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Jennifer Macaire

An Impossible Woman

It started as an itch in the middle of her shoulder blades. At first, Ann didn’t pay

attention to the slight pain. It grew though, taking over her dreams and waking her up in the

middle of the night with a strange aching that encompassed her chest as well as her back,

making her feel terribly sad, for some reason. The feeling was not unlike keen sorrow, that

band of tightness that makes breathing an effort.

She went to see her doctor, and he tapped her chest and back, peered into her open

mouth and shined a pinpoint of light into her eyes. He raised his eyebrows when she

described her symptoms. Then he prescribed a light tranquilizer, patted her on the shoulder,

and called to his nurse to show her out.

Ann thought that he has been kind, polite, and unconcerned. She understood that he

had seen nothing wrong with her so she assumed that she was fine, simply a little nervous.

Perhaps it was because her divorce was so recent, and she missed her stepchildren with an

intensity that overwhelmed her. Her husband had been married before. Twice before. She

should have known. As Wife Number Three she had inherited two adorable stepchildren from

a previous marriage, and her husband’s compulsive dishonesty. The marriage only lasted two

years, long enough for him to undermine totally her opinion of the male sex. Then he’d left,

taking the children, moving back to Germany.

Was it because he was foreign she had married him so quickly? More likely, it had

been the surprising combination of blond hair and dark, penetrating eyes. He had the quick,

easy smile of a youth, and the serious gaze of a man. The steady stare was a sham. She had
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found that out soon enough. However, the two children had enchanted her. Their names were

Daren and Mandy. They had been left with their father after their mother, absent minded,

stepped in front of a tramway in Italy.

Nothing is perfect, thought Ann, as she wrote long letters to the children and sent them

hand-knitted sweaters and mittens. She pictured Germany as being perpetually cold, locked in

ice, as her husband’s heart had been. She worried constantly about Mandy’s health, and

Daren’s nightmares. They never answered her letters; they were too young to write properly.

She woke up sometime before dawn. The sky was still dark but it had that thin look

about it that meant daybreak was not far. She didn’t know what had woken her until the itch

reminded her. That prickling! It had grown from a tingle, like the whisper of a feather across

her skin, to an insistent itching. She tried to scratch herself, but of course, it was right in the

spot she couldn’t reach.

The next day her back ached and she felt definite knobs on her shoulder blades. It was

very curious. Her skin felt tender around them, like a tooth growing.

She went back to her doctor and he prodded and frowned, and told her to get some rest

and see a chiropractor if the pain continued. He didn’t notice any lumps.

On Saturday, Ann woke up with wings.

It was quite amazing, actually. She woke up and felt heaviness behind her, as if her

shoulder blades had become leaden. No, not that heavy, but more solid. She reached

backwards, sleepily, and touched…feathers?

That woke her up. She bounded out of bed and looked. She couldn’t believe it. She

had wings, big, shimmery, silvery wings.

They were as obedient as her arms. It was as if she’d always had them. She could fold

them, stretch them out effortlessly. The first time she’d unfolded them it felt painful, like legs
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that had been bent too long. She knocked over a lamp because they were much bigger than

she thought. The feathers were soft and smelled faintly of roses, but why this was she couldn’t

imagine.

She was terrified and exhilarated. She was torn between wanting to scream and

wanting to sing. She hoped it was all a dream and she hoped she would never wake up. In the

garden, in the shadow of the maple trees, she practiced gliding. She couldn’t wait to fly, but

she was mortally afraid someone would see, so she only went out after it was dark. She didn’t

eat all day, she had no hunger, only that intense feeling of excitement rushing through her

veins. Her hands were drawn to her wings and she stroked the feathers, drawing them around

her like a cloak of swan’s down.

That night, since she had no fear of heights, she flew high into the air and circled the

sleeping countryside as silently as an owl.

The desire to tell someone about her wings was so overpowering that before she

realized it she had dialed her mother’s phone number. After fifteen rings or so, her mother

answered in her hesitant voice.

“Mother? It’s me, Ann.”

“Darling! How sweet of you to call. I missed your visit last week.”

“I was there mother, don’t you remember?”

