In those days, the people could fly.
In the old days, she had read years earlier, all children had wings. And she believed it still (well after the mysteries of the Easter Bunny and long division had been laid to rest). Ten years was so terribly old, but as that milestone began to loom ever closer, she found herself instead concentrating on the space between her shoulder blades where she imagined her wings might have been. It hurt her to dwell on it for long stretches of time, to wonder why she and so many like her had been counted unworthy of flight. Therefore, she eventually managed to content herself with only those few hours between sunset and sleep when no one was there to worry over what might be on her mind. It was, at times, hard to maintain, but it kept her sane and for that she was glad.
She rarely spoke of their missing appendages with her friends (they had never shown much of an interest the few times she had tried) and so she had learned to stick to topics more universally accepted -- her best friend's litter of pug puppies, the spat her brother had gotten himself into when he accidentally demolished the family car and the new girl in their class who wasn't allowing anyone else to answer their teacher's questions were all well-covered, but nothing that she thought of as important for more than a day or two. They didn't seem to notice the hollow in their backs nor the gentle ache that panged whenever a flock of geese flew over the quiet streets they played in.
It worried her at times that the feeling of incompleteness that had lived for so long in the edges of her mind seemed to only affect her. It didn't feel right that she should have to bear a burden like that alone when it was directed at everyone else she knew as well.
The day her mother first told her that she would be grown up soon enough, she began to collect feathers. It wasn't all that much of a grueling task for her; there were birds all along the path she took to school shedding bits of themselves and at a pond near her house where the ducks and geese were perfectly willing to trade a few of their slick, slippery feathers for a bag of bread crusts. Within a month, she had filled her closet with garbage bags stuffed with various feathers and by the time she was a week away from her birthday, she felt there were enough to build herself replacement wings, strong enough to withstand everything the world could throw at them.
Her family had many books on wing bones in their personal library -- how they were shaped and structured together under the blanket of skin -- all of which she studied for hours on end each night, well after she had been sentenced to bed, until she was constantly dreaming of streams of white-hot bone marrow searing joints together while yellowing bones flapped in the wind. When this grew to be too much for her to contain, she took several sticks from the woods, stole a glue gun and quite a bit of cheesecloth from the pantry and set to work.
The wings had escaped their prison in her mind and roamed freely throughout the day, but she didn't really mind anymore. The pain behind thinking of them had subsided and for her, it was worth facing what was left of it to finally have something she enjoyed thinking of, outside of her real life. It was her purpose now, she was sure; a task she knew only those in myths had attempted before. With every bead of glue she dabbed at the end of a feather, with every stick she joined to another, with every knick, scrape or burn she endured, all she could think of was how she was making herself more real.
As they neared completion, she started to practice the twitches she was sure she'd need in order to control her wings. The ache had begun to deepen -- at times even freezing her in place -- and so she exercised the muscles around the small of her back, hoping to placate them until the wings were ready. They were very nearly done, only a few days off if she estimated. She didn't blame her back for working itself into a frenzy; the excitement was coursing through her blood.
The feathers she had used were mismatched -- a smooth, oily, black specimen between a pigeon feather speckled with flecks of brown and grey and a bit of soft goose down (that she secretly believed had been found on a farm somewhere in France, not Ontario as the label had claimed). She liked how it looked though, somewhere between what she'd been told an angelic wing and a demonic wing looked like, so that it was swimming in the murky water of what she was positive human wings ought to have looked like.
The first time that the doctor said the word 'scoliosis' to her, she was more confused than frightened, as her family seemed to be.
"It'll be all right, honey," her father told her. "You just need to do some exercises for the man."
She really couldn't see how attempting to touch her toes was going to do anything, but the doctor was kind and her family looked so worried, that she complied, trying not to laugh from ticklishness as the doctor ran a finger down her spine, stopping along the hollow several times.
"Well, dear girl, it looks like we've found the problem,' the doctor told her cheerfully.
And she nodded, but none of it was really all that important to her.
She'd been scraped up enough before that she knew it was only a matter of time before she was sent off with a bandage (and possibly some medicine) that would fix whatever was wrong and this time would be no different, even if they were in a hospital. What did trouble her were her wings, which had sat hidden at the back of closet since she had finished them a month earlier. She found them beautiful, a shining example of how she didn't need everyone else's help each time she tried something. But she had forgotten to include how to put them on in her plans and so had been forced to leave them be until she could figure it out. She had decided on a vest of some sort earlier that morning, but she hadn't found one strong enough to hold them before she had been taken to the hospital. It was ridiculous, she thought, the fuss everyone seemed to be making over a little bit of stretching. But once she was finally released and lead back to the car, it was late enough at night for her to be too tired to care.
"...Sweetheart," her mother said tentatively a few minutes into an otherwise silent car ride, "did you understand what Doctor Andrews was saying?"
She nodded absent-mindedly, not really caring what was being said. She wanted to be at home, dreaming of flight from beneath her comforter.
But her mother interrupted as she was drifting off to sleep in the backseat, sounding as though she might be holding back tears. "He said they might have to put you in a brace, honey. I just want you to be prepared for that, to know that it's not scary. Quite a number of girls your age go through this. If they need to use a brace, or God forbid, surgery, it'll only be to fix your back right up!"
She mumbled sleepily, and her mother gave in to silence for the rest of the ride, but the girl had understood. The doctor had explained to her about the curve in her spine, how somehow something had gone wrong and caused it to slither up her back crooked and he looked surprised when her face had lit up. He had told her parents that this was just her reaction to the shock she was going through, but the girl knew better.
Now she had /proof/.