Oh so careful, Roan began unwinding the ace bandages, the ache in his shoulders cramping and close to unbearable. The binding was slightly sticky, gummy to the touch so as to keep its hold. More often than not it resulted in painful knots, but it was a necessary evil if the boy was to walk freely through the city. So Roan stood before the full length mirror which was too wobbly to be considered attached to the back of the bedroom door, undoing that day’s methodical work. Ashen feathers drifted to the floor in lazy pinwheels. Over and under and over and across his chest the bandaging unraveled until his wings fell slowly open, reluctant in their reveal.
He winced, the stiffened muscle intended for flight that had been strained into place for long hours now groaning in pained relief. Roan figured that the muscle would soon atrophy enough to lose its fight and the notion tugged the corner of the boy’s mouth into what very well might have been a half smile. Though bone was hollow, the wings, his wings, sagged as if weighed down by every drab, grey feather, plumage brittle in its little black V’s. The withering span framed the pale, pathetic figure that was its host. Roan was worn, sixteen and far too tired.
He tugged absently at the wrappings on his hands which concealed toughened, black skin and curved nails filed as close to the nerve as he dared. Feathers peppered his forearms in sparse patches and agitated streaks, the elegance that may have been there at one time long since gone. He resisted tracing the raw skin and blotchy marks he wished he didn’t have across his chest where he had torn away the soft, downy ruff that had been there before. Roan did not regret ripping away what had been there in the place of broken-off shafts that prickled his skin at sharp, hollow angles. After the incident, fistfulls of feathers clumped together by the red that was still beading up and smeared over his skin, had to be swept from every corner of the small apartment he had claimed squatter’s rights of.
All that remained of his baby fluff were rashes and a sick sense of accomplishment. He might have worried about infection at one point in his life, but this was not that point. Roan stood grimacing at his reflection, reflection grimacing back for just as long until, with heavy footsteps, he dragged himself away, wingtips brushing over the floorboards. The contents of the apartment were the boy, his bed, and not much else. He’d always traveled light, and always would. Wings lax and weighty on aching muscle, he pushed open the grotty kitchen window and lifted himself onto the fire escape with thin arms, making his slow methodic way to the rooftop.
It was a cool day, petricore still light in the air from that morning’s showers. Most people would be inside, tucked away from chilly windowpanes and wrapped up warm in blankets. It struck Roan as the most muted of ironies that his neighbours would be swaddled in blankets filled with the stuff he’s so frantically tried to rid himself of, sought comfort in the down. They could have it.
He shivered, wretched on the rooftop as wind bit at his exposed skin, leaving his nose pink and making gooseflesh rise. His wings limped along, lagging behind as he took even steps, looking over the city scene so clear and pleasantly washed of colour by the rain. His night vision was terrible, but even in the dimming evening he could make out the lights from the dark, soft glows of windows, the clean slice of headlights. A bird’s eye view. It was only appropriate.
The bones of his body were too heavy for flight and no matter how hollowed his wings or his chest, Roan never did fly. With his back to the patterns of city light, feathers in no hurry with their descent, the boy was grateful for the uselessness of his wings.