Manhattan Swans

It was always the same in Manhattan. At sun-up, the traffic shuddered and the subways choked and the sidewalks seethed and everyone became animals.

My brothers were swans, because my step-mother said it was so, and no one disagrees with her, because she has all the money.

swan by FurLined

“You’ve ruined them,” I cried to her as soon as she had done it. When I said ‘them,’ really, I meant little Philip, the youngest of my seven older brothers. Even though he was a year older than me, I thought of him as my baby brother. He still collected insects from the back yard and chalked funny pictures on the old brick wall around the garden.

My cellophane stepmother had sighed and rolled her eyes from where one mahoghany-haired friend grew from a chair to where another friend in a brocade vest melted into a cushion. She said, “The dramatics are a bit much, aren’t they, Julie? There are worse things than swans.”

They didn’t have to be animals at all, though. They could’ve stayed boys forever. I knew she only preferred them as swans because she didn’t like them as boys, because all she’d ever known was swans, because my father was too dead to stop her. I screamed this at her while tiny lines appeared around the edge of her mouth, and then, the next morning, I ran away to New York. All my brothers flew after me. Julian, the eldest and most swan-like, every line of him an arc, found me crying in the subway on the first evening.

“Poor Julie,” he said, helping me up. He was wearing a tweed vest and looked very dapper with his frame of Broadway posters and graffiti. “This is where homeless people sleep.”

I tried not to sound pitiful, but I did anyway. “I am homeless.” keep reading…

One Wing

Rory Cahill has a wing instead of an arm. From the edges of his neck, spreading down his shoulder, over his biceps and triceps, around his elbow and lengthening along his wrist, are intricately inked feathers. Every inch of tan skin slinks and ripples with lines of the tattoo, as if wind flutters around him.

He always wears those A-line shirts as soon as the sun’s out, even in winter, as if he can’t stand to have a sleeve hiding his skin. Or he just wants to show off that physique. (Nobody complains unless they’re jealous anyway.) I definitely don’t complain. He sits in front of me in Pre-Calc, and even though the dress code forces another layer onto him I can stare at the back of his neck, where the first thin black feather peeks out from his collar. When I know the answer to the problems on the white board, I let myself fantasize about skimming my finger right there, and up into his hairline where I know the short hairs will tickle him. I’d put my tongue against that feather and Rory Cahill would say my name.

Nobody knows why he got it. I mean, one wing? He’d fly in circles.

He’s been asked before. By friends and enemies, in homeroom and in the quad, and memorably, during the pep rally against Newan High, Sandy Redford the head cheerleader asked right into the spotty microphone: “The question of the day isn’t whether we’ll defeat the Bighorns, or even by how much! The question is why does Rory Cahill have a one wing?”

Everybody laughed and cheered, and his buddies prodded Rory from where the basketball team stood in a line, across the gym floor to Sandy. She shoved the microphone under his mouth, (nearly gagging him I thought), and he said, “So I don’t have a disqualifying advantage over the other team.”

He was everybody’s favorite after that. We’re all shallow in the 11th grade.
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Feathers

One of these days—soon—without word, without warning, I’m going to go up in smoke.

It won’t sputter or smolder. When the blaze finally comes, it will be a conflagration. I’ll explode into flame like a dynamite crate, blackened paper and broken boards going everywhere. One of these days, the weight of the feathers and the silk will be too much. My bones will break like matchsticks, splintering, striking sparks off the edges of my cold steel core.

swan princess

Two times since rehearsals started, the footlights have gone out during the Pas de trois. Back in November, it was raining all the time. The breakers kept shorting, crackling out in a shower of sparks. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but someone had to answer for it. The new director told the stage crew that if it happened again, heads would roll. We could hear her through the door of her office, screaming into her phone. The pitch of her voice was inhumane, and directors are all crazy. They’re supposed to be temperamental, dramatic. This is different. When Madame de Sevigne raises her voice, it’s like a struck bell that won’t stop ringing. You can almost hear the frequency of her stiff, violent rage, buzzing under her skin.

Three of the corps dancers quit in one week, less than a month into the season. The ones who stayed called it insane, leaving the best company in the state, but those three were done with it and even their little-girl dreams of being pretty ballerinas weren’t strong enough to keep them here in the glowering presence of the Madame. They gathered up their lace and ribbons and disappeared, leaving nothing but a few loose hairpins and sequins, a few scattered feathers. keep reading…