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art by Shane M. Gavin

Fairy Tales

Eliza Victoria is from the Philippines and is the author of Lower Myths (Flipside Publishing, 2012) and the short story collection A Bottle of Storm Clouds (forthcoming from Visprint). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications, including The Pedestal Magazine, Stone Telling, Story Quarterly, Expanded Horizons, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series. Visit her at sungazer.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter (@elizawriteshere).
***Be Advised. Mature Language in the story that follows***
There was a girl in a white dress crying inside the MRT station. She was sitting all by herself on a bench on the platform, farthest from the entrance but closest to the doors of the first car of the train. She was all alone because the train had just left, taking the rest of the commuters with it. Dante, on his way to work, had missed the train. He would have missed seeing the girl's wings, too, if he weren't standing at the right angle.
The platform was again slowly filling up with new passengers. Dante walked up to her, then stopped short. He wondered how long she had been sitting there, how many had seen her wings. Maybe no one had, Dante thought, because if someone did, the guards would have had picked her up and escorted her out of the station before anyone could snap a picture for their Facebook Wall. Fairies were prohibited from displaying their wings in public.
So young. Perhaps less than two hundred moons. Her wings were still transparent, still lacking that pink, green, or lilac hue that Diwata wings take on with age. A protester? But protesters didn't protest alone, unless there was a new movement for tearful, solitary demonstrations that Dante had failed to pick up from the evening news.
"Um," he said, finally finding the courage to speak to her. "I'm sorry, but I think you need to fold your wings now."
The girl looked up. Her expression nearly broke Dante's heart. "I can't," she said, hiccupping.
"You can't?"
"I ca-han't," she repeated in a plaintive voice. "They wouldn't fold."
"How come?" Dante was confused. "Oh my goodness, are you injured?"
The girl cried. Dante glanced around and zoomed in on a guard facing their direction.
"You really need to cover yourself up," Dante said. "You might end up in jail. Can I put my jacket over your back?"
The girl nodded. Dante wore a jacket that was too big for him--Crystal often said he looked like a child in it--but it was successful in covering the girl's unmentionables.
"Is everything all right?" Dante nearly jumped out of his skin when the guard spoke up.
"Oh, yes," Dante said. "My, um, sister, um, has a headache."
"There's a clinic nearby."
"I see. Thank you."
"You just go down the stairs and turn left."
"Okay," Dante said, thinking, Please walk away.
The guard walked away. Dante turned back to the girl.
"I think we need to get you out of here," Dante said. "Where are you headed, anyway?"
"Home?" the girl said, and started crying again.
"You can't ride on the train with your wings unfolded like that."
The girl looked at her hands folded on her lap.
"I live nearby," Dante said. "You can sit in the living room and shake this off or something. You can phone someone to pick you up. Don't you have a phone?"
"It died."
"Let's have it charged, then." Dante smiled. "I'm Dante. What's your name?"
"You know I can't tell you my real name," the woman said, firing up a cigarette. She was wearing a short red dress, form-hugging and flattering, and a pair of black pumps with sky-high heels. Waiters came to their table unprompted, bearing extra napkins and glasses and glasses of water. They couldn't stop looking at her. Pauline was amused.
"Of course," Pauline said. "I'm sure you'd like to remain anonymous for the--"
"Diwata don't give you their real names," the woman said. "Every single one of them, every single Diwata you've met and befriended, they've given you fake names. Your name holds enormous power, and to reveal your name is to surrender that power. Back in the days of Lambana I could throw a potent hex at anyone whose real name I knew." She paused. "But then Lambana's been dead for more than a hundred moons now, so why the silly precaution, right? I mean, what's the worse you can do, follow me on Twitter? Old habits die hard, I guess."
She blew smoke out the side of her mouth. "Sorry about that. Bad day at work. Anyway. I've settled with Crystal as my name. Just use C in your article. But you can call me Crystal."
Pauline nodded and added the name to the scribbles on her pad:
1880's--discovery
1995--Queen's murder
2000--assimilation (complete?)
2004--the case of T., car accident; emergency wing removal surgery; botched operation; died
2005? 2006? Check
2009--introduction of Diwata wing removal as cosmetic procedure
Crystal
"And how is your mother?" Crystal asked.
