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Lift: A Serial

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Part One

From Issue 1, July 2001

May 22

Today the wings itch. The itching is not as bad as the aching, and they haven't ached in a few weeks. They also are not growing as quickly now a very good thing, as they are now so big that I have to squeeze them tight against my back when I pass through doors. I have a huge, blue-green bruise on the right wing from smacking it into the bathroom door the other night.

I should track their dimensions so I know if they're growing any more. Maybe I'll discover they're shrinking, although I've pretty much given up on that hope.

  • Width (tip to tip): 10' 3.5"
  • Width (shoulder to joint): 2' 7"
  • Height: 4' 4"

I can't measure the height well by myself, so that number is rougher than the others. I'm measuring the wings against the long wall in the living room. The wings are kind of scary when I unfold them fully to measure they don't seem so big folded up, but outstretched they're like a glider in the house.

May 24

The bitch was back at the grocery store today. Hers was the only lane open, so I had no choice. I did my best to keep cool, give her a chance to make a recovery from her shameful behavior last time. But it was a futile hope on my part. Her face got all blotchy as soon as I got in her lane. She looked at the register, the food, the money, the receipt, anything but me. I guess I should be glad she managed to talk this time, instead of closing her register and running for a manager. She made it so I had to put the money down instead of handing it straight to her, I guess to avoid touching me.

I thought about giving her a hard time for not knowing how to treat customers, even customers with weird wings growing out of their backs. But then I realized that I was tired -- the whole thing just made me tired, so I took my bags and left. I'll have to start shopping at a different store, or else find some other chore I can do here.

May 25

Dad seems to have taken a liking to yard care. He's got flowers planted in beds all around the house, and he seems to do some lawn-related task every day. I don't recall him fussing over the health of the lawn when I was growing up; he may have been doing this for a few years and I'm only finding out now that I'm home. But I think most likely it's new since he retired last year. It does keep him occupied and out of Mom's hair. Of course that also means she has that much more attention available to focus on me, which isn't such a great thing.

Being at home during the day is weird. There is a real dearth of interesting programming on TV during the day . . . and at night too for that matter. But I don't seem to have the energy to do anything. I can't tell if it's some kind of depression, some post-quitting let-down, or just lingering career burnout, or if it's maybe related to the wings in some way. Perhaps the effort of growing wings has sapped all my energy. Given that I've been back here six months and should have recharged by now, I'm more inclined to the wing-growth/energy-drain theory.

May 26

Mom has been on me again to go see her doctor. I don't know what she thinks he would say. "Well, it seems you've grown some wings here on your back. Have you been eating anything unusual lately?" I doubt he'd even know how to check whether the wings are OK or not it's not like they have a class on people with wings in medical school. Maybe he'd refer me to a veterinarian.

Frankly I don't want to see any doctor. I have this vision of medical personnel swarming around me like ET. Or hauling me off to some sterile lab facility with all white everything, like an X Files episode.

Anyway, they seem to be fine, the wings. They move. I can fold them up and keep them out of the way. My biggest problem is finding clothes that fit around the joints between the wings and my back. I should ask Mom to help me sew some new clothes.

May 27

I started to make a list of all the movies I can think of that show people with wings, with the goal of renting them:

  • Dogma
  • Michael (with John Travolta I think)
  • Heaven Can Wait (does anyone in this even have wings?)

So far it's not a long list.

Everyone who has wings in the movies seems to be an angel. I find this discouraging, being as I don't believe in angels per se. And so once again I find that Hollywood has nothing to offer in the way of real-life advice. This shouldn't surprise me, but I guess I had hoped to see some mirror in art of this new self I'm acquiring.

Today I rented Dogma. Alan Rickman, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck are each shown with and without wings. But they're atrocious wings, painfully fake with greasy-looking white and gray feathers and mechanical, unreal joints. It's like they spent all the money on special effects for the evil characters. Of course the angels float rather than fly, although the wings do flap. The flying is the part I'd really like to see someone else's idea of.

