SmokeLong Quarterly

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Worried & Wondering

Story by Aaron Burch (Read author interview) March 15, 2008

Watching his wife sleep, her small chest inflating the morning, then breathing it back out, Sven felt something missing. His body rested differently on the mattress, the pillow met his head at an unusual angle; buoyancy and weight pulled at his body, dueling as sleep drifted away. His wife’s body rose and fell, rose and fell, in and out. He suddenly realized his wings were gone.

“What’s wrong, baby?” Kizmet asked, eyes still asleep.

“Nothing. Why?”

“You are staring at me.” Kizmet rolled toward Sven, up onto her arm like a kickstand. She opened her eyes.

“I was just watching you sleep.”

Sven felt as though he’d woken, startled, in the middle of a dream, but couldn’t think what it might have been. He realized he couldn’t remember any dream he’d ever had. The entire idea felt foreign; he was sure he’d known it at some point but it didn’t feel familiar.

“I was actually wondering what you might be dreaming.”

“I was dreaming of school again,” Kizmet answered. “I was running to my classroom for a test I wasn’t ready for. So cliché.” A smile peeked out as she realized it hadn’t been real, she could let go of the stress. “You?”

“I don’t know,” Sven answered. He thought of his wings and what it felt like without them. “I guess I didn’t have any.”

“You always dream,” Kizmet said. “Everyone does. Maybe you just don’t want to tell me.” She tucked her head into the crease of his arm, pushed morning away a little longer.

While her husband showered and dressed for work, Kizmet returned to sleep, Sven’s pillow tucked into her body, replacement. On his way out the door, wingless, Sven bent down and gave his wife the softest kiss on her forehead his lips could give, replacing his regular morning angel-kiss goodbye—bent knees and back to his wife, gently flapping his wings together against her cheek and forehead. Kizmet’s eyelashes flickered and her body gave a quiver before tightening around the pillow, but she didn’t open her eyes, never opened her eyes.

Sven had been taken with Kizmet from the moment they met. He loved her name; that was the first thing he told her he loved. “I love your name,” he said. Later, “I love your hair.” “Your dress.” “Your hands when I’m holding them.” He worked his way up, setting down building blocks during the construction of their relationship until he felt he had a foundation to stand on.

The first time Sven took her home to meet his mother, Kizmet marveled at the pictures, imagining the stories behind each. She had never asked Sven too many questions. Never mentioned his wings, never gave any special attention or asked what it was like to have them. Never asked about his family. They made their way down the Hall of Sven’s Youth, looking at pictures, his mom still unaware they had arrived. Kizmet stopped in front of a family picture taken by a stranger, a single tree in an open field in the background. The family was all smiles in unidentified vacation setting, agreement to not look directly at the camera.

“That was on a road trip when I was in seventh grade,” Sven said. “Seventh or eighth, maybe.” A man stood in the foreground looking like a statue, a small building. “He passed away the winter after that picture.”

Kizmet’s eyes v’ed into the bridge of her nose and she leaned forward, entranced, until a mother’s inhale of excitement followed by calls of welcome flew through the house and broke the spell. For the next two hours, the three ate and shared stories and laughter, a gentle awkwardness gliding through the room. Sven fidgeted uncomfortably, Kizmet felt a pang of schadenfreude, and Sven’s mother never noticed a thing.

In the driveway before heading home, opening the car door for her, “I love you,” Sven slipped, without thinking.

“Finally,” Kizmet said. And laughed. Sven blushed. “I love you too,” she said. “It was cute, the way you kept telling me you loved my hair or the way I hold your hand.”

Sven grabbed the hands he had told her he loved, looked into the eyes he loved, and kissed the lips he’d loved since he had first seen and kissed them.

The smells and tastes of morning felt different. The way his heart beat against his chest. The stickiness in the air.

Everywhere he went, Sven expected stares and curious looks, but none came. At work, tasks were completed, coworkers walked back and forth, hours flew by. Work was done.

The only difference was in Sven. Where he flapped his way through most days with ease, his first wingless hours required an active participation that pulled at his muscles. His body felt the more tired because of it but he also felt more alive, more used, startled to action. He felt more aware and the attention brought a speed to the day. Work began, work was over.

By workday’s end, the cloudy haze of fog had turned to storm and Sven decided to walk home. He slowed down and allowed himself to enjoy it, walking in as opposed to through the rain. As he walked, instinct tightened his muscles, his natural tendency being to pull his wings up over his head to hood his body, the water guttering down the central fold of the combined wings, but his shoulders only tensed. He arrived home ocean-wet, carrying pools of water behind him.

“What happened?” Kizmet asked, grabbing her husband’s face in her hands, water falling over them.

Sven shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. It felt good.”

In bed, Kizmet backed herself into the fold of her husband.

“Tell me something.”

“What? Just… something? Anything?”

“Something about your day. Or, something sweet.”

Sven wondered how his day had gone and worried what night might bring. He wondered what sleep might be without dreams. Closing his eyes, Sven pictured wings falling from the sky, floating back and forth like leaves, dozens and hundreds and thousands of wings everywhere, all falling down. He hugged his wife’s body into his own and let himself think about forever—forever with Kizmet, forever without wings. He pictured a little version of himself running around their house, jumping into bed with them, and wondered whom he might take after. Would he never know a morning woken up after beautiful dreams or horrible nightmares? Would that be good or bad?

Sven adjusted himself, the contours of his wingless body not fitting quite right with his bed and wife.

“My day was… I don’t know. Another day. I spent most of it waiting for it to feel different but it never really did.”

“Another day.” Kizmet echoed. She shimmied her body back and forth, trying to compensate for her husband’s restless moving, trying to get everything just right.

About the Author

Aaron Burch is the editor of Hobart.

This story appeared in Issue Twenty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty

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