heavy with flight it might as well have been him. As we made our way to get coffee, we talked about the dreams. His were straightforward: anxiety dreams and sex dreams. He’d been coping with my dreams since we met, adjusting his grasp on my torso depending on the intensity.
As we made it to the counter to order our eyes rested, comfortable in the absurdity of the morning.
“I think it’d be funnier if they were chicken wings. With the sauce.” He laughed a hair shaking laugh as we waited and I stared at my own hair touching my lap. Hunched over, my eyes moved up, catching his for the first time. My forehead wrinkled across my face. Our drinks came and he slurped.
“I don’t want you to take care of me. I can’t take care of you.” I said, over my untouched cup.
“We live together. We don’t live together to take care of ourselves.” His drink was almost gone now; he always did have that peculiar habit of sucking down drinks in one long gulp, I thought.
If I replied, I don’t remember. I’ve been avoiding passive aggression these days. I didn’t want to tell him he was bored.
“So, Rehobouth or Bethany?” He asked, tapping that empty cup on the table. I itched my wing, a nail snagging on a rigid feather.
“Bethany.” A February Sunday at Bethany Beach.We had had one of those a couple years ago, eating Grotto Pizza on the sand; empty fluorescent signs.
I left my black coffee on the counter as we made our drive to the coast. The trip wasn’t a long one, but several hours filled quickly between us, switching between his music and mine. I’d call for radio, the variety. Unfortunately there wasn’t a 60’s folk station to satisfy the both of us. Till I met him, I couldn’t remember the last time someone let me choose the music. My dreams hung in the air, draping the mist in heavy comfort.
“I––” I began. I had nothing to say. And he didn’t feel the need to interrupt the music. I drew my knees to my chest in the front seat.
Looking at me, he said smiling, “Would you take your feet down, please?” So polite and formal; it was his mother’s old car.
We drove well together, elbows only touching gently at the center console, rarely fighting over the windows or driving. Probably cause I didn’t know how to drive. I stared at the horizon; he slid his shoes off at a stop light, pressing softer on the gas than I’d ever seen.
And so, we made it to the ocean and it’s empty town. The winter left it with signs and lights turned off, with wind and the crust of salt on the boardwalk.
The winter left it always dark, blanketing my footprints as I watched the still waves. His feet sunk into the sand behind me, a tacit witness, as I approached the ocean I used to beg him to take me to. At the edge, the water met my feet and I stepped further in till the salt lapped the wounds of my wings. Damp, they opened now.
Each feather unbound, unfurling into the air behind me, carried against the peculiarly still ocean air. Grey.
On the beach he waited, hair twisting, touching his eyes. He wasn’t watching me anymore, he was watching the feathers dance in the sky.