"A bit worried," Pauline said. Pauline's mother, Ces, was Crystal's boss in the marketing department before Ces was assigned to work in Singapore. During her despedida, she mentioned to Pauline that one of her colleagues had finally decided to have her wings removed. That was five months ago, and Pauline never forgot.
"She thought I'd be mad because she told you I'm post-op?" Crystal smirked.
"Are you? Mad, I mean."
Crystal shrugged. "Everyone knows."
"I remember seeing you," Pauline said. "Back when you had them."
"Was I prettier then?"
Pauline laughed, because she didn't know how else to respond.
"You look too young to be working," Crystal said.
"Not too young. I'm nineteen years o--excuse me--about two hundred and thirty moons. This is just freelance work."
"Why this topic?"
"I'm interested." Pauline took out her camera and her digital recorder.
"Interested," Crystal said, in a way that made Pauline feel ashamed. She balanced her cigarette on the ashtray. "I understand you'll need a picture?"
Crystal reached back and zipped down her dress before Pauline could say, "Later." She faced the back of her chair and slipped down one sleeve. Pauline raised her camera and pushed the button. The surgical scar, an open parenthesis before her right scapula, was two handspans long but could very easily be hidden by a concealer. Pauline imagined the waiters looking and scurrying away.
"It's healed well," Pauline said, and helped her zip up.
Crystal resumed smoking her stick. "The doctor gave me a cream. It's a bit expensive, but the scar will be invisible in no time. Funny--" she chuckled "--when the news broke that cosmetic surgeons are starting to specialize in wing removal, I was disgusted. Removal! Like they're warts, or an extra finger. Our magic is dead, Lambana is dead, and now they're offering to excise the remaining piece of our identity. I promised myself that I would never, ever, undergo that procedure, unless I'm on the brink of death, like that poor Diwata who died in oh-four. Or maybe not even then."
"What made you change your mind?"
"Five months ago I was hurrying to catch the train when my wings suddenly unfolded," Crystal said. "They were mutilated by the train doors. I don't even know how to describe the pain. Diwata wings look so thin and fragile, so I guess most humans think you can just snip them off and you won't feel a thing. But it fucking hurts, I tell you. Like maybe if you had your legs crushed by a car. I passed out, and when I woke up I was in the hospital, and the doctor was telling me I could decide to keep what's left of my wings, but I wouldn't be able to fold them and hide them under my skin anymore, and there could be infections and complications and other shit, so I said 'Doc, let's just remove them.'"
Crystal looked at Pauline and saw the expression on her face.
"Your mother didn't tell you the whole story, didn't she?"
"No, she," Pauline said, flustered. "She said you'd decided to have them removed. I thought it was a cosmetic thing. I'm so sorry."
Crystal nodded. "Phantom wings. That's the hardest thing. Every morning you stand up and try to unfold something that isn't there anymore. When it's cold that missing part feels paralyzed, and in the summer that missing part yearns for shade. And the dreams! When I still had my wings I would have flying dreams every now and then, but after the operation I had a flying dream every single night. The exact same dream: one single loop, a view of trees, then I would wake up and feel like it's the end of the world.
"Sometimes I see a group of post-ops and I judge them in my head. Fucking hypocrites. Fucking traitors. But like them, I'm wingless now, so what difference does it make? My closest friend also had his wings removed, as a sign of solidarity. We used to fly together. Before the accident we'd often go to Diliman, to that grassy hill overlooking the Athene construction site--you know the place? The one the company abandoned in oh-nine?"
Pauline said, "I know the place."
"We'd go there, late at night, and we'd fly together, relive the old days. But since I can no longer fly, my friend had the operation. Now his is a cosmetic decision, but also a decision borne out of friendship. But what difference does it make?"
"So you regret it?"
"I regret that we are going to die without wings," Crystal said. "You've heard the latest results from the tests. They're all over the news. We're completely barren. We can no longer reproduce. We're the last generation of Diwata, and we have no wings."
"'But have no fear, Sons and Daughters,'" Pauline said, looking at her hands, "'you will rise again--'"
"'--and your wings shall be filled with rain and all the moonlight of your days, and yours will be the glory of Lambana.'" Crystal sighed. "You've read the Book of the Moon. How impressive."
"I saw a translation online," Pauline said. "I hope you don't think I'm being offensive."
"Not at all."
Silence. "I hope the afterlife really is that beautiful," Pauline said.
Crystal's eyes were sad. "Me too," she said. "Me too."
