sorry for the length, it's rather long.
comments, suggestions, questions?
Red on white
I was the one who noticed it first.
We were leaving the club. I put my arm around her shoulder. It was too warm for a jacket, but still breezy. Her shirt was sticky and wet. I thought it was sweat at first—she had danced nonstop all night—but as she pulled away from me to maneuver better through the crowd, I saw that my arm was coated in a thick, goopy layer. It was so deeply red it looked black. I looked up at the back of her shirt. It was covered, clinging to her back. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed it.
“Lani,” I said, “you’re bleeding.”
I brought her home and made her sit in the bathtub. I took off her ruined shirt and hung it on the back of the door. She didn’t take her eyes off of it as I wet a sponge and slowly began to wipe the rich red blood off her back.
“Fuck,” she said. “I paid eighty-eight dollars for that shirt.”
The sponge was soaked. I rinsed it and kept wiping. “You didn’t notice that your back was bleeding all night? Christ, Lani, this is a lot of blood.”
She shrugged. “I sweat a lot when I dance.”
“Yes, but never this much. You would think that one of the guys you were dancing with would have noticed.”
She laughed a little. “Oh, they never look at my back.”
I thought about the broad-chested Russian man she’d brought to my table midway through the night. She was right, he certainly was far more preoccupied with Lani’s front than her back. I tried to remember if I’d seen any of her partners’ hands on her shoulders through the night. I could only recall their fingers circling her waist and wrists.
“I should dance with you more,” I said. Lani laughed again. She goes to the club to dance, I go to the club to drink. One dance with her at the beginning of the night, and then I find a table and throw back whiskey shots and dry martinis and watch the other men watching my swaying, sashaying girlfriend. I don’t complain. Someone has to dance with her, since I don’t. It’s possible that I stay back just to see her glance over at me every half hour or so. Don’t worry, her look says, you know I’m going home with you.
I watched the red swirl down the drain, like Psycho. I couldn’t believe how much there was. “How could you not have noticed? Doesn’t it hurt?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
I didn’t seem to be making any progress with the sponge. I put it down and looked hard at her back for any sign of injury. It was impossible to see through all the thick blood. I ran my hand across the top of her back.
She screamed. “Stop it, Michael!”
“Does it hurt?”
“Of course it fucking hurts. Stop touching it!”
“I’m trying to see where you’re cut. Just relax.” I reached out and touched her back again. She cried out in pain and leapt out of the tub.
“Stop, stop touching it!” she shrieked and darted into the bedroom.
I followed her. She had thrown herself onto our bed, facedown. The blood ran off her back and leaked down to the blanket. “Lani. Let me take you to the hospital.”
“No. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t touch me.”
“But darling,” I smiled, “touching you is my favorite thing.” I reached out to push her long dark hair out of her face. She jerked away.
The next morning I woke up covered in Lani’s blood. Thick, almost like oil. Lani was awake, red-black rivers running down her arms and matting her hair. She was on the very edge of the bed, still on her stomach, and looked deeply weary.
I lifted her, backside up, and brought her back into the bathroom. I began to sponge her arms, wash her hair. She said nothing.
“I’m taking you to a hospital,” I told her firmly.
“No,” she said, even more firmly.
“Why the fuck not?” I demanded. “Look at you, you’re exhausted from losing that much blood.”
She answered me in a very tired, little voice. “I’m exhausted because you kept touching my back in your sleep, and I had to keep scooting away from you.”
I was startled. “I’ll sleep on the couch tonight then.”
“Would you please?” Lani struggled to an upright position. Another wave of blood came pouring from the top of her back. Useless sponge. I turned on the shower. The water pounded her skin, washing a good deal of the blood away. I put a dab of shampoo in her hair.
The gluey black layer on her back finally began to thin. I looked hard for an injury.
I saw them. Two deep, pulsing gashes, about an inch long, running along the edge of her shoulder blades. They seemed to ooze blood with every beat of Lani’s heart. I looked closer. Stuffed inside the cuts were what seemed to be feathers. As I watched, a feather from the gash on the right slowly pushed itself out of the hole and unfurled. It was a shocking white, nearly glowing against the inky stream it was coming out of. The blood rolled right off of it, like spilled oil on a polished tabletop.
