Flash fiction by R Alexander
A cool breeze riffled several yellowed papers lying on Cyril's drafting table. Unable to concentrate for days, he had returned to an old vice, reminiscence, and sat now hunched over the slanted desk, elbows bent and sorting through a box of work from his college days: architecture textbooks, papers he'd written, and maps and plans for houses he'd once imagined. Brittle and crackling in the breeze, the papers he had lifted out and set aside were an irritation, and without looking up he stretched out his hand, picked up a stone he had there for the purpose, and placed it on the moving papers to still them. The stone, porous and grey, a relic of his dissolved marriage—his wife had been a hydrologist—felt warm from the sun that fell into this room through a long, high-arching window.
"This is all you've made?" The sound of this voice—it was unnecessarily loud—startled Cyril from his thoughts. The tone was cutting and judgmental.
He looked up. His father, Lambert, stood there, taller than he had been in life, smiling, beaming even, as though happy to see his only son. Two feathered wings stood out from his back, the cloth of his suit shredded at the scapulae. Cyril looked on in disbelief but also in awe. The wings were like those of a massive and muscular bird, and also somehow different, radiant and calming.
Noticing his son's fascination, Lambert smiled even more broadly. Then gesturing over his shoulder, he said with assurance, "They're what you'll have at my age."
The man had hair, again, too, a dark, slick sheen of hair, and wore a charcoal grey pinstripe, with a vest and black tie. "Age?" Cyril asked, his voice shriller than he had anticipated. "What is your age?"
The man frowned.
"You're dead. You don't have an age," Cyril said.
"Ah, yes," Lambert said sarcastically. "That's true. I'm ageless." He began to move about the room. Paunchy and pallid, his size, his bulk, became manifest as he moved. "This is your work now? Your life?" The large, powerful wings knocked a photo from off the mantle and gusted a stack of unpaid bills from off a filing cabinet. He stooped and gathered the large, framed, color photograph and stood up again, squinting at it and angling the glass to cut the glare.
"Where did you come from, anyway?" Cyril asked.
"I've sailed up to heaven and back," his father said. The sarcasm had muted. There was pride in this statement.
The wings commanded Cyril's attention; tightly folded as they were, they had a kind of gossamer purity. "You're an angel?" Cyril asked.
Lambert’s smile became wry and arrogant. "Why is that so surprising to you?" His eyes glittered. There was a luminescent quality about them, as if they reflected the light, as if there were no substance to them at all, giving them a look of vague otherness.
"That's not an answer," Cyril said. "You've come back from the underworld." Even Cyril wondered at the ease with which he was now able to challenge his father.
"Why do you call it the 'underworld?'" Lambert asked. "There is nothing over it." He smiled briefly at his joke then stopped to gnaw at a piece of loose skin on his lower lip. And smiling again he added, "Well, except, I suppose, metaphorically." He looked at his wrists and adjusted his cuff links. "But let's talk about something real, shall we? That wife of yours, for example, she was a real nice piece." He looked as though he were about to wink but then thought better of it. "Why did you ever let her go?"
Cyril naively believed his facial expression gave nothing away. "You never even liked her," he said. His voice narrowed. "You're the one who said I shouldn't take her too seriously."
"Oh, calm down." Lambert clucked his tongue and shrugged his shoulders. "She was a nice piece is all I'm saying." The wings moved slightly.
Loose papers fluttered into a pool of sunlight on the ground, Cyril looked down and noticed his father's wing-tip shoes and white spats. This Zoot-like fashion was the sort his father had aspired to but never had the guts to carry out when he'd been alive.
Lambert turned from the photograph and saw the quizzical look on his son's face. He placed the photograph face down on the desk. It slid slowly down the surface and came to rest at the lip end of the drafting table. He traded the photograph for the porous stone, picking it up off the stack of papers and seeming to examine it. The top sheet of paper motioned feebly but then seemed to lose its energy and lie still. "I'm just saying you drove her away, you know?"
"What?" Cyril asked.
"Don't you miss her?" Lambert set the stone down too.
"This is none of your business," Cyril said.
"You are my son," Lambert said as though announcing this for the first time. "I know you. You're lost in a labyrinth of nostalgia."
Cyril looked at his father, incredulous.
Encouraged, Lambert continued. "And I know, too, that you are the the child of a blazing glory." He raised his arms and his wings loosened and unfurled broadly.
Cyril saw his father's layered, scapular limbs, the fronded feathers, graying at their tips. There was no grace in them. Their residue, their dander, tickled his nose. "What are you even doing here?"
"I've come to get you." Lambert closed his eyes and sighed. "You're lost, and I can help you find your way. You could …." The words trailed off. He looked at his son and began again. "We could fly off together. We could fly higher than the clouds." He opened his eyes and smiled, looking out the curtains and into the bright, sunny sky.
"I can't fly," Cyril said.
"You can. You will. You'll see," Lambert assured him. "You can see everything, observe everything." His voice lowered and he added slyly, "You like that sort of thing." Then he continued, "The people below are small and silent. There are no human sounds from that height. No voices." Then he said, "It's wonderful. It's utterly unlike anything you've ever known." Motes swirled in beams of sunlight, following Lambert with elaborate affection as he moved about the room. "You are the child of an angel," he said. "Only aloft does the world repose before you like a painted map." He gestured with his hands, and his voice grew louder. "It's like you can see time," he said. "You can see time poured out before you like honey-sweet wine poured from an amphora!"
Cyril sat and took this in, imagining the past and future flowing together into the river of the present, flowing and knowable as though on a map, a map illustrated with dragons and mermaids and dire warnings of where not to go. With such a map, he could see the right path, he could correct his mistakes. "But how do I fly? I can't fly. I don't have wings."
"All you'll need to do is take a leap with me out this window, a leap of faith." His voice had grown resonant, stentorian, golden, almost, with encouragement. "Trust me," he continued. "The wings will come. Admittedly, there'll be an ache in your back at first, your trapezei and your rhomboids—the ripping is terrible—but, but …" He shook his head. "But, no, the point is …." Again the words trailed off. But then he added earnestly, "Just listen: you'll see." The smile became beatific, it seemed, and Lambert held his hand out in a gesture of offering. "Trust me. You won't regret it."
A pigeon fluttered down onto the window sill and began chirring. Its eyes were vacant and intense, its head bobbing as it marched in circles. The warm breeze felt real and present to Cyril. He looked out the window and thought it over.
R Alexander writes fiction, poetry, and essays and lives in the Pacific Northwest.