"I saw a Diwata suddenly take flight along Panay Avenue. He flew so high up so fast he got tangled up in the electric cables."
"You were there?" Pauline said. "I saw that in the news." She was sitting, hugging her knees and chewing her thumbnail, while Ilaria lay beside her, an old gray blanket beneath them. Between them a huge flashlight shone a forlorn beam toward the general direction of the Athene construction site, but was swallowed by darkness before it could even illuminate a single cement block. At least there was a full moon. Pauline was thankful. With the moonlight they could at least see the half-finished columns and the point where they stopped rising from the ground. The utter lack of electric cables.
The sky, dotted with stars, was patient and waiting.
"He died," Ilaria said. The dead Diwata could have been her brother, the way her voice sounded. Pauline glanced at her, at Ilaria's white top with the lace sleeves and cutoff shorts and dirty Chucks, her wide-open eyes. "His wings and back were burnt to a crisp."
"I know."
"They're saying its urban depression that developed into a full-blown psychotic break." Ilaria sighed, lifted her leg, and used the momentum to sit up. Pauline felt a soft breeze against her cheek as Ilaria unfolded her wings. "It's sad, isn't it? He just wanted to fly."
"Tell me about Lambana," Pauline said, that night when they first met. Ilaria took night classes in the university where Pauline was working on her undergraduate degree, and one dark evening, as Pauline walked to her dorm, she saw a Diwata in a secluded section of the library garden. She had her back to Pauline, one hand holding onto a tree. She was stretching her wings. Pauline stopped, mesmerized. It had been years since she last saw Diwata wings unfolded to their full length. The Diwata's wings shone silver. Pauline had never seen anything like it.
There was a bag with its contents half-spilled on the grass at the Diwata's feet, and Pauline ran to her without thinking.
"Are you okay?" she asked, breathless from the sprint.
"Shit!" the Diwata said, folding her wings in reflex.
"I'm sorry," Pauline said. She gestured to the bag on the ground. "Were you mugged?"
"Almost," the Diwata said, and snatched up her bag. "I slapped him away with my wings."
"Oh, I didn't know you could do that," Pauline said. The Diwata's eyes had silver flecks in them, the same silver as in her wings.
"It's a closely guarded secret," the Diwata said, and laughed.
"My name is Pauline." She extended her hand. The Diwata hesitated for a second but eventually shook it. "Maybe you should report what happened to the police. The student council's been asking for more guards for--"
"No," the Diwata said, and shouldered her bag. "I'd rather go home."
"Sorry," Pauline said.
"Or," the Diwata said, "I can go get some tea to calm my nerves. Want to come with?"
"Oh." Pauline said. "Okay." The Diwata had already started walking, and she hurried to catch up with her. "I don't think I caught your name."
The Diwata smiled. "Tea first, darling."
They went to a coffee place on campus. The Diwata brought two cups of hot chai latte to their table. "Tea's on me," she said, "since you took the time to stop and ask how I was back there. Other students wouldn't have spared me a glance."
"It's midterms season," Pauline said, and the Diwata laughed.
"You a working student, too? You have a night class?" the Diwata asked.
"No, I live on campus, I was just on my way back to my dorm. But I do write freelance."
"Nice. I work full-time in a bookstore."
"Oh," Pauline said, and smiled. "I love bookstores."
"The pay's shit," the Diwata said.
They stayed in that corner sipping tea and talking for several hours. Pauline couldn't remember how, but after pretty harmless talk of curriculums and terror profs and the cafeteria on campus that sell egg mayo sandwiches, they ended up talking about the Diwata's dead realm.
"I don't know where that 'iron is poison' bullshit came from," the Diwata said. "Remember that trend in the late nineties, when humans wore iron pendants on a piece of black string? I hated that. It's so silly! Why would anyone think iron can kill us? We mined iron in Lambana."
"I remember that. Went well with the elephant pants."
"My goodness. But that myth was so widespread. You know they used iron bullets to shoot the Queen."
"They did?" Pauline said. "I thought that was a myth, too."
"Shot the Queen on the field separating the two peaceful realms," she said. "Shot her on the Field of Truce, in the middle of business negotiations."
"Because she spurned a human lover, said the song."
"Another myth," the Diwata said, looking off into the distance and shaking her head. "She was shot because she refused them entrance to the mines. She was shot because the human ambassadors were greedy and she refused to do business with greedy men. In the end the ambassadors got what they wanted. Gold mines and expensive cars. They bled Lambana dry."
