Wings

Laura Rhoton

Grace walks home from the pool the long way, through the snow. Tonight the children could not keep their heads up. They don’t understand, thinking like they do, how to float. They need not move.
Grace has shown them many times. She has stretched out like a flag until she’s weightless. But the children have many fears, some of the water, and some of other things, and it seems that nothing like that will ever be necessary.
This morning Grace took all the polish off her nails and threw the bottles into the trash. When Abbey asked what she was doing, Grace said she didn’t have time to paint her nails. But Grace has felt for some time that she has to get rid of the things she used to do. Her hands feel like a child’s now.
When Abbey moved into Grace’s apartment, she brought magazines. Suddenly there were pretty things all over the place. Abbey’s perfume, Abbey’s clothes, Abbey. Grace believes that Abbey is like everything she owns. Perfectly composed.
Grace needs to emulate. She is in love with Alden. Alden comes to dinner and they talk about what happens. About the day, about the past, about the future. While they eat they sit by the window and watch the wind move through the trees the contractor planted last year when the apartments were built.
Grace tells Alden she took the children to the zoo yesterday. There is more than swimming, she says. Nature, first aid, archery.
Alden asks which zoo.
“The one in the park,” she says.
“Did you show them the monkeys?” Alden asks.
“There was an armadillo in the monkey house,” Grace says. “Upside down on the cement.”
Alden shakes his head and says, “I’m going to be promoted.” He looks at Grace and smoothes his hair. “To Los Angeles,” he says.
Grace cuts the skin off her chicken one piece at a time and sets it against the rim of her plate. “Congratulations,” she says.
“It’s not till March,” he says. “March or April.”
Grace looks out the window and acts like he doesn’t owe her anything. That’s what he wants her to do, but she knows that doing what he wants won’t get her anywhere. He wants her to be irresistible.
After dinner Alden touches her cheek and fingers the moonshaped scar. Grace tells him there were seven stitches there last summer.

He counts them and says, “Your face is cold.” He tells her he doesn’t want to leave her. “You know that, don’t you?” he asks.
When he has gone Grace leans close to the mirror and stares into the scar. Lowell, Grace’s best friend, left it there last summer, the day before she moved away.
It was August, and Lowell had thrown a party. A swimming party, to which she wore
a yellow bathing suit. In the midst of the party, when Lowell drifted outside, Grace kissed Lowell’s lover. Grace was not as sorry as she knew she should be, not as sorry as she was when Lowell asked later, standing in the kitchen doorway, if Grace would help her serve the drinks.
With a goblet in her hand, Lowell laughed and pointed outside. “I’m going to miss you, Grace,” she said. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
Grace watched the guests on the patio. She felt she would suffocate standing there in Lowell’s kitchen, remembering Lowell coming home late at night. Lowell had worn a tiny gold bird around her neck, a gift for luck. “Look,” she’d said. “The wings move on hinges.”
“Promise me something,” Lowell said. “Promise me you’ll write.” She looked at Grace.
Grace nodded.
Then she stood by the window and told Lowell what happened. She told Lowell it was something she would always regret and she didn’t understand why she did it.
Lowell stood at the sink and poured lime mixer, gallons and gallons of it, down the disposal.
After the party, long after the guests had gone, Lowell and Grace got drunk. With their hair soaked in gin and water, they swam nude in the deep end. As Grace slipped from wall to wall in the dark, her face cresting like a gull, Lowell jumped from the board with a bottle in her hand. The glass broke as Grace turned her face to breathe.
Lowell clung to the side of the pool and cried. “I didn’t see you,” she said. “I didn’t see you.”
Grace watched the blood make a trail of beautiful red smoke. Not looking at Lowell, she pulled the glass from her hair and watched it sink to the bottom of the pool.
In the pictures Grace has of the party, Lowell is sitting slightly out of focus with one thin arm on Grace’s shoulder.

“We live in a floating world,” the Buddhists say.
As Grace walks the grocery aisles, she tries to remember Alden’s favorite food. There are slogans everywhere, something she is increasingly aware of. Wherever she looks there are quotes. In italics at the end of a story, on her calendar, inside cards she sends. Grace finds herself writing them down.

Grace remembers Abbey’s goldfish as she’s climbing up the stairs. She had put their bowl outside in the rain this morning to catch the clean water. But the rain had turned to snow and when Grace brings the bowl in the fish have frozen.
When Abbey gets home Grace tries to explain. “I didn’t think about the cold,” she says. “It was raining.” She looks at the snow on the balcony.
Abbey kneels by the bowl and looks at their fins hanging down like gold in the cold, clear water. “It’s all right,” she says.
For a week the weather gets progressively warmer and the sky is bright blue above the prematurely melting snow. The water, which suddenly seems to be everywhere, floods the sidewalks and makes pools on the grass. As it runs down the streets it seeps into the cracks where it will freeze until summer comes to break the asphalt apart.
To celebrate, Alden is wearing a white sweater and tennis shoes. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he says, his face in Grace’s hair.
Grace smiles. “Where?” she asks.
“The movies.”
“But that’s inside,” she says.
“We’ll go for a walk afterwards,” he says. “Don’t you love to come out of a movie when it’s bright outside?”

Grace wears his sunglasses on the way to the theatre. The sky and the cars and the signs blaze red, blue, and orange. The grass is surprisingly green.
The theatre is empty except for a man, who sits four rows ahead of them with a baby on his shoulder. From time to time he cranes his head to make sure she is still asleep. The baby, her face a perfect moon, makes a tiny smile.
The sun remains, hard and sharply cold, still shining the day Grace explains that she is leaving. She tells Alden and he nods, his thoughts on L.A. There really isn’t anything to say, so they leave it at that. But all the way home, walking from curb to curb, Grace thinks that there must have been something more.
She and Abbey go for a long ride the day after. They’ve talked about everything and Grace has explained it as best she can, but she leaves things out. Abbey nods sympathetically. In a small town by the lake, they buy milkshakes for the ride back.