All night, I keep watch; breathe in on his outbreath, drawing his air into my body. He stares blankly, focussed on a point above our heads. I stroke his ear, but he doesn’t react. Maybe he sleeps with his eyes open. All of them, including the hundreds in his wings.
I pad to the bathroom, grimace in the mirror. My hair is wadded onto one side of my head, teeth as stained as yesterday. I thought I’d be transfigured.
I call my mother. It goes to voicemail. You never believed in me, I say.
When I return, he’s in the same position: arms crossed, wings splayed over the mattress. I need his heat. The way he touched me. I tug a wingtip, pull out a quill. He doesn’t stir. I yank hard and the whole thing comes away, like ripping a page out of a spiral-bound notebook.
He yawns, stretches, sees me standing there with my arms full of feathers. He raises an eyebrow, says something that sounds like fleshdirt. I’m staring so hungrily I miss it. Before I can ask, he starts to ascend. I leap across the bed, grab his remaining wing. He shrugs it off like an unwanted garment and rises through the ceiling, leaving a scorch mark on the plasterwork and blowing the electrics.
The room reeks of ozone. I slump on the bed, gazing at the wings flopped on the carpet. I thought there’d be blood and pain. I nudge them with a toe, expecting them to flap around the room, trying to escape. They don’t budge. I lift one, press the stump against my shoulder. It fizzes weakly, like licking a battery. I hold it to my nipple and it reminds me of his mouth.
Colour rubs off, dusting my fingers with a lustre that fades as soon as it comes into contact with skin. That night, I arrange them beneath me, arms crossed over my breasts so he knows how to claim me.
By morning, the eyes have clouded over and are dull as beach glass. I nail them to the wall above the bed, so I can’t damage them any further. I sleep soundly under their protection, until the maggots find them.
I count the weeks, feeling myself change from the inside. Buy a test, wait for the blue line. It’s a false negative. Could hardly be anything else. I call my ex-husband, tell him I don’t need him any more. Tell him I’m complete. He says I need help, and do I know what time it is. Woman’s voice in the background, hissing, her again.
Don’t call me her, I hiss back, even though the line’s gone dead.
I call my mother and say, just you wait.
It could come at any time. It could take years. I tell myself this is joy.