“Oh yes. And the children, how are they? Have they grown? I do want to see them

before they’re all grown.”

“They’ve gone back to Germany with their father.” There was a minute of silence,

then she added, “I told you, remember? Last week.”

“Yes, but have they grown?” Ann’s mother sounded querulous.

“Of course they have. Is Mrs. Baker with you?” Ann asked.
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“She went out to get the groceries dear. She’ll be back in a tick. Do you want to leave

a message? Whom shall I say is calling?”

“It’s Ann, mother.” Ann’s hand fluttered helplessly in the air as she stared bleakly at a

photograph of her mother and her hanging on the wall. “I wanted to tell you something,

something incredible.”

“Oh yes, please do! I love incredible stories!”

“I’ve grown wings mother, beautiful wings to fly with. If you want I can come over, in

the evening, and I’ll show you.”

“Oh Ann! Oh Ann, how wonderful!” her mother’s voice was vibrant. “I always

dreamed of having wings. I flew in my dreams. I would fly forever. Sometimes, when you

were a little girl, I would tell you stories about all the places I visited in my dreams. I made

them into bedtime stories. Do you remember darling?”

Ann nodded silently, tears glittering in her lashes.

“I know you remember. How wonderful.” She sighed and there was a deep silence

between the two women. “Oh Ann, I’m so happy for you. Now you can go wherever you

please. Do you remember the land of pillows? I used to save that story for last and then I’d lift

you up, plop you down on your pillows and bounce you gently for a while. You would fall

asleep with the sweetest smile on your face. You were such a precious little girl.” Her voice

caught in her throat. “Why do children grow up? I loved you so much. I still love you, but it’s

never the same. You don’t need me anymore. You had such little hands and feet. You listened

to my stories with such a rapt expression on your face.” She clicked her tongue. “Oh well, the

wheel does turn. Here comes Mrs. Baker,” and without a good-bye, she hung up.

Ann stared at the telephone in her hand. Then slowly she replaced the receiver. There

was a queer buzzing in her ears, and her head felt as if it were about to float off her shoulders.
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She sat down on her couch and thought. She reflected on all the different choices that she had

suddenly, now that she had wings.

If the FBI or the CIA got a hold of her, she would spend the rest of her life as a

classified top secret. Caged and chained in the basement of some government building while

scientists spent hours trying to find ways of growing wings themselves or how to use her as a

weapon. If the church got hold of her, she would become a symbol, an avatar, and a powerful

tool for whoever wanted to forward their own religion. If tabloids got wind of her, she’d

spend the rest of her life as the cover of some scandal paper, right alongside the headless dog

and the ghost of Elvis.

That night she made a small belt for herself, tucking in its pocket the necklace and

rings her mother had given her, her grandmother’s lace wedding veil, and some tissues. She

still had no need of food; the very thought of eating made her nauseous. She did feel thirst,

and she drank some bottled water. The tap water was suddenly too acrid for her. When she

held the glass up to the light, she saw that her hands were nearly as transparent as the glass

and faintly opalescent.

She left a note on her door, saying that she was going on an extended trip to Europe,

and that anyone who was cold, hungry, or simply wanted a stereo or television set, was

welcome to come in and help themselves. Before she flew away, she picked a small, white

rose from her garden. Mandy had helped her plant the rosebush, but she’d left before it had

flowered.

She flew to Germany. Crossing the Atlantic was not as fearsome as she had thought it

would be. The cold didn’t bother her, or the rare air at high altitude. She flew with the jet

stream, streaking over the dark water through the night, arriving in Germany just as the dawn

was coloring the sky pink.


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She had her husband’s address, and she had torn out a page from her atlas. She flew

over Germany, holding the paper in front of her, swooping low to check signposts when there

was no one in sight.

He lived in a small town near the coast. That made it easy for her. She followed the

long, gray beaches and dunes until she arrived at the village. She landed and folded her wings

behind her, covering them with a pale blue cloak she’d carried with her. Then she walked

around, admiring the quaint town. The houses had thatched roofs and neat gardens. There was

a faint sprinkling of April snow on the ground in the shade, and in the sun, crocuses had

pushed their yellow and purple heads out to check on spring. The streets were very clean and

the hedges all clipped. Her husband had a house on the very end of a quiet street. As she

watched, a woman came out of the house and shook a rug out. He had gone back to live with

his parents he’d told her, but she very much doubted his mother was so young. “Mandy,

Daren, hurry up, you’ll be late for school!” she called back into the doorway.

