When Her Wings
By Grant Stone
The birds wake her. Walking on the roof, scratch-hammer of claws on tin. The sky through the lace curtains is a surly quicksilver but she can already feel the heat in the November sun.
Roll out of bed, bare feet on thick brown shag. The walk to the other end of the caravan is five steps. On the way, click on the kettle, fumble for the remote. The television is mounted in by the roof in the opposite corner. Breakfast chat show. Part of her ritual.
Two steps, make sure to look right. On the left is a door with a full length mirror. She never looks. Never uses the shower concealed behind it either. It's a walk of two minutes, in bare feet on sand and hot tar seal to the main shower block, where the water is hot and there's room to breathe. She'll go later, maybe.
Hook the instant coffee from the cupboard above the sink. Two teaspoons, not one, want to get some flavour at least.
Aaron's rust-red Cortina gone. He works, sometimes. Comes home late at night or the next day with fistfuls of crumpled dollars. She doesn't ask.
Take the coffee and slide onto the seat that runs the length of the table. From here she can see the gap in the sand dunes. Rawiri's coming back up the path that leads to the beach, pulling his whitebait nets behind him in his little wagon. He raises a hand and she lifts her coffee.
“Going,” he'd said. A month back. She'd walked down to the beach to sit beside him and watch the water filter through his nets.
“North. Auckland. Brett's sister's not well.”
Brett handed her a mug of tea, hot from the thermos. “And I'm getting bloody sick of living in a metal box,” he said. “Take the old man up to the big smoke.”
“Not staying up there,” Rawiri said. “Just to sort your sister out, then it's back down, with or without you.”
Brett rested his head on Rawiri's shoulder. “You'll like it once you're there. Buy you an ice cream at Mission Bay. You can ogle the pretty young rollerbladers.”
“You can come too, if you want,” Rawiri had said, after Brett had collected up the mugs and thermos and made his way back. “Plenty of room in the car.”
She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Rawiri looked out at the grey water. “It's not right,” he said, “what he does to you.”
But that was months ago and Rawiri was still here. Brett too.
All the hours, pacing the caravan, walking up to the camp office to use the phone, walking back without making the call. Hour upon hour, waiting for just the right moment. Waiting for courage.
“Would you like the deluxe model?” Bored voice from a call centre somewhere in India. “We have a special this week. Twenty percent off.”
She shook her head, forgetting for a moment that the person at the other end couldn't see. “No. Just the standard.”
“And how will you be paying?”
She pulled it from her pocket with trembling fingers. “Credit card.” Praying that he wouldn't notice it gone from his wallet until she could get it back there. Tonight, while he slept.
On the television a cheery young man stands under an umbrella. He's talking about showers, but the sun shines defiantly behind him. She sips her coffee and looks out and her eyes slide past the spot just below the window where they still lie, all feathers and leather straps and broken wires.
Credit cards have statements. Stupid not to think. He didn't say anything. Just called the company, at first, she thinks, to dispute the charge but then changing his mind. Asking when he can expect the order, checking the address is correct, changing it to his mate's place. So that when they come he can stride in to the caravan with them under his arm, grin on his face like a punch. Honey I'm home.
They came already assembled. Something they made a point of mentioning three times on the infomercial. Nothing to put together. Just strap this clip here (click) into here (click) and you're ready to fly. Aaron hunted around in the back seat of the Cortina, threw out a crate still with a couple of empty bottles and they shattered on the road. Found what he was looking for, a pair of boltcutters. Cut the first wire and it jumped up with a ping. Nearly took his eye out and that really threw him into a rage. Wasn't satisfied until he'd cut every one. The boltcutter worked well on the leather of the straps and harness too. The feathers he tore out in clumps. Finally he tossed the boltcutters aside, wiped the sweat off his forehead with his shirtsleeve and stomped back to the caravan.
The coffee is cold. She sips anyway. Her left eye is throbbing again, but she's out of painkillers. Not as bad as it was yesterday, anyway.
The camp is silent except for the cawing of a blackbird perched nearby. It's off season, but even so, the place gets a little emptier every year. Was a time when this place was packed during the season, same people coming back year after year, getting older, until time choked them like the silt and effluent upriver that they say is stopping the whitebait spawning.
She wonders if Rawiri and Brett really will move up to Auckland and decides they probably will. Only a couple of weeks left in the whitebait season. She won't go with them. She won't need to.
The feeling was there again this morning. Running from the tops of her shoulders, describing an arc down the length of her spine. She leans forward now, reaches her arm up inside the back of her shirt. She can feel it, both sides, a raised ridge. And something else, too. She shouldn't but she tugs, hard. It hurts when it comes loose, but now she's confident. It will grow back and even if it doesn't there are a more coming.
Another clack of claws. It's not just one bird. She's certain of this now. She walks outside and peers up at the roof, squinting into the sun that has burned through the clouds. Twenty, thirty perhaps, maybe more. Crow and magpie and seagull. Pigeon and Spoonbill and Heron. All of them looking at her, waiting.
She brings the thing she pulled from her back close to her face. A bone-white feather. It smells like salt on the tide and she closes her eyes as the wind rustles her hair.
It won't be long.