“Da? Da, look what I can do!”
I frowned at the monitor and the columns of numbers that refused to add up. “Not now, Becca. Da’s working.”
I could try to ignore her and not get anything done, or indulge her for a minute and salvage the remainder of the afternoon. I turned around in my office chair, and my heart went cold.
My six-year old daughter pirouetted in mid-air, a flutter of wings between her shoulders where this morning there’d been only rose print pajamas and strawberry blonde curls. She smiled at me and spun again, arms outstretched. “I’m flying!”
“Yes, yes you are.” I tried to clear the anxiety clotted at the back of my throat; it wouldn’t budge. “Where did you, um, where did you find those?”
Aggie came in from the kitchen, saucer in one hand, dish towel in the other. “Here now, I told you to leave – oh!” She dropped the towel and saucer, the latter landing on the former, so no harm done to the dish at least.
Becca flew higher and rapped the ceiling with her knuckles. “Look, Mum!”
“I see.” The words trembled on Aggie’s lips. She lowered herself to the sofa and I joined her, putting a hand on her knee. Her words weren’t all that trembled. “I haven’t seen those since before Da and I got married.”
Our daughter flit close, hovering right above the floor. “Really? Are they yours?”
“Once upon a time, yes.” Aggie looked at me then, so wistful and sad it all but broke my heart. “Let’s have a closer look.”
There was enough of the mother voice to the request that Becca did as she was told, but not without: “You’re not going to take them, are you?”
Aggie answered before I could. “Not at all.” She motioned for Becca to turn around.
With both feet flat on the ground, Becca showed us her back. Uneven slits perhaps five inches long had been cut in her pajama top so the wings could poke through. A small part of my attention allowed that we would have a sit down about when, and on what, we used scissors, but not this moment. What mattered most was how the wings caught the blue of Aggie’s eyes, the blue of the summer sky over Niarbyl Bay, or perhaps the other way around.
Aggie reached for the left wing; it twitched out of the way without Becca seeming any more aware. “They’re, ahem, they’re lovely. Where’d you find them?”
“In the attic. They were just laying out, under some newspapers and a jacket. I found them, that’s all.”
From the way Becca played with her hair, I could tell she knew she’d been caught out. No doubt Aggie saw the same. “The attic, hmmm?
Well, you can wear them for now, but you must take good care of them. I’ll want them back.”
What I wouldn’t have given to be the reason for Aggie’s smile right then. That I had been the reason for other smiles through the years felt suddenly silly and inconsequential.
Becca stood on her tiptoes; the wings took her into the air. She turned round. “These really are yours, Mum? You’re not funning with me?”
My lovely wife shook her head. “Not at all.”
Becca smiled rainbows and sunshine and ponies. “Cool! Can I take a picture with your phone and send it to Midge? Pleeeze?””
“No pictures,” I said, sharper than I should have.
My little girl’s chin trembled like I’d sent her ponies to the glue factory. She glanced at her mother. “But -”
Aggie took Becca by the hand and pulled her close. “Da’s right. We can’t take pictures, and we mustn’t tell anyone about this.”
With that, Aggie led the pony smiles into the factory. “But why?”
Aggie tapped the tip of Becca’s nose. “Because people wouldn’t understand.”
Becca screwed up her face in the way she had when she didn’t want to cry but would anyway.
Aggie brushed nothing at all off of Becca’s pajama top. “Come on, missy, none of that. It is what it is, so let’s make the best of it. Anyway, it’s a lovely day and I know the perfect spot for a girl’s first flight.”
That brought back Becca’s smile. “Right now? Yes, yes, yes!”
They looked so happy, mother daughter bonding and all. Becca had Aggie’s beautiful hair and turned up nose, but she also had my kelp brown eyes. I was in there, too. “We probably don’t want to do that. Always a chance that someone might see, or, worse, decide to make a video.” I took hold of Becca’s other hand and tugged her to the floor. “How’s about we take a run to Niarbyl? Pack a basket, make an afternoon of it.”
Aggie frowned storm clouds over high seas.
“Or the beach. Make our way to Douglas, even stay for the night. You could swim the day away.”
Becca gave the idea some thought. My heart filled with hope; it emptied just as quick when she said, “Can we go to the beach tomorrow instead?”
Aggie smiled, but wouldn’t look at me.
“Tomorrow it is, then.” I kissed Becca’s cheek.
They went to get ready. I sat by myself, looking around my office, listening to the rush of water in the pipes after the flush, wondering if life would ever add up.
On their way out, Becca threw her arms around my neck in a splendid hug. I felt but couldn’t see the wings through her wind jacket. Aggie touched my shoulder. “Are you sure you don’t want to come along?”
I covered her hand with mine, gave two quick squeezes, our private I love you. “No, you go on. I have more work than sense.”
She leaned down to kiss me, eyes happy and blue and as forever as the sky. “Be back later.”
Two squeezes from Aggie, and they left me alone.
When I could manage, I made my way to the attic. The brass-bound trunk hunched in the north corner, boxes and such hastily arranged in an attempt to make it look like they hadn’t been moved at all. We should have locked it years ago, but what did we know? I flipped the latch and opened the lid.
A clutter of newspapers from April 30th seven years ago lay on top, and below that my old seal skin jacket: fur at the collar and cuffs; handsome copper clips instead of a zipper. I buried my face in the folds that still smelled of salt, and fish, and sea spray even after seven years. Aggie and I wanted a life together, so we made one the only way we could, giving up the past to gain a future together, and I wouldn’t trade what we had for the world, yet. . .
I thought of Becca flying, of Aggie’s smile. I squeezed the ocean out of my eyes, but not my heart.
Sandra M. Odell is a Clarion West 2010 graduate whose writing credits include publication in Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Ideomancer, and the anthologies Fear of the Dark and Triangulation: Last Contact.