Freefall

Alexa Halpern

If one could fly, then it was wrong to stay glued to the ground. At least, that was what Mama

said every time she flapped her wings. She was always so proud as she displayed each beautiful hue and pattern woven throughout them. I loved to gaze at her when the sun was angled in just the right way, reflecting rays of sunshine over her lithe body.  

She was a work of stained glass. An angel within the walls of a church, light gleaming

through the window and causing her to glow.  

I wanted to look like her one day. However, my wings were crumpled, folded like wet paper

left forgotten in a rainstorm.  

“My wings were like that too when I was first hatched,” Mama said. She tucked her wings to

her back and smiled that picturesque grin of hers. “But they dried, and I was able to fly.” This was always followed by a show of her skill. With those words, she would dive off the side of the branch and float through the wind. The air carried her, breathing life into her lungs.  

I marveled at the sight each time. Her talent never failed to impress me, and I couldn’t wait

for my own chance to fly. One day, I too would flip through the air and flutter my wings in just the right way for the light to catch. I would defy gravity as I spun through the sky, catching the eyes of all that watched from below.  

One by one, my siblings began to fly. Some were more audacious than others, jumping off

trees without hesitation. Others allowed their caution to muddle their curiosity. Yet, they were all flying, just as gracefully as Mama was. 

They sang and danced through the wind, calling me by name in hopes that I would join

them in the sky.  

But my wings were still wet, still wrinkled. I could not risk it, not when my wings were not

ready. 

I hung upside down all day, flapping furiously to dry them. Even after they were no longer

slick with fluid, the wings remained crumpled.  

Mama tried to straighten them out, as did my brothers and sisters. Yet, with each brush of

their hands, the scales began to fall off, the color fading. My wings grew more translucent from the loss of color, more fragile from the lack of protection.  

“I’m sure it’s okay to fly,” my sister Mariposa said. It was impossible to distinguish the

emotions in her onyx black eyes, but her voice was full of hope. “As long as you don’t fly long distances.” 

Her words punctured my soul for the next several hours. I watched my siblings float to

flowers and sleep on their soft petals. They drank nectar and raced each other, giggling as the wind carried them slightly. 

Oh, how I too wanted to rest on the petals of roses and drink the nectar from marigolds. I

wanted to fly aside the hummingbirds and see who could flap their wings the quickest. But instead, I was stuck. Chained to the magnolia tree branch and forced to watch the others fly. 

But the longing was too much to bear. Their laughter rang through the air, mocking my

captivity. I wanted—needed—to fly. It was wrong to stay glued to the ground! 

I bolted and fast as my legs would take me and launched myself into the wind. 

And I was flying! 

Yes, the air was much sweeter up here, the sound of the birdsong much prettier. I spread

my wings as the wind carried me as far as it would allow.  

But I wasn’t flying.  

My excitement over being in the sky vanished as I realized I was plummeting, not floating.

The noises that I had mistaken for cheers were shouts, crying out for my safety.  

I flapped my wings as hard as I could, but the ground grew closer and closer. There was

nothing I could do. Fear gripped my heart, crumpling it to match the wings on my spine. It was overwhelming. I was going to die. And my siblings would watch.   

Blinding white pain shot through each nerve. My vision faded in and out. The ground felt

so stiff underneath me. I couldn’t move, forced to lay on the grass, nothing more than a tangled mess. Everything burned. 

Laughter—louder than anything I’d ever heard before—erupted beside me. The earth

shook, and I recognized the familiar motion of children nearby.  

I had never seen one up close. They were always so far away. While some of my sisters were

bold enough to venture near them, listening as they giggled at their colorful wings, I always stayed afar. Now that they were up close, I realized how enormous they really were. 

Their feet pounded on the grass, their long legs carrying them as they ran. The ground

quivered underneath them. 

A large shadow over me grew over me, and my heart quivered.  

The last thing I heard was a sickening crunch. 

Cut from Fall 2022