Let me tell you a secret. Lean in close enough to feel my wet breath on your ear. Ready? Here it is: I only look like a woman. I only look like one of you, sitting here in a locked, chicken-wire screened porch, doped up to the gills on fattening lithium, wearing a robe stitched of cotton thin enough to be used as a doily in a blind granny’s house. I’m not like you at all, really, though I’m glad that we’re sharing this cigarette. My kind has always looked kindly on burnt offerings.
Don’t look at me like that, Doris. I may be old and I may be half crazy (certainly, after so long in this place, I can no longer describe myself as ‘sane’), but I know what I’m talking about – and half is not the same as whole. Believe me, if it were I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lump, waiting for my chance and talking to a full-blooded mortal like you. No, if half and whole meant the same thing, out there in the world, I would have blasted these walls to dust a decade ago. I’d be out there, somewhere, waiting for my mother to remember my name and find me on some glistening beach or dancing in a moonlit grove. If she’d given me a modicum, a tincture, of her power escape would have proved to be no problem at all.
Hell, even a fragment of her eternal youth and beauty would have been useful. When those cops found me naked in the park, dancing and singing her praises beneath the one scraggly yew that still stands beside the public lavatories, I am convinced that they would have let me go – if I hadn’t looked like someone’s grandmother gone-mad. If I’d been lithe and smooth, if I’d still been beautiful, my story would have ended very differently.
Yes, Doris. That was twenty years ago, when you were still somebody’s bright young mother and your husband had no reason, yet, to suspect your mask. I told you I’m long-lived. I’ve been old for more than a century, but I was young for a while. I bloomed just long enough to think that it might be eternal. Those enlightenment men in their fabulous, ass-shaping silk breeches, certainly couldn’t get enough of me.
But all my mother gave me was my very long life, my mutable nature, and a pair of wings that nobody but me seems to be able to see. Don’t believe me? That’s all right. Unlike my mother, I don’t need your belief in order to live. You’ll just have to trust me. The wings are there (long and black; light, but strong as a raven’s) and despite this fat, my hollow bones still enable me to use them. And I will use them. Just as soon as I’m given half a chance.
I’ve been praying to my mother (there she is now, rising white above the barbed-wire fence that circles this smoking-porch) and I think that she is trying to help me, though there are so few of us, now, who feed her our prayers so her power is weaker than it has ever been before. But let me tell you something, Doris, that they don’t tell people in churches: prayers are cumulative. They settle in layers, gaining strength like sedimentary rock, or the layers of a pearl. Keep saying the words long enough, keep feeling the need, and you start to make some progress.
I’ve felt the change coming, my powers growing, for the last few years. Every time the moon waxes full, as she is waxing now, my wings begin to stretch. Blood flows into my long-disused pinions. It feels wonderful; better than sex with a man young enough not to tire after five or six throws.
And look, Doris, just there in the corner of this little porch! A hole in the screen. A tiny tear in the chicken-wire ceiling. It’s small, just a foot or so across, but it might be enough. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown, my dear, but there’s no harm in trying. My mother is with me, she’s come back to herself. I feel very strong.
Thank you, Doris, for the cigarette. Give my love to your husband the next time he visits. I hope that he forgives you. Goodnight, and good luck.