“Lani,” I said. “You’re growing wings.”
“What?” She shakily pulled herself out of the bathtub and staggered, still naked and dripping with red-tinted water, soap sliding into her eyes, to the full-length mirror in our closet. Shoving me away when I tried to help, she yanked open the door and stared at her back in disbelief.
Another feather was showing its tip through the cut on the left by this time. Lani reached over her shoulder and gently touched it.
I changed the sheets and changed the sheets. Weary from loss of blood, Lani could only lie on her back and crawl to the bathroom every once in a while. I washed the blankets and washed the blankets. The blood was staining everything. Lani was naked all the time, partially to keep her clothes from getting ruined, and partially because it was impossible to get a shirt on over her new spray of white feathers.
They were growing faster. Each shoulder blade now sported at least ten feathers, blossoming out of her bloody wounds like dandelions in a sidewalk.
She couldn’t go to work, she couldn’t stand up long enough to make her own food. I started taking half-days at work, to come home and wash the sheets, make her meals, sponge her skin.
Her gashes got bigger, traveling down her back.
“I can’t eat anymore.”
“What?” I had made a beautiful spinach salad with fresh tomatoes from the organic guy, twenty minutes out of my way. Lani hadn’t even taken a single bite. I had spent yesterday afternoon reading recipes for liver, which was supposed to be good for the blood, to make her dinner. “You can’t eat any more of this?”
“I can’t eat any more, period.”
I wiped a stream of blood from her thigh. “Is it my cooking?” I’d been cooking for her every day for over a week. It was nice to be doing something to help her, since she refused to let me take her to the hospital.
She pushed the salad away and lay down slowly, sinking onto her stomach. “You can eat it,” she mumbled, turning away from me.
“I don’t want to eat it. I made it for you. Croutons, see? I hate croutons.”
“No thank you, Michael.”
I picked a tomato slice out the bowl and ate it. It was delicious. So fresh. “Well, what about dinner?”
“No, Michael.” She turned gently onto her side, so that only her back faced me. All I could see were feathers and blood.
“Fine.” I dumped the salad into the trash. Lani said nothing. She reached behind her and gently stroked one of her feathers.
It wasn’t long before the press came.
It had to have been one of Lani’s squawking friends, because all I had told people was that my girlfriend was very sick. All at once, our apartment was gushing with newspaper reporters, television cameras, microphone wires. Lani laid in bed with a blanket over her butt, trying to answer their questions.
No, I yelled at them all, you can’t come in, you’ll wear her out, but they pushed right past me and stuck tape recorders and flash bulbs in her face. I couldn’t get to her through all the press. Between reporters I saw her throw me a glance, the same one she gives me in the club. I felt less than assured.
After two days the wave subsided. The television interview never aired. Too much blood for primetime, they said. However, a doctored picture appeared in the paper. ANGELS AMONG US? read the headline. Lani smiled out at me from the photo. They’d airbrushed away the red rivers that continuously ran down her limbs, and lightened the dark circles under her eyes. Her skin looked rosy and healthy, instead of the washed-out, drained white it was now. I didn’t know the half-winged girl in the photo. I’d never seen her before.
I looked back at the real Lani, the one bleeding into the sheets, new feathers starting to unfold from the lengthening wounds on her back. The only thing that was the same about the two Lanis was the hair, shiny brown and falling neatly around her head. “Can I see the picture?” she asked. I propped it up by the bedside for her to see. As she rolled over to look at it, I reached over and brushed the new feathers. She gasped in pain.
“Michael, Michael! Fuck! You know not to touch!”
I wanted to, though. I stroked again. Lani yelped and kicked at me. Her legs could barely move. “You can’t hurt me, “ I said.
“But you’re hurting me! What the hell is wrong with you?”
I left the room. I accidentally left a trail of bloody footprints from the bedroom to the living room.
