Icarus chewed his McNuggets while checking the classifieds. He noticed his gimpy wing’s tip had settled into the sweet and sour sauce. Fuck, he thought. Swallowing the questionable, ground up lumps, he wished for sleek, supple wings again. Wings that had landed him women, jobs, media attention. Or that he’d just died in the accident, ended it all.
Nothing in the want ads. The airline didn’t pay enough, so he picked up odd gigs. His last one had been at a crappy community college. An hour in the buff, wings stretched, for $20! Granted, his body wasn’t worth as much anymore. A potbelly rounded over his flabby abs, he had more fat on his thighs than most contestants on The Biggest Loser, and his hair receded faster than Tantalus’ water. His dad, Daedalus, had the same hair problems, but crafted his own plugs. He could call his dad, but they’d been on the outs since the accident.
Two weeks after the accident, UPS delivered a package with new wings and a note inside: “Dearest Son, Let your spirit soar. I will always support you. Love, Dad (alus).” Also, inside the box were instructions to visit their family doctor, who implanted the wings. Icarus was too proud to call and thank his dad. Now, the new wings were out of shape because Icarus was. Disgusted, he chucked the rest of the chicken at the trash.
Leaving the fast food joint, he whacked several people with the flawed wing, including a stooped elderly woman. He apologized, but they glared, rubbing their shoulders and heads. And now I have to go to work. Stuffing his belly behind the wheel of the rusted Toyota Tercel, he headed towards I-90 traffic.
Icarus chugged into the airport, gazed wistfully at a plane lifting off, the colorful “S” of the Spirit logo gliding away. Maybe using Obamacare he could get his wing looked at. Since he was part-time, he wasn’t eligible for the airline’s health insurance. His coworkers said it sucked, anyway.
When he clocked in at the check-in terminal eight minutes late, Earl asked Icarus to his office. As soon as Icarus trudged in, Earl started in on his “Early to Work Makes You Not a Jerk” speech. Icarus wasn’t paying attention to what his boss was saying, instead inspecting Earl’s desk. It was covered in books and half-penned disgruntled letters waiting to be mailed out to the books’ authors. If he even writes them himself. Icarus was pretty sure Earl couldn’t read or write.
Once his boss shut up, Icarus returned to the terminal. He dragged himself through one “Welcome to Spirit Airlines. Do you have any bags to check in today?” after another. As he dodged through the scanner returning from lunch, his funky wing lodged in the luggage conveyor. His coworker laughed that the X-rayed wing looked like it was made of nothing. Icarus grimaced. At exactly 4pm, he clocked out and headed home in traffic.
Eating a frozen dinner on the couch, he watched three episodes of Discovery: Birds in the Wild, then dressed for his moonlighting gig. Button-up shirt, khaki pants. His shirts were slit in back and the edges serged by a Vietnamese seamstress. She cut him a good deal – five shirts for $15. Icarus rapped on Aphrodite’s mahogany door right at 9pm. She answered wearing only a silk robe, ushered him in. No dressing up this time. Sexy.
At first, he wondered why Aphrodite wanted him. She could have (and often had) any man she wanted. She’d even flown him cross-country when she traveled for her beauty company, aptly named “Aphrodite.” But, on their third session, she’d produced a lighter from her kitchen cabinet and he’d panicked when she asked him to use it. Soon, though, he’d accustomed.
A quick cocktail, then Aphrodite shed the robe. Icarus started circling his wings on her body. The glitchy one’s tip got stuck in her buttcrack, but she moaned. When he feathered her left sideboob, she flipped over, grabbed his wrist and said, “Do the thing.” He grabbed the lighter and held it to the tip of his good wing, dripping his wing-wax on her areolas first. When she peaked, on her nipples. Aphrodite peaked a lot. I need another re-wax kit.
After she was spent, they chatted on her oversized French settee, and Icarus bemoaned his lack of flight. When she mentioned his bonus airline miles, he pointed at his wings. She nodded, then said, “Okay, you know I’m not a nice person. But, I like you. I have this fabulous physical therapist who helped me after that goddamn girdle gave me a strangulated colon.” She palmed a card from her handbag, handed it over.
“Call him. Tell anyone I did this, and I’ll poison you.”
“Aphrodite, you’re a goddess. Thank you!”
Icarus left for his apartment relaxed, whistling, with money in his pocket.
The next day, he snagged an afternoon appointment. The therapist said it was an easy fix, and worked with Icarus three times a week for a month. On the last visit, in the hydrotherapy room, Icarus extended his mended wing. He admired its again-graceful curve, and swore it shimmered under the fluorescent lights. The other clients oohed and aahed. Icarus beamed.
At home, he packed his backpack. He’d decided to glide to Jamaica. Anything was better than customer service hell for a shitty airline that The Onion made fun of. And when Aphrodite needed him, he could fly to her himself.
Icarus sailed into the air, his wings smooth and streamlined, his balding, obese body out of his mind for the moment. He was a teenager again, ignoring his frustrated father’s admonitions. What did his dad know, anyway? Viewed from behind, his silhouette spread across the setting sun. He never saw the plane coming. The glancing blow didn’t stop it from continuing along the path they had both chosen, the “S” of the plane’s logo curving effortlessly, far above his hurtling body, his twisted wings.
H. L. Nelson (hlnelson.com) is head of the online magazine Cease, Cows and Associate Editor of the university journal Qu. Her publications include Writer’s Digest, Nightmare Magazine, Lunch Ticket, PANK, The Big Click, plus over 50 others in the last year. H. L.’s poem “Absolution” was nominated for Best of the Net 2013. Her fiction chapbook, The Sea is Only Meat, will be out this year (Sundress Publications). She’s busy co-editing Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good, with stories by Aimee Bender, Rachel Swirsky, Mary Miller, Cat Rambo, and other excellent female writers (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2015).
Artwork: Tord Boontje, “Icarus Light”