by Virginia Castiglione
Mother says I have to reach a state of grace in the world of men in order to become smaller than five feet two and make the air my permanent residence, feathers my coat for all seasons, wings my haven, and a beak my defense.
“All of your sisters did it” she said. “It’s time you showed your worth.”
And she turned me into a woman.
Being permanently closer than usual to the hidden magma of the Earth, without the option of taking a break in the sky once in awhile, is not a sensation that I like. I discovered sandals on my very first day as a human, but the earth feels oppressive to my five-toed mammal feet. When I see them, they remind me of monkeys and their vulgar way of moving, and I look up, towards the beautiful, unattainable sky.
I soon learnt that, for a woman, I am not particularly attractive. At least not like those models in the billboards I see. I am too scrawny and weak looking, and my skin is much browner than the pale skin of the models.
But then I discovered another truth: Men and women find me beautiful anyway. There is elegance to the way my absent-minded eyes are always looking for the sky, and my way of walking is, in a certain way, a glide, a swift way of moving that could, at any time, allow me to take a great leap and spread my wings and fly – because that’s what I wish to do. I remind people of freedom. Human beings are way too used to their set routines, and anything that makes them remember life above their heads mesmerizes them – it wakes them up from their stupor.
This awakening arouses them.
Humans treat sex in a rather vulgar way, I should say. They don’t understand it at all. The orgasm is the soul ecstatic, but they don’t quite grasp that concept.
Mother said she would visit me, but my sisters come instead.
Woodpecker says I will reach my state of grace by working hard.
Gull says I should venture into the sea instead, and let the waves, the movements of nature, carry me where they may. Gull says that I shouldn’t be afraid or hesitate, that I should keep myself afloat come storms or hellish high water.
Hummingbird is too giddy for my taste. She says that I shouldn’t sit still and talks indistinctly about planes and adventure and relocation.
I don’t understand their point. I want Mother to come. She said she would come.
In the meantime, I adopt a human name. I seem to understand two languages: One is called English, the other is called Spanish. English is fine, but Spanish seems to me to be the proper language of flying.
English speakers are attracted to me. Spanish speakers are different. They seem to understand me as a natural part of the town, as common and everyday as potatoes or the Arizona desert that surrounds us.
But I feel like they are my kin. When I choose my name, I ask an old lady that had addressed me in Spanish while I was in the local market shopping for fruit and beef (I like it raw) what was her Mother’s name.
“Teresa” she answered, “mi madre se llamaba Teresa. Que en paz descanse.”
So Teresa I am.
I get a job at the local supermarket, and I feel how I’m losing my feathers, one by one. I feel them underneath my skin, you know. They are like a comforting tingling, and now their ever-increasing absence is ubiquitous. Whatever’s under my skin feels empty.
The whirring of the air conditioning device inside the supermarket, the sound of the cash register clicking and opening and closing, the cacophony of drawls from people asking me for cigarettes or toilet paper or whisky or eggs or candy or cake mix or tampons, these sounds pluck my feathers forcefully, like a reckless child plucking up the petals of an innocent flower.
My entire paycheck goes to the purchase of a dress I try on in the Bridal’s Shop. It’s white, long, tubular. Aerodynamic. It’s the first item of clothing that truly makes me feel like a bird. My nipples are visible through its fabric, which doesn’t hug my body entirely but rather seems ethereal, like the air in which I used to fly.
The dress becomes my uniform outside of work, and, every day, a few minutes before dawn, I wear it to the park. I climb to the top of the children’s swings’ structure and I find my balance afoot. Then I spread my arms to the utmost and await the moment in which I’ll encounter flying again. Nothing ever happens.
Men and women ask me out. I accept their invitations, after all, what else am I to do with my time?
The first thing I ask them during dinner is what a state of grace is for them.
“Are you talking about religion?”
“You should go to my church sometime. I think you’ll like it.”
“Wow, you’re really zen. I dig it.”
“I’m sorry, a… a state of grace? That’s a pretty random thing to bring up.”
“I’ll teach you what’s a state of grace, baby.”
Useless. All of their answers. Useless.
When they take me to bed, I can almost see them plucking up my feathers. It’s painful. All of them do it: The passing businessmen in their way up north, the old ladies that feel stuck in that small town, the young men and women consumed by drugs that can’t escape its confines.
My wings get weaker and weaker with each sexual encounter.
After the sex, we usually have a chat. It’s always in English, the chat. It always destroys me much more than anything physical we could have done. When they leave, they all take with them a piece of Teresa’s essence. While they are asleep, I want to yell at them – make them understand.
I go to the park instead, and, while I wait for the dawn, I try to remember what kind of bird I used to be right after I was born, before Mother sent me here.
Soon, my sisters start complaining about my libidinous behavior. They tell me I’m going about the whole thing the wrong way. I don’t need them to tell me that. I already know. They tell me Mother is disappointed in me, that she intended for me to be a bird of prey, that she knew from the beginning about my sensitive spirit and that’s why she sent me to the desert. Deserts always correct overly sensitive spirits, Mother says. Even though, of course, I hear that through my sisters. She never comes herself.
The day after I receive that message, I rent a car with a GPS device and I drive towards the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory. When I arrive, the first thing I see are the birds of prey. They seem to be waiting for me.
They fly in circles, and the first thought I have is how much I envy them because they have wings. Then, while silence gets a gradual hold over my mind, I listen to their thoughts. They are practical, opportunistic beings, the kind of bird that wouldn’t stop to appreciate the beauty of the dawn, the kind of bird that wouldn’t know a state of grace if it was under its beak.
I turn my back to the birds of prey and I return with the group of tourists that I am supposed to be bird watching with.
That night, I bring a sickly ninety-year-old to bed, and I’m surprised at how aroused I am. I guess that, as I’m soon to become a bird of prey, I’m attracted to the smell of impending death.
Once we’re done, I can’t sleep, so I look out of a window. A little black and red bird perches outside of it and looks directly at me. I identify it as the elegant trogon, according to my Observatory brochure. At first I assume it’s one of my sisters, but he says nothing. We simply share a moment and he flies away.
I suddenly feel claustrophobic in that Bed & Breakfast room, so I put on my white dress and leave the man snoring in bed.
I get into the car and I set the GPS so it’ll tell me how to get to Mexico.
The moment I cross the border, I stop the car and get out. I close my eyes. There’s Mexican air all around me, it’s in my nostrils, blowing my hair out of my face, coursing through my veins, murmuring of Spanish days and thoughts and souls.
I reach my state of grace.
“An Elegant Trogon? Seriously?” says Mother “I expected much more from you, Miss.”
Mother can shove it wherever she likes. I am my own bird now. Now, I am flying south. I have this weird feeling that I’ll soon meet my true sisters.
First appeared in Wildness Journal (Issue #3 – Fragments).
Virginia Castiglione is a 22-year-old Argentinian fiction writer and occasional poet who writes in her second language (English). She is also finishing her undergraduate degree in English Language and Literature at the National University of Córdoba. Her work has appeared in Necessary Fiction and Wildness Journal, and one of her short stories has been selected as Longform’s Fiction Pick of the Week for the last week of February 2016.