I Will Never Fly Again
Jonathon Mast
The doctor points at the images on the screen showing the breaks in my wings. He explains how we just don't have the technology to repair the damage that's been done. He says he is very, very sorry. 
I stare at the images. White lines on a dark background. It could be art in one of the galleries if it weren't me on the screen. 
It is me, though. There I am. 
The doctor says some more things, but I don't listen. There's no point in hearing any of the words. I cannot be repaired. I will never heal enough. I will experience pain every day until I die. 
I will never fly again. 
I stand near the egress. Nurses getting off shift jabber as they stroll past. They shake out their wings and fall out of the building. I watch as they plummet, snap their wings out, and soar. A constant stream of people pass. Doctors. Patients. Visitors. 
No one pays any attention to me. I'm just one more person lingering near the windows. They can't tell that there's anything wrong with me by just glancing. I could pass for normal. Sure, I'm obviously a patient here by the hospital gown I'm wearing, but the hospital is full of people dressed like me. People that will get better and fly again. 
Once I complete my therapy, though, what then? I can't even leave the hospital. There's no way for people like me to travel. Not really. Not unless I want to proclaim that I'm useless. 
“Steven, hold still!” A mother kneels down and wraps a coat around a child. His wings haven't fully grown in yet. 
The child, perhaps three or four years old, struggles and whines. 
The mother shifts the fabric and finally secures the jacket. “Now, are you ready to fly home?” 
He wrinkles his nose at her. 
“Don't give me that attitude, young man.” She stands and gives that flat expression that mothers have used since long before we sailed the skies. 
They both fall out of the egress. The mother lofts her child up on her wings, balancing him on her back. 
But I am an adult. I cannot be carried like that. And even if I could, I would not want it. I am no child. I am not someone who might learn how to fly one day. 
Not anymore.
“Stretch it out, buddy.” 
I sigh and do as the therapist tells me. I reach out my wings as far as I can. A few tables over, another therapist works with an elderly man who had knee replacement surgery. Across the room a girl learns how to handle her crutches. 
“Hey! Keep it over here. You ain't competing with them, and they ain't competing with you.” My eyes slide back to him from the other side of the room. My therapist grins at me. He's a solid chunk of a man with broad shoulders and a strong chin. I might think he was cute if I was in season. 
“Look, this sucks. I get it.” He presses his lips together and slides up onto the table across from me. “Things are going to get worse for you in the next months before they get better, all right? When you leave the hospital, everything's going to fall apart. Right now it's new, but as you slide into your normal,” he shakes his head. “Listen. Hey, listen to me, here. You've got my number. I saw you put it into your phone. You call me when your heart's grounded, all right? Doesn't matter the time.” 
I feel my eyebrows come together in a silent question. 
“I specialize in wing injuries. You're not the first one to come in here like this. We've come such a long way in being able to heal things, but we've got a long way to go. I've seen how this goes.” He looks away from me. “Too many people just walk out an egress, even though they know they'll never fly. And you. I don't want it to happen to you, all right?” He looks up and searches for my eyes. “All right?” 
I nod heavily. 
I want to walk out an egress so badly, but I'll have to wait until I leave the hospital. If I did it here, they'd save me. I'd end up back in therapy. I don't want to see his disappointed eyes.
"...I've seen how this goes.” He looks away from me. “Too many people just walk out an egress, even though they know they'll never fly. And you. I don't want it to happen to you, all right?” He looks up and searches for my eyes. “All right?” 
I nod heavily. 
I can't sleep. 
Most people don't sleep well in hospitals. The unfamiliar beds, the nurses constantly having to make their rounds, the strange noises and smells, it all adds up to the mind not being able to relax enough to truly rest. If you want to keep from healing, stay in a hospital. 
It's worse for me, though. 
I slept with a girl once who splayed her wings out all across the bed. Knocked me right onto the floor. I guess a lot of people sleep that way. 