In contrast, my wings have no feathers and look more like bat wings, or pterodactyl wings. They don't look plucked. To me, they look like human wings, if there were such a thing. Which I guess there are, since I have them.

May 29

I'm surprised to find myself sticking with this journal-writing project. It's hard to write, but then again it's not. The key thought that keeps me going is that I never need to go back and look at what I've written if I don't want to.

I found a box of things from high school in the attic, and was surprised to see that I had almost a dozen empty journals. People seem to have given them to me; I don't recall ever asking for them. Perhaps journals were a fad. I like the drawing of a beach scene on this one, with seagulls flying over the water. Two of the blank journals have unicorns on the front I don't think I can bring myself to use those.

May 31

Today began well. I woke up and stared at the ceiling for a while, watched the sunlight move across the bedspread. I could hear bits of movement elsewhere in the house, not quite hustle-bustle movement, but sounds that gave a general sense of life going on. Birds chirped outside, and cars drove by. Now and then a dog barked. Eventually my stomach growled, and I started wanting a cup of coffee. So I got up and went downstairs.

Then things got a bit sour. I found Mom in the kitchen, holding her purse and a couple of envelopes.

"Good morning, Ms. Van Winkle," she said to me. "Or rather, good afternoon."

It was just a few minutes past noon, but I didn't want to start a discussion. "Good morning, Mom," I said. The kitchen was spotless; I figured Mom and Dad must have eaten hours ago. I started making breakfast, fried eggs and toast.

"I'm just on my way out," she said. "It's been such a nice morning." She was shuffling the envelopes in her hand, like was she checking that they all had stamps. "You probably couldn't tell from your room."

"No, I had a nice morning too, Mom," I told her. I started to cook, melting the butter, getting it to slide and cover the bottom.

She stood there for a minute, watching me I guess. And then she turned and went out the back.

Even with the nagging, it's good to be around them. But maybe I should get my own place. It isn't fair to make them watch me every day. It must freak them out. And yet, I've adjusted to it, having wings, and I had a lot more adjusting to do than they do. They don't have to learn how to do everything fresh.

Part Two

From Issue 2, August 2001

June 1

Even though summer doesn't officially start for 21 days, I always think of June 1 as the beginning of summer. It's certainly hot enough for it—upper 80s according to the thermometer outside the kitchen. It seems that my wings can sweat. I wave them to generate a bit of wind every now and then, which is instantly cooling but also disturbs all the papers in the room. I'm coolest when they're outstretched a bit instead of folded up.

But today felt too cramped indoors, so I moved a bench under the big maple out back. I can lean back against the tree and extend the wings back, out of the way. Very pleasant. Took along a book, and if the book had been better I imagine I could have sat there all day. But all I could find was an Agatha Christie that I had read years back, and it didn't hold my attention. I watched the birds and bugs for a while, and caught glimpses of various neighbors doing lawn-related things. I can't imagine working outdoors in this heat.

When I finally gave up on reading I got a blanket to lie on in the sun. I don't remember the last time I sun-bathed. As a kid I used to coat myself with baby oil and time my exposure so that I flipped over and got equal sun on me front and back. Also I had a reflective blanket for a while, so that I would brown evenly like a nice roast. Crazy to imagine it now—I wonder if kids still do those things.

But anyway, today I did not time my exposure nor use baby oil. Unfortunately I did not use any sunscreen either. It turns out that the wings can sunburn. They are much more burned than the rest of me—practically radiating heat right now. Maybe they're more sensitive because the skin is newer?

After delivering a reactionary lecture about skin cancer, Mom spread some aloe gel on the worst parts. It has helped tremendously. I'm concerned that the skin will peel, but after all, how much stranger can I look?

Today might be the first time Mom's touched the wings. I couldn't see her face so don't know how she felt about it. Her hands are so small.

June 2

Despite the sunburn incident, I find I'm in a tremendous mood today. Isn't there some research about the effects of sunlight on mood? Maybe the problem with people working in offices is that they need more sunlight. (Hopefully my good mood is due to the light and not to my sunburned skin.)