Pauline looked into her cup and didn't say anything.
"How did we end up talking about depressing things?" the Diwata said, sensing her discomfort. "Let's talk about egg mayo again."
"Tell me about Lambana," Pauline said. "What do you miss?"
The Diwata closed her eyes and smiled. "Sugar water. Honeyed bread. Flower tea." She opened her eyes. "The smell of the court gardens that no human perfume can ever duplicate. The town square, and how golden it looked in the early morning. The festivals, the dinners after harvest. The dances. The parties. The land was rich enough and our magic effective enough to provide us with all the basic necessities: food, shelter, water, clothing. Most of our days we devoted to sports and the arts, whatever caught our fancy. Magic was used in menial jobs, so no one had to become a menial worker. Everyone was rich and fulfilled. Everyone could afford the luxury to dream."
Her smile faded. "And now I earn minimum wage. I eat fast food almost every day. My cholesterol level is bothering me. I sleep in a room the size of a closet. I inhale soot. I can't even fly."
"Because of the ordinance?"
"Because of the lack of space!" She held out her arms. "There is no sky in this city. Just wires and cables and billboards and thirty-story buildings." The Diwata dropped her arms and sighed. "I haven't flown in eleven years. I may have flitted from one street to the next, but I haven't flown."
"I'm so sorry," Pauline said.
"I wish I had hoarded gold from Lambana before it fell," the Diwata said. She threw her head back and laughed. Some students turned to look at her.
"You're royalty, aren't you?" Pauline said in a low voice.
The Diwata looked at her with a pleased smile.
"Your wings are silver," Pauline said. "And your eyes "
"The Queen had many daughters," the Diwata said. "I was one of them. I believe I was the only one left. Most died in the civil war."
Pauline met this pronouncement with silence.
"Oh, but this talk of sad things has drained me! Come, let us walk you home. Tell a joke on the way, will you?"
Pauline couldn't think of a joke, so the Diwata regaled her with stories of annoying customers at the bookstore. At the dorm, Pauline turned back and said, "Have you heard of the Athene construction site?"
"Is it a bar?"
"I'll bring you there tomorrow," Pauline said. "It's the perfect place for flying. You'll love it."
"Really," the Diwata said with her usual cynical tone, but Pauline could see her visibly containing her excitement.
Pauline nodded. "Good night."
"Ilaria."
Pauline turned back with her eyebrows raised.
The Diwata was smiling at her. "My name's Ilaria. Ria for short."
"Ria," Pauline said. "Good night, Ria."
"Pauline."
Pauline, yanked out of the past, sat up straighter.
Ilaria had mimicked her pose. She was now hugging her knees. "I think I'm sort of scared."
"Do you want to go home now?" Pauline said. In the span of ten months, they had managed to visit the construction site seven times, and each time Ilaria got cold feet. "Cold wings," she would say. The first few times Ilaria expressed her disappointment in herself through anger: It's been years, why should I even try? And what for? So I can reach the topmost shelf at the store without using a ladder? And why do you care, anyway? Do you really want to help me or do you just want a private show?
Pauline would placate her, and on their commute back Ilaria would refuse to meet her eyes. "Why do you even put up with me?" she would say, looking out the window as the aircon of the taxi sputtered and the driver ranted about gas prices.
This time, Ilaria didn't respond. She stood up and walked to the edge. She remained that way for what felt like an eternity to Pauline, until Ilaria covered her face with her hands and wrapped her wings around her body like a sheet. She was mumbling something. Pauline couldn't understand the words. Ilaria lifted her hands to the sky and unfolded her wings. She did this three times. Hands to her face, hands to the sky.
No, she wasn't lifting her hands to the sky, Pauline thought. She was lifting them to the moon.
Ilaria jumped.
Pauline gasped. "She did it," she whispered to herself, surprised. "She fucking actually did it."
A moment passed.
"Ria?" Pauline started crawling to the edge on hands and knees, panic settling on her body like dead weight. "Ria?"
Ilaria burst into view, all wings and hair and whoops. Pauline screamed and fell on her side. She could hear Ilaria's laughter growing faint as she rose to an impossible height. Then she was swooping down, her breeze on Pauline's skin. "I did it!" she was shouting, eyes as bright as a happy child's. "I did it I did it I did it!"