Me, though? I always wrapped my wings around myself, real tight. It was safe there, like a nest that I carried with me. It didn't matter where I was. I smelled the same thing every time I went to bed: the smell of the sky trapped in my feathers. My wings would dampen the sounds around me, so no matter how alien a place I slept in, I felt safe. 
Now the bones in my wings grind when I try to wrap them around myself. I have to keep them out to my sides. And even if I could wrap them around me, there is no more scent of sky. There is only the smell of medicine and blood. 
A nurse enters the darkened room to check my stats. She sees my eyes staring at the ceiling. “Anything I can bring you, honey?” 
I flick my eyes at her and away. 
“Have you tried singing?” she asks. 
I shake my head. I haven't sung since before the accident. There isn't anything worth singing about. 
“You want me to bring a singer in here for you?” 
I shake my head again. 
“Well, let me know if you change your mind, all right? There ain't much more than a song that can lift the heart.” She pats me gently on the shoulder and then heads along her rounds. 
Right. Music only shows what is true. Any song that told me good things would be a lie. It wouldn’t be music at all. 
“I had a dream last night.” 
I lift my eyebrows at her. It sounds like the beginning of one of those monologues I had to memorize back in school. 
She sits two seats away from me in the circle. The therapist nods, all her attention turned to this young woman. I don't know who she is. I never pay attention to the introductions at the beginning of therapy. I'm pretty sure no one does. 
The young woman who's talking might be right out of school. Her feathers are white with a few brilliant blue here and there. Her head is shaved. “So, in the dream I was falling. And the clouds were rushing up, like Brenden's face.” 
“Your boyfriend?” the therapist asks. 
I try not to laugh. I cough instead. 
The woman keeps going with the old monologue like she hadn't heard the therapist. “And I tried to stretch out my wings, but they just weren't working. It was like when I was little and my mother would take me up higher than any of the aeries and she'd let me fall. And my wings weren't strong enough yet. You remember what that was like? When you first had to fly, but you didn't know how yet, and your wings just couldn't hold your weight?” 
“Yes,” the therapist says, completely enrapt in the recitation. 
Meanwhile, I'm coughing to make sure I don't give her away with my laughing. No one else gets it. Didn't anyone else have to memorize this stuff when they were young? 
“Well, in the dream it was like that, and then Brenden was falling right next to me. And he held out his hand. He didn't even look at me. His eyes were on the clouds, coming faster and faster. And the wind was so much colder than it really is.” She stops, the scene dancing before her eyes. 
“What happened?” The therapist prompts, sitting on the edge of her seat. 
The young woman closes her eyes. A tear trickles down her cheek. “I reached out for his hand. His fingers were so cold.” She opens her eyes. “And then I woke up.” 
My neighbor slaps me on the back. “You okay, man?” 
I wave him off. “Yeah, yeah,” I wheeze. 
“What do you think your dream means?” the therapist asks. 
The woman leans back and crosses her arms. “It means you're all full of shit.” 
The woman slaps my shoulder as we walk out of therapy. “You almost ruined it!” 
“That was good,” I answer. 
“Thanks. I'm glad someone got it.” She matches my pace. “Where you to next?” 
“I have physical therapy in an hour. Just sort of wandering until then.” 
“Good. I'll stay with you.” She sticks her hands in the pockets of the hospital pants. I do the same. I was glad to be rid of the loose hospital gown, even if these pastel scrubs now marked me, and her I suppose, as a long-term patient. 
“Why can't women's pants have pockets like these?” she grumbles. 
“Kalani,” I say. “My name. It's Kalani.” 
“Miriam,” she answers. 
We walk in silence down the hall. Windows show the clouds below. People fly back and forth to the other spires that tower over the world. Lives that haven't been shattered. 
“You have to learn that for school?” I ask. 
“Nah. Schools don't make you memorize anything. Haven't for years.” 
I wrinkle my nose. “Thanks. I guess I'm old.” 
“Yeah you are.” She huffs a laugh. And then she stops. “Wait a second. You're not a sicko, are you?” 
I shake my head. “Even if I was, I'm not in season.” 
