the girl with the golden wings
by Helina Li | Art by Helina Li
When she was young, they told her she could be whatever she wanted to be.
She said she wanted to fly, so she went and built herself a pair of wings.
Many years later, she would ask herself why, to find the beginning of all the madness. But is there ever a reason for wanting? She’d simply looked at the sky, the wind, the world that always kissed her on the cheek before dancing away, and said she wanted it.
She didn’t know—didn’t know how much those wings would demand, how much she’d be willing to give.
She’d be willing to give everything.
Perhaps from the beginning, she knew this want would remain unfulfilled. The thick and heavy bones, the limbs that wouldn’t thin unless she starved—the body that wouldn’t fly. They all whispered behind every early morning, every late night, every tear, every laugh, every splutter through the air before tumbling to the ground again.
Exhilaration and pain, success and failure, again and again, and through it all, a screaming, haunting promise: when she matured, there’d be no more sky. No more wing nonsense, no more falling-flying, no more, no more, no more, because those were children’s dreams and children had no place in the adult world.
In those final years before adulthood, she went mad with the desire to finish those wings, to have them before time ran out. She drew her blueprints with blood and sweat, cried and ripped the papers apart when she failed, tricked and lied and begged for metal, for tools, for whatever she could get.
The end result was not what you’d expect. The wings were heavy and unwieldy, weighed down by sheer size and thick metal—they were wings, yet they were everything wings shouldn’t be.
But she treasured those wings, so much that she broke and remolded her shoulder blades, bent her back, tore muscle and tendon and bone to attach the wings to her body. No one would take them from her, she promised.
And as if she knew how incomprehensible they were to the rest of the world, as if to protect them better from their frowns and condescending smiles, she kept them tucked in close to herself. No one ever saw them expanded, so they only saw the bulky silhouette of them perched on her back.
But if only you could see them expanded, see them turning this way or that in the sun—you would be able to see them breathe to life under your eyes, all gold and celestial.
And perhaps you would understand why she did it.
But if you were to ask her the old question—why—she would never give more than a short answer and a small smile, her face smooth and flawless. You would have to look closer, look really close, in order to see the remaining signs of her teenage years dancing in her glittering eyes.
The truth was, those wings made her feel like she could fly.
The desire that felt like a breath of air on a winter morning, only able to warm the world around it for a split second before flying away on a sigh of wind—she built that desire a body, gave it a glamorous castle and royal robes, made it a crown.
Those wings were her scream in the dark, a vessel of her youth, a final indulgence in the wildness of existence before her bones fledged into adulthood. She would protect them, but not hide them, for she wanted the world to see, see this monument to that madness, that desire, that which would fade away one day.
Those wings were proof that she’d lived.
Not survived, not breathed, but lived.