Ilaria flew around the abandoned building for ten minutes. Pauline watched her, itching to take a picture but knowing that she shouldn't. When Ilaria's feet touched the ground again, her face was flushed and her hair in disarray, and Pauline could feel her happiness like she would a typhoon, strong as the wind, loud as a thunderstorm.
Ilaria embraced her, and Pauline was caught breathless by the impact. She held her hands at her side.
"Thank you," Ilaria said, still holding her. Then, amused: "What's the matter?"
"I don't know how to hug you," Pauline said. "Your wings."
"Do it like this," Ilaria said, taking her hands, and placed them where they should be.
It was like window-shopping, really.
For a clinic hidden in a filthy, forgotten strip of stores in Tandang Sora, it was actually quite impressive in its neatness. And Pauline had almost walked away from it. Her source (one of her post-op interviewees, more than six hundred moons old and incredibly candid) said this street, this time, behind a massage parlor, but the particular street had eight massage parlors, a fact that her source decided not to mention to her. She couldn't possibly just ask the proprietors one by one if they're hiding an operating room, could she? But in the end, that was what she did. Sort of. She phrased it in a way that wouldn't sound too alarming. Do you have another store in this same unit?
One or two looked at her through heavy-lidded eyes and said a curt and flat "no", but most responded to the question with frowns and tense backs. "What do you mean do we have another store here?"
Pauline didn't quite know how to respond. "Do you have other services? Do you give manicures or--"
"Kung nagpapahada kami, ganon?" one bored massage therapist said, her companions erupting in laughter. "Naku, maaga pa neng." Pauline blushed and immediately fled the scene.
The last parlor she walked up to was the parlor she had skipped earlier. She skipped it because she thought it was abandoned. A thick layer of dust covered its tinted windows. Services were written with a felt-tip pen on pieces of cartolina perhaps a decade ago, the cartolina peeling, the ink fading and hardly legible. ONE-HOUR FULL BODY. FOOT MASSAGE. HILOT. SWEDISH. Pauline couldn't make out the prices.
The room was dark and smelled of dead rat and old furniture. There was a man, thin and young, sleeping behind the front desk. Pauline turned to leave, but the man stirred and said, "Sino pong hanap nila?"
Intrigued, Pauline said, "Dr. Antonio?"
The man pointed at the back of the room and went back to sleep.
Pauline walked past the massage beds and saw a yellowish curtain covering the entire wall. She looked for an opening, felt it, and pushed a portion of the curtain to the side so she could walk through.
Another door. Dark narra, with a generic brass knocker. Pauline lifted the knocker and felt something cut her. She swore. Cheap-ass knockers. She sucked on her finger and, with care, used her other hand to hit the plate twice.
"And who might you be?" a voice said from the other side.
"Vivian sent me here," Pauline said.
The door swung open. The room was air-conditioned, and the ice-cold air hit her square on the face. Dr. Antonio was a tall man in his 50's, wearing square, rimless glasses. He looked trim in a black knitted sweater, white shirt, and black pants.
"Vivi!" he said. "She's a hoot and a half, isn't she? Come on in."
The wings were hard to miss. Dr. Antonio (which probably was not his real name, Pauline decided), feeling secure in his nuclear bunk of a clinic, displayed them proudly, vacuum-sealed and backlit in tall glass displays. As if they were merely expensive shoes or designer gowns, and not organs that could easily get him the death penalty. Dr. Antonio stood beside her as she stared, going on and on about wingspan and length and hue. Pauline wondered about the hugeness of the despair that would push a Diwata to sell her own wings. Like the despair a poor father feels before he sells his kidneys. But that need not be the case, right? Life, unlike her view of the world, need not be so fucking dramatic. If you wanted to have your wings removed anyway, might as well make a buck out of it, right?
"How much did you pay for these?" Pauline asked.
"Oh, so the interview's started?" the doctor said. "Let me make something clear: I agreed to this because I owed Vivian a favor. But you have to understand that you can't divulge my name, or the location of my store. You're going to devastate the non-insured fairy community if you send me to jail. I think that goes without saying."
Pauline opened her mouth to speak, but the doctor barreled on.
"And I don't trust anyone. In this business, you just can't. We have your name, and I'm afraid, a bit of your blood."
Pauline remembered the knocker.
Dr. Antonio looked apologetic. "You're outraged, I know. It was Vivian's idea. The Diwata have lost their magic, but they can still make potions. So I ask you, please be kind. I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Except mice."