Helped Dad with some yardwork today. I weeded. I remember I loathed weeding as a kid, got paid $1/bag to fill grocery bags (the old paper ones) with weeds and hated every second. Today I enjoyed it. It was good to work on an activity—I feel a sense of relief this evening, like I had purpose today. Also ate very wholesome food, all veggies and the wheat bread Mom has started buying. Have dirt under my fingernails. Very earthy. I feel positively Amish.

June 4

The lack of books in this house has driven me to check out the library. I had some trouble convincing them that I could get a card—I don't have any proof of residence in this area as I haven't transferred my driver's license to this state. But one of the librarians turned out to be Anne Schaeffer, who was a year behind me in school, and we struck up a conversation. She was extremely nice, and somehow she managed not to notice the wings, or to make it seem like she didn't notice.

I am coming to feel that a person's reaction to my wings is a sort of litmus test as to that person's quality. Overt alarm = creep. Calm surprise = potential friend. Everyone should have a tool like this for evaluating people.

Anyway, Anne recommended a couple of current hits. You're allowed to check out each new release book for five days only, which seems not a lot of time for an average reader with a full-time job to get to finish a book. But I read quickly and am not gainfully employed. I took just one book and will start it tomorrow.

June 6

It rained today, spoiling my plan to go for a jog. I haven't run since I left NYC, haven't exercised at all. (Haven't "taken any exercise," as the British say. I have always liked that expression, as if exercise is a restorative health tonic. And that is, after all, how most people seem to experience it.) I used to run in any weather, rain shine sleet hail, like the Post Office, but today's wetness was a huge deterrent. The lack of sun was reflected in my less-upbeat mood as well.

Instead, I started in on the book Anne recommended, a detective-type thing by Janet Evanovich. Apparently this is the latest of a series. Anne thought I should start with the first one, but all copies were checked out, so I took this. It's completely fluffy and formulaic -- the first chapter introduces the important characters from previous books and highlights the heroine's sassiness -- yet I found myself pulled from one page to the next. Finished in four hours. I can see why these books are popular. I wonder how much $$$ the author makes per book—don't know the book publishing biz at al. May research a bit, just for curiosity.

I think that's the first real business thought I've had in six months.

June 7

More rain today, so I started back in on the old boxes of my things. Found one full of books: "The Black Stallion," Nancy Drew, "The Hobbit." I had forgotten all those books, and everything else from that period of my life. There were also books from high school years, Dickens and "Catcher in the Rye," "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." Curled and yellow pages. The strangest thing is looking at my handwriting on old reports, big and loopy, ungainly like a toddler or drunken giraffe. It pains me to look at them. Can I have ever been so nave, so serious and full of myself? I took out some of the books to look over them, maybe reread a few now, but I piled all the notes back in the boxes.

June 8

I worked in the yard again today. In addition to weeding, Dad has put me in charge of trimming our hedges. Good fences make good neighbors, and really our hedges are the primary barrier between us and them. They've become a bit ungainly. He gave me a book on pruning—Dad's like me in that he reads all about a thing before going out to do it, makes sure he understands the underlying theory and then sees how to apply it. Evergreen shrubs like these are pretty straightforward it seems. I have an electric trimmer, and a small step ladder. The ends come right off the branches. The whole process is extremely satisfying. Everything smells green and woodsy and the hedges that I've worked on have nice crisp angles now.

It is hard to work on the tops, even with the step ladder. But I've discovered an interesting way to use my wings: as a balancing device. If I extend the wings out behind me I can stretch my arms and the trimmer out quite far in front, and get a much better reach across the tops of the hedges. I'm developing better balance and coordination with the wings, certainly.

I was using this advanced technique for a while and then noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, it had moved out of sight behind a shed. I'm guessing it was a kid, taking in the spectacle of a winged lady doing yardwork, God's gardener come down to fix up the neighborhood.

And now of course I'm trying to notice everyone else as well. I'm surprised to see so little activity, and wondering whether people are scared away by me. I had seen more people outside a few days ago—but then of course fewer people do things in their yard on weekdays. Once the weekend comes they'll all be back outside again I suppose.

Copyright © 2001 Cynthia Closkey