Miriam sighs. “Good. I don't need anyone else trying crap.” 
“Anyone else?” 
“Most men.” 
We walk in silence again. 
“You really want to kill yourself?” she asks. 
I stumble. “What are you talking about?” 
“You're always too cheerful in therapy. No one's that happy unless they're hiding how messed up they are.” She shrugs. “I should know.” She pulls back the long sleeve of her hospital shirt, revealing a number of bright red slashes across her wrist. 
“Holy shit.” 
“Yeah, well, we're all messed up. But just because you're messed up doesn't mean you can't have some fun.” 
“So you're not going to try to talk me out of walking out an egress?” 
“Ain't my job. I just appreciated someone getting the joke.” 
“Some of us old people had to memorize that monologue back in the day. So you into theatre or something?” 
She nods. “Yeah. It was for an audition.”
“You get the part?” 
“Hell no.” 
More silence. 
“So, what are you in for? Just suicidal ideation?” 
“Well, more than that.” I fluff out my wings. “They don't work anymore.” 
“Oh.” She blinks at me. “That. That's terrible.” 
“Thanks. I appreciate that.” 
“No, man. Like, I totally get why you'd want to dash yourself on the rocks.” She shakes her head. “I thought I was messed up.” 
“If it helps, I think you are. But maybe your kind of messed up isn't as bad as you think?” I answer. 
“Yeah. Maybe.” 
“Yeah, well, we're all messed up. But just because you're messed up doesn't mean you can't have some fun.” 
“So you're not going to try to talk me out of walking out an egress?” 
“Ain't my job. I just appreciated someone getting the joke.” 
When I wake up, Miriam's sitting by my bed. “What the hell are you doing here?” I ask. I pull a blanket up over me where I'd kicked it aside. 
She's not looking at me. “I'm sorry. I'm being creepy, aren't I?” 
“Just a little,” I say, putting as much scorn into my voice as I can. She was nice to talk to yesterday, someone I didn't have to pretend with, but sneaking into my room isn't a good way to make friends. 
She's staring out the window. “It's just easier to be by someone else who hurts,” she says. 
I try to sit up, but my wings won't let me. I grunt in pain. 
She doesn't pay any attention. “Do you have any idea how good it felt for you to laugh at the monologue? To not take me so seriously? To not freak out just because I cut myself?” She shakes her head. “I just. It felt good to be near you. To not have to put up with singing.” 
“No one sings in my room,” I spit. I take a deep breath, staring at the ceiling. Well, she was here now, apparently. “Why should you have to put up with singing?” 
“My parents.” She rolls her shoulders. “They established guardianship when I was still in school. Said I was too messed up to be on my own. Judge believed them. They think singing will cheer me up. Because it's done such a good job so far.” 
I lay back, my wings spread out around me. “Oh, good. You're visiting because I'm less annoying than cheerful music.” 
“Pretty much.” She's quiet for a little bit. “I miss flying.” 
I don't answer. I could tell her how much I miss it, how much it hurts, how hollow I feel, how my wings don't matter, they just make me look like I'm fine but I'm not fine at all, that I am broken and useless and the hospital shouldn't spend any time on me, that they should just let me walk out the egress, just let me fall because there is nothing left for me. 
I breathe sharp and fast, covering the sob that's lurking in the back of my throat. Why the hell did she have to be here now? Some people get sad at night. Me? I wake up that way. 
It's better not to think about it. 
She doesn't answer for a few moments. I don't move. I can't. I need help from a nurse to stand up. My wings won't bend the way they should to let me up. 
“Why do you think they care?” She shakes her head. “I mean, nice people are supposed to care about other people. But I don't matter. I'm just another kid of my parents. So, sure, they care. Fine. But the doctors here? The therapists? Why should they care about us? Why not just let us go away?” 
“It's their job.” Pain is starting to work its way up my back. 
“Well, yeah. They get paid. But why?” She puts a hand up to the glass. 
I don't answer again. 