"Excuse me?"
"Vivi has mentioned," Pauline spoke softly, as though the wings could overhear, "that you have experimented with mice. Then cats. Then dogs. That you've given them wings."
Dr. Antonio inhaled and for a second seemed to hold his breath. Pauline waited.
"No," he said. He turned away. "No. Vivi has told you too much, that bitch. No. No, no, no."
"I'm not here to interview you!" Pauline said. The anger in her voice stopped the doctor in his tracks.
Dr. Antonio looked at her, and Pauline felt it. In her head, in her chest. Despair. Its hugeness, its impossible magnitude.
"Please," she said.
"You know, you're not supposed to trust strangers you meet off the bat, but I'm glad you did. If you'd stayed one minute longer on the platform--" Dante shook his head.
He helped Pauline sit on the couch. She had stopped crying, but looked completely defeated. She sat on the very edge of the couch, treating her wings as if they were glass.
"Relax," Dante said, and handed her a glass of water, which she almost dropped. Dante took out a coaster and placed the glass on the coffee table. "If your back is stiff, your wings will remain stiff. Just relax and they'll fold on their own."
Pauline just looked at him. Her face was ashen.
"Maybe it's wing paralysis," Dante said. He could feel her panic rising like a tide, and tried to think of ways to calm her down. "Don't you think? It happens sometimes when it's about to rain."
The comment snapped Pauline out of her stupor. "You're Diwata?"
"Ah," Dante said, sitting on the coffee table so he could face her. "Well. That depends on your definition."
Pauline frowned, not following.
"I don't have wings anymore," he said. "Post-op."
"You were injured?" Pauline said.
"No, no. Nothing like that." He smiled, kept his tone light and breezy. The last thing the girl needed, he thought, was a blubbering fool. "I did it for a friend."
Dante had once witnessed a group of construction workers demolish a building with explosives, and he was reminded of this as he watched Pauline's face cave and crumple and fall. She squeezed her eyes shut and cried, howling like a child who had burnt her fingers, and Dante wanted to hold her but he could only watch in horror. He wondered what was wrong. Was she in pain? But she sounded as if she were crying for him.
A second later she fell sideways on the couch. "Oh dear," Dante said, and fell to his knees. He peered at her face. "What is it?" She was trying to say something, but she was sobbing too hard and couldn't form a coherent word.
"Let me take this off you," Dante said. He stood up and bent over her to remove his jacket.
The back of the jacket was crusty with dried blood.
"What--"
And so was the back of her dress, which had absorbed so much blood it looked almost black.
"What," Dante said. His hands were shaking. Dante tried to peel the fabric off her skin. Pauline screamed.
The skin around the roots of Pauline's wings were inflamed and filled with pus. She was bleeding from where her wings joined her body.
"Lambana help me," Dante whispered as he ran around the living room looking for his phone.
"With the mice and the cats and the dogs I used synthetic wings, of course. With you, if you're absolutely sure you want to volunteer as a test subject, we'll use actual Diwata wings."
"From a dead Diwata?" Pauline shuddered at the thought.
"That's one option. But we'll use wings from a Diwata who has decided to have her wings surgically removed. She is of the same height and weight, a perfect match. Of course I'm using the term 'perfect' quite loosely here. We can never be sure of perfect fusion. Wings, like any organ, can be rejected by the recipient body. You have heard of organ rejection, I assume?"
"Of course."
"And of its dangers? This is a major operation, involving nerves and an organ from another species. Fourteen hours on the operating table, a month or more to recover. There will be complications. My experiments with animals were all successful, but they didn't live long. The mice died after 72 hours. The cats and dogs, after six days."
"You sound like you're trying to dissuade me."
"We've never had a volunteer before. My team and I have only operated on cadavers, figuring out what nerves to fuse with what."
"You should be excited that I'm here, then."
"We'll need you to sign a confidentiality agreement."
"Of course."
"And don't worry. The animals we had allowed to die for the sake of the experiment, but if something goes wrong with your operation, we'll immediately go back in there and remove the organ."
"All right."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Why are you doing this?"
"So many Diwata come through my doors wanting to remove the one thing that makes them what they are, and so many humans have so fervently wished to experience flight. There's a niche there."
Pauline forced herself to laugh with him.
"Or," said the doctor, "I have completely lost my mind."
