Birthdays are the best day of the year, aren’t they? A night spent tossing this way and that, waking up with a fluttering in your stomach like the wings of tiny sparrows. Impatient for the sun to show, and the moment it does, rushing to see if your wish has come true.
That year, Maria wished for a bicycle. All the other girls had them. After school they’d cycle off to the secret beach, or to the park with swings in the next village along. It was too far for Maria to walk, or, more to the point; by the time she’d get there, they’d already be making their way home.
Maria’s mother pulled her close and lovingly stroked her long chestnut hair on the day she let her wish slip, saying, ‘maybe, my dear… we shall see.’
Once, Maria’s father would be away from home for weeks at a time, but that stopped one summer, and ever since he’d sit all day at the table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes that made Maria cough. His beard became long and unkempt, and Maria missed how he used to wrap her up in his bear-like arms.
On the morning of her eighth birthday, as soon as an orange glow crept through the shutters, Maria tossed the sheet aside and ran down to the kitchen. She could hear the raised voices of her mother and father. As she entered, they hushed, and an icy chill lanced her special day excitement. Their pallid faces were tear-streaked, blank, and bore the scars of battle.
Maria knew there was not going to be a bicycle, not this year, not next, not ever. But she did not know about the silver coffee pot on the stove. She did not hear it gurgling ready, or realise that as she turned to escape their fatuous apologies she would stutter over the curled up corner of the rug, or that her pyjama sleeve would get caught up in its handle, or that as she fell, the boiling liquid would douse her cheek in hot liquid that caused such pain that all the screaming in the world wouldn’t quieten it.
Maria doesn’t want a bicycle now. She doesn’t go out. She prefers to sit alone in her room, drawing, or reading. She keeps that half of her face covered with a plain, black, scarf.
Some months later, an angel visits. She flies in and settles down on Maria’s desk. Her wings are golden and magnificent, marbled with dark geometric patterns, marked at their tips with eyes of protection. Her body is small and black, and though completely still, her two long whiskers twitch incessantly.
They look at each other for a while. Then Maria hears the angel’s whispers, and she removes her scarf and smiles for the first time since that day. She thinks the angel the most beautiful thing she has ever seen, as the angel does of her, and only then does Maria notice the broken wing.
Lee is a short fiction writer. He has also had stories published with: F(r)iction online, Flash Fiction Magazine, Platform For Prose, STORGY, The Red Line, The Londonist, and was shortlisted for the BBC’s 2015 Opening Lines competition. Originally from London, he now lives in Greece.
He can be found here: https://hamblin1.wordpress.com / @kali_thea