by Evangeline Wright
My husband became a bird. Work backward. When presented with the fact of his death, I could not give that to his son. My son. Conceived eighty-nine days before his father fulfilled his avian destiny. When he was born, the tiny curl of my son’s ear looked like a fiddlehead fern emerging from the soil. The grasp of his fingers on mine was strong enough to support his weight, but his head bobbed foolishly on the slender stalk of his neck.
“He flew,” I told my infant son. I practiced the words on his furled, translucent ears; by the time he could speak it felt like truth. “He soared into the sky and left his body behind,” we told each other. “He was always meant to be a bird.” Like warm granite in the sun, the story radiated comfort to us both. Year by year we fed each other the possibility of transformation until it became our reality.
Although my husband has been gone now twenty-three years, I still remember the solidity of his body curled around mine as we slept. I believed in the ox-like breadth of his shoulders, but the thick, heavy bones hid the hollow in his center that allowed him to fly away from me and the child I carried inside myself.
There is danger in the stories we tell ourselves. Was it right to give this story to my son? Should I instead have told him that his father was 113 feet from the ground when he jumped? That the bones in his right hand, cradled against the beating pulse of his chest as he fell, did not break and that was the hand I touched when I identified his body? Are these words called facts any less a story, a man leaping from a window, human to the last?
My son, grown to adulthood, leapt too, but into water. I’d filled him with the story of his bird father to inoculate him against the hollowness of flight. In the end it only made him heavy enough to sink. I buried the poor, swollen body they plucked from the river, but last night I dreamed of a slender fish slipping through my fingers, swimming from my sadness, freed from the weight of an absent father and the achingly heavy love of a lonely mother. There’s a story to be told there, but no one to tell it to except myself. My son is gone, undulating beneath the cool river water, iridescent scales armoring his chilly blood.
If my husband can become a bird, my son a fish, why am I still human? Is it only the men I love that can transform themselves and in so doing escape my love? Or will I too transform, gone feral in the woods perhaps, eaten away by sorrow to my essential nature? I wait for grief to show me my metamorphosis.
Evangeline Wright recently completed an MFA in Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her husband and children in Pennsylvania and balances the solitude of writing with her work as a poverty law attorney.