She turns. “Okay, you need to say something. You're starting to sound like a therapist.” And then she sees my face. “Oh shit. I'm sorry. I didn't realize.” She steps toward. “What do you need? Painkiller?” 
“How about a hand up?” I grunt. 
She reaches over and offers a hand. I grab it with both of mine and pull. She stumbles toward me but braces herself. I reposition one hand so it's around her wrist and pull again. Finally I'm sitting on the bed, panting. So is she. 
I look down and notice red on my hands. I blink at it, trying to figure out why I've got blood on my palms. Did I cut myself on something? 
Miriam rubs her wrist. “I'm sorry. You broke the scabs when you pulled.” 
“Oh,” I say. I should probably be grossed out. They're always telling you to not get anyone's body fluids on yourself. You don't know who's got what. But instead of being scared, I just feel awkward. 
Suddenly there's some paper towels in my lap. “I'm sorry,” she says, still rubbing her wrist. 
I take the towels and wipe my hands, smearing the blood. I'll need to stand and actually wash. “I'm sorry,” I say to her. 
“I shouldn't be here,” she says. “I'm sorry. I just couldn't handle more singing.” She turns to go. 
“It's okay,” I answer, still sitting on the bed, a wad of paper towels in my hand. I look around. “I don't like singing anymore, either. I used to sing all the time. But not since the accident.” 
“What happened?” 
“Doesn't matter,” I say. “I just don't want to sing anymore.” 
She doesn't say anything to that, but she doesn't turn to leave either. 
I look down at my hands, not even knowing why I'm still talking. “I used to sing, well, it was nowhere important really. It was a place where people went to die. Used to be called a nursing home, but that's back when they still made you memorize monologues in school. But that's what it was. People who couldn't fly anymore. And once you can't fly, well.” 
I hear Miriam shift, but I still don't look at her. 
“Anyway, I'd go around to all these different facilities and sing. And it was like they could fly again, you know? This one old lady, I never learned her name, but she'd come every time I sang. She couldn't even talk anymore. But when I sang, her eyes got all glassy. Her wings would shift like she'd hit a thermal. I think maybe she was flying, in her mind. And I thought I was doing something good. Something important.” I shook my head. “But it was just using music to lie to them.” 
She doesn't answer for a minute, and then she says, “Lots of lying going around, huh?” 
“Yeah. Everyone keeps telling me it's not that bad, but it is.” I look down at my palms, at the blood that's still smeared there. I stuff the impetus to sob deeper inside of me. 
And she doesn't say anything. I don't look up at her. 
“So you just waiting to die now?” she finally asks. 
I blow out all the air that had been building up inside me. “I'm not going to wait.” 
“Why not?” 
I clench my fists. The paper towels crinkle under the pressure. My hands shake. There's a pressure inside me. “Because I'm broken.” 
“I ain't good for anything.” 
I finally look up at her. “What the hell does that mean?” 
She looks away from me. “Yesterday I made you laugh, right?” 
“Look at me. Do you see my wrists? Do you see how broken I am? But I made you laugh anyway. Something I did mattered. And your laugh made me feel better. Like I wasn't alone.” She's picking at the scabs on her wrist. 
“But I can't fly,” I say. 
“So sing about that.” 
“You said when you sang, people felt like they could fly again. But every song is like that. You can sing something I've never heard before. What it's like to not fly.” She swallows. “What would happen if you sang that at the facilities you were at before? Maybe they wouldn't feel alone either.” 
“Stretch it out, buddy. Come on. You know the drill by now.” 
I sigh and try. The therapist puts his hand on my wing and lifts. I groan as the muscles in my back bend in ways they haven't for too long. He keeps his hand there for a few moments and then relaxes. 
“See? You should be able to do this on your own by now.” 
I look at him. “Why? What's the point?” 
He crosses he arms. He thinks. “All right. I wasn't going to do this, but come on. Off the table. We're taking a trip.” And with that he trots toward the door. 