That night I dreamt of pillows stuffed full with shining white feathers. Red pillowcases. I ripped open the pillow and pulled out handful after handful of feathers, tossing them up and letting them tumble down over me like snow.
Lani was screaming. The feathers began to fall a bit heavier. They hit my legs and arms with soft thumps.
I woke up. Lani was still screaming, kneeling on the bed in front of me. In each hand I held one of her wings. She was beating me with her exhausted little fists, swinging behind her as hard as she could, which wasn’t very hard. Startled, I let go. She whirled around to face me, slapping me in the face with her hair.
“What are you doing, what are you doing?” she cried.
I didn’t know. My hands were coated in her blood, but I hadn’t pulled out any feathers. I hadn’t been pulling at all. Just holding.
“Don’t touch my wings, you know it hurts me!” Her voice was high. Tears mixed with the spots of blood on her face.
I was sorry for a moment, then stopped. “You touch them. You touch them all the time.”
Lani reached back and clapped her hands over her feathers. “So what? They’re mine. And it doesn’t hurt when I do it.”
The feathers were starting to be visible over her shoulders. A thick protrusion was starting to come out was well, white like the feathers and covered with a silky down. Anyone would want to touch it, it looked so soft and beautiful. “Why? Why does it hurt when I touch it?”
“I don’t know, Michael. It just does! So please just get away from me!”
I didn’t move. “Did any of the guys at the club a few weeks ago touch your back?”
Lani, unable to sit up any longer, slumped down to the bed. “I don’t know. I don’t remember! What the hell does that have to do with it?”
“Nothing.” I got up to go back to the couch. I spotted the headline propped up by the bed. “That isn’t you,” I declared, pointing to the pretty girl in the picture. “You’re no fucking angel.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean!” Lani threw the newspaper at my head. It barely made it to my feet. I picked it up and left the room.
The next day I made the liver dish I’d read about. When I brought it in to her, she turned her head. “Ugh, the smell of that makes me sick. I said no food, remember?”
“You have to eat something. You’re getting weaker and weaker every day.” I held her mouth open and popped in a piece of meat. She spit it back at me.
“Michael! I told you before I can’t handle any food right now. Wait until the wings finish growing in.”
“You can’t wait. You have to eat now.” I held her head still. She was far too depleted to fight back. All she could do was refuse to chew, so I gave her tiny little morsels and tipped them down her throat.
She jerked her head away from me and retched spectacularly over the side of the bed. I knew when I was beaten and dumped the liver dish into the trash.
Lani glared at me, vomit still all over her chin and cheeks. Her hair had gotten in the way, and it dripped with yellow goop. Silently, she dragged herself into the bathroom and climbed into the tub.
After cleaning up blood for two weeks, cleaning up vomit was hardly an issue. Dutifully I did so and took the bloody sheets down to the laundry room. When I returned to the bathroom, I found that Lani had chopped off great chunks of her hair.
“It was in the way,” she said without being asked. “It was always getting blood in it, and kept getting caught on my feathers.”
The water she sat in was a swirling stew of hair, blood, and vomit. I drained the water and began filling the tub afresh. She pushed me away when I tried to sponge her off, though.
“Go away,” she said. “Don’t touch me.”
I didn’t touch her again. I found a broom and swept up the hair that hadn’t fallen in the tub.
A week later. I woke up to a chill in the air. Thinking of Lani, naked and weak on the bed, I rushed into the bedroom. I found the window open, with Lani sitting on the bed staring out of it.
I looked from her to the window. “Are you trying to kill yourself? It’s way too cold outside to sit here naked with the window open.”
She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she looked at me and opened her wings wide.
They were fully grown. I saw that for the first time in weeks, blood wasn’t running down her legs.
The feathers were so white, they shone. I couldn’t help it; I reached out to touch them. Lani recoiled away from my hand, leapt up, and hurled herself through the window.
She flapped her great giant wings and sailed off through the air. I suddenly had a recollection of that night at the club, before I ever felt the blood on her shirt, when I sat down to drink and she started dancing.
I watched her fly. She never turned around to give me a glance. I closed the window.
thanks for reading!