I crane my neck looking over my shoulder, trying to see my back in the bathroom mirror. It’s hard enough normally, but I barely have room, what with the delicate wings sprouting from my shoulder blades. I mean, I knew puberty would make my body change in all sorts of ways: Mom had made sure I was fully prepared for my period. But no one warned me that changes could include bright yellow butterfly wings.
I turn back around, tracing the outside of my ears with my fingertips. That was a slower change, one so gradual I only recently noticed how pointy they were getting. Triangular, like I’d just stepped off the set of The Lord of the Rings. But the only warning I’d had for these wings was my back itching like I’d rolled around in poison ivy. I changed into a backless shirt, but while I was still looking for the hydrocortisone gel, POOF! Out they came. Damp and crinkly, but unmistakably wings nonetheless.
They’re almost dry now. I touch them gently, running my hands over the interlocking scales. Yellow with black tiger stripes, like a swallowtail. If they really are butterfly wings, they’re made of something like chitin. Fragile, and easy to damage. How will I go to school? I can’t wear a backpack, and the classrooms are stubbornly cramped, no matter how many times Nate’s parents complain that they need to be wheelchair-accessible to be ADA compliant. Forget school, what about home? How am I supposed to walk around without crushing them by accident? How do I sleep? What if I roll over onto my back in the middle of the night?
My muscles twitch at the thought: my wings furl themselves. Still bulky, but more compact. Less vulnerable. I try to spread them again: they spring back open. I practice: Furl, unfurl, close, open. I get the hang of it quickly. I barely have to think about it, actually. It’s like my body knows what to do, and I just have to get my brain on the same page.
A grin spreads across my lips. I furl my wings and sneak outside. If this is really happening, there’s one thing I HAVE to try before I do anything else.
Safe in the backyard, I spread my wings. I flap. It doesn’t go well: it’s sudden, jerking, uncoordinated, throwing me off balance. At first, anyway. I close my eyes and focus on my wings, on making clean, measured motions. When I open my eyes, I’m hovering a foot off the ground.
Then it’s like a barrier in my mind falls, and I know exactly what to do. I flutter higher, then soar back and forth. Banking, spinning, screaming with laughter and joy. I’m flying. I’m really, truly, flying.
My aching shoulders force me back onto the ground mere minutes later. I stumble as I land, reluctantly furling my wings. Worth it. No matter what comes next, it’s all worth it.
“So it just skipped a generation.”
I whirl around to see my grandmother eyeing me from the patio. She grins, and wings burst out behind her: orange with black bars and spots, like a monarch or viceroy. And she pushes her hair away from her ears, revealing pointed tips.
“Come sit down.” She gestures to the deck chairs. “You’ve got a lot to learn about being a faerie.”
Copyright 2022 Julia LaFond