I slide off the table and stumble after him. He's moving quick, out of the therapy department and down one hall and then another. I get turned around. I've been here long enough now that I know a lot of the hospital, but he's taking me down ways I've never been. Finally he stops in front of a heavy metal door. He taps an entry code into the panel beside the door, and it hisses open. 
Inside it's just another room. But then I see it's not just a room, is it? It's more like long a corridor. There's windows along one side. At the far end there's some sort of device, and at the nearer end there's a heavy net. 
“Come on. Get in here.” 
I step in. The feathers on my wings stir ever so slightly. It's a sensation I haven't felt for a long time. “It feels like the sky,” I say. 
“It should.” He slams the door. Something heavy clicks into place in the door. “I've initiated the program. Do your best.” 
A breeze starts. It smells like metal and oil, not like the scent of the sky. The therapist leans into the breeze a little bit, but he doesn't flare out his wings to take flight. He shifts his stance to keep his balance. He hums as he faces the wind. 
The air pushes against me. I lean into it. I close my eyes, trying to imagine I'm in the sky again. The pressure increases. Not much. I should be able to stand here and embrace the wind, but something's wrong. I'm being pushed back. My left wing buckles. I cry out in pain and spin in the wind. I land face-first in the net. 
The breeze slows and ceases. I lay against the net. The therapist walks up behind me. “You want to know why you need your wings strong? I could tell you all sorts of things about how we use our wings for more than just flying. We use them for balance. We use them to regulate body temperature. It's more than just flight. But those things don't matter to you, do they?” He waits for me to respond. 
I don't. 
“Listen, buddy, you ain't the only one who struggles. I'm with you all the way. But until you're ready to fight for yourself, I can't do much, can I?” 
“You don't seem happy today.” 
I look across the circle at this other therapist. The one who's supposed to help us as a group come to terms with what's happened to us and be better. My face is slack. 
“Why don't you tell us about it, Kalani?” 
I sigh. “I'm tired of faking it.” 
Miriam sits next to me. She's supposed to take her turn after me, but right now it's my turn. Whatever. 
The therapist nods. “Good. Fake it until you make it works sometimes, but not for everything and not for everyone. In fact, sometimes faking it just makes it harder.” 
“So I should just wallow in my misery?” 
“Not wallow. But you can't deal with something you're hiding.” She waits. 
The people around the circle shift. 
Miriam looks over at me. “You're more than your wings,” she says. 
“What was that?” the therapist asks. 
Miriam is still looking at me. “You think your life is done just because you can't fly. But you're more than your wings.” 
The therapist nods. “She's right. We've all lost something here in this circle. And if we think all we are is what we've lost, we will never be better. We need to acknowledge the loss, mourn it, and then see that we are more than what we've lost.” 
“So we shouldn't fake being happy? Not just listen to singing?” Miriam asks. 
The therapist nods. “Singing cheerful songs doesn't always work.” 
“What about sad songs?” she asks. 
I can't smell medicine or plastic tables. There's no beeping down the hallway for a nurse. 
“Okay, buddy,” the physical therapist says. “We're here.” 
I nod. 
It smells like the sky. The wind spreads the feathers on my wings. My bones ache at the pressure there, but it doesn't matter. 
“Now what?” he asks. 
“If I asked you to leave me alone, would you?” 
He takes a deep breath. “No one's supposed to be on the roof. I could get in a lot of trouble. And if you jump.” 
I nod. “I won't jump. At least, I won't now. If I'm going to do that, I'm not getting you in trouble, all right?” 
He holds my gaze for a moment. “You got five minutes.” 
“I'll take it.” 
He turns and goes back to the roof access stairway. For the first time in too long, there is no one around me. Miriam is someplace else. There's no circle of chairs. It's just me and the wind. 
And I allow the emotions to come out of me. The loss of the sky. The grief of never moving the way I should. The stirrings of anger at others. The sheer brokenness of what I have become. 
And out of that brokenness, I sing. 
DreamForge Anvil © 2021 DreamForge Press
I Will Never Fly Again © 2021 Jonathon Mast