Ann held her breath. The children trotted obediently out of the house. They paused to

give the woman a peck on the cheek. Then they made their way down the sidewalk, wearing

their backpacks. Mandy was wearing the cap Ann had knitted for her.

“Hello my dears,” said Ann, stepping out from behind the tree.

“Oh! Ann!” they both cried and flung themselves into her open arms. “We missed you

so much. Thank you for the letters and the clothes. Papa said you wouldn’t come, but I knew

you would,” said Mandy, reaching up and stroking her cheek. “You look prettier than ever.”

“Here’s a rose, I picked it for you. And here’s a little shell for you, Daren.” Ann

blinked back tears, but they slid down her cheek anyway, falling with little tinkling sounds on

the ground.
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“Look, you’re crying diamonds,” said Mandy in awe. She crouched and picked up a

sparkling stone. “It’s lovely,” she said softly. “Why are you here? Did you miss us?” she

added.

“I missed you dreadfully. I simply had to come and see you. I wanted to know if you

were happy, if you had new friends, if you loved your new home.”

“We’re happy,” Daren said. “We go to the beach when the weather is nice. We’re

learning German, and our teacher is very patient. Papa has a new wife,” he said, opening his

eyes wide all of a sudden. He looked like a little owl and Ann laughed.

“Is she kind?”

“Not as kind as you, but she’s very nice. She keeps telling us that she’s trying hard,”

said Mandy. She shrugged, then peered closer at Ann. “What’s that behind you, under your

cape?”

“Wings,” said Ann. “I had to grow them before I could come see you.”

“Ohh, Ann, they are so bee-you-tee-full!” exclaimed Mandy. “I always knew you were

an angel,” she added.

Daren nodded, eyes still wide. “Can you really fly?” he asked.

“I’ll show you, Ann said. They walked together to the cliffs near the ocean and Ann

took off her cloak and soared into the air. The wind lifted her up and she was buoyed upon the

air currents, her wings outstretched, floating above the children in a nimbus of light. She flew

in a circle above them, then landed lightly on the grass. She laughed, pure joy in her voice. “I

can come and see you whenever you wish,” she told them.

“We’re so glad,” said Mandy. “We’re really glad, but we must go to school now, if

we’re late we’ll be punished.”

“I know. I’ll let you go. Give me one more hug, each of you. If you ever need anything

just write. Here is my new address. Don’t ever tell anybody about my wings. All right?” She
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gave them each a card, with a new address printed upon it. The children took them and put

them carefully into their backpacks.

“I won’t lose it,” said Daren, and I’ll write, as soon as I learn how.”

“I can write a little now,” said Mandy.

“Goodbye, goodbye,” called Ann. She felt the wind, like an irresistible current, pulling

at her. She opened her wings and soared away. The children watched, looking upwards until

she was lost in the vastness of the sky over the ocean.

The next day Mandy and Daren were surprised to see their father coming home from

work early. He told them to sit down and with a tragic expression on his face, told them that

Ann’s house had burned down and that apparently she had perished in the fire. After the initial

shock had worn off Mandy said, “but papa, she’s not dead. She’s an angel.”

Daren nodded furiously. “She’s a beautiful angel papa, you should see her; she has

wings now, huge, silver wings. She can fly. And her tears are diamonds, show him Mandy.”

Mandy frowned at him and shook her head suddenly, sharply. Daren made his owl face

again, and his mouth snapped shut. Their father hugged them, looking over their heads

towards Inga, his new wife. “What a beautiful thought,” she said, but he frowned.

“Who told them about angels?” he asked angrily. I certainly never did. I told Ann I

wanted my children to be raised atheists.”

“She must have been lovely, to inspire such remarks from the children,” said Inga.

“She was an impossible woman. That’s why I left her,” he said.