Perhaps I have, too, Pauline thought.
"What the hell, Dante, you're not dead. What did you yank me out of my meeting for?"
"Shut the fucking door," Dante said, and pulled Crystal into the apartment.
"Did you kill someone?" Crystal said, and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the heaving form on the couch.
"This is cruel," Dante said. "This is brutal and malicious and never, never in my entire life--" Dante was too upset to finish his sentence.
"I know this girl," Crystal said. She walked to the couch and called the girl's name. "Pauline?"
"Look at her back."
"Where the hell did you find her?"
"Just look!"
Dante couldn't move Pauline from her position on the couch, so he had covered her with a blanket. Crystal lifted the edge. "Pauline? Pauline, what happened to your--"
Crystal gasped, took three steps back, and fell into a chair. "Fucking fuck," she said.
"You need to call Sean, Crystal."
Crystal didn't reply. She rooted around her purse for a cigarette. "Holy mother fucking--" She upended her purse, her lipstick and eyeliner and mascara rolling away, her coins clattering on the floor. She grabbed her packet, shook out a stick, and stuck the cigarette in her mouth. She turned the wheel of her lighter several times but couldn't produce a flame.
"Fennesa! Ul dame rehta!"
Dante, in his panic, had switched to Diwata and called Crystal by her real name.
"Motherfucker!" Crystal said, and threw away her lighter. She banged into the kitchen and banged out again after a few seconds, her cigarette now lit. She took a drag. Inhale, exhale.
"Ul dame reh--" Dante finally caught himself and code-switched. "You need to call our doctor!"
"Who would do this," Crystal said. "Who would do this, Dante? Is this a new thing now, huh? Let the Diwata have their wings cut off so they can blend in, then give those wings to humans?"
"Give me Sean's number," Dante said.
"This is unspeakable," Crystal said, pulling out a calling card from her wallet. "This is deplorable."
While Dante dialed the number, Crystal sat on the coffee table and touched Pauline's forehead. Her skin was hot to the touch. "Why would you do this, you stupid girl. You are going to kill your mother."
"You think I'm disgusting?" Pauline said.
Crystal took a long drag from her cigarette and expelled the smoke through her nose. She covered her eyes with her left hand and sighed. "Not you, darling. Whoever did this to you. Whoever gave you this option. That's who's disgusting. But why, Pauline? Why would you even--"
"I did it for her," Pauline said through her tears.
"Oh, fuck me," Crystal said.
"I just wanted to be with her. She said we couldn't be together because I'm not like her. She said we would just fail."
"And you think a pair of wings was the answer?"
"She flies and I'm left behind," Pauline said. "It hurts that there's a place she can go to and I can't follow."
"Sean is on his way!" Dante called from Crystal's room. "I'll go pack some of your old clothes so Pauline can have something to change into at the hospital!"
"I understand what you mean," Crystal said to Pauline, and held her hand. "You're crazy, but I understand what you mean."
"It was supposed to be a surprise," Pauline said, crying. "But something went wrong. I was fine when I left the clinic. I was supposed to get on the train but my wings wouldn't fold. They offered a car. I should have taken the car."
"You'll be okay, Pauline."
"It was supposed to be a surprise." Pauline cried.
"What was her name?" Crystal asked.
"Diwata don't give their real names."
"I'm afraid so. What name did she give you, then?"
"She told me to call her Ilaria," Pauline said. "She had silver wings and silver flecks in her eyes."
Crystal looked stunned. "Dante?" she called, but Dante was busy packing.
"Ilaria," Pauline repeated. The girl looked at her through heavy lids. "Ilaria. I call her Ria."
Crystal patted her hand. "She must really like you," she said, "because that girl gave you her real name."
I'm sorry.
Can you please forgive me?
Can we talk?
Talk to me, please.
All the permutations. It was five in the morning and Ilaria couldn't sleep. For more than a month she'd been sending texts and emails. The girl at the dorm said Pauline had filed an LOA and wouldn't be back until the next semester. Ilaria didn't know what that meant. She had nothing but a single email that said: I'll go away for a while, but I'll come back and I'll be perfect for you. Please don't give up on me.
Please talk to me.
I regret what I said.
Please forgive me.
Can you still forgive me?
Ilaria still couldn't find the right words. She swung away from her computer monitor, put her face in her hands.
Her cell phone was ringing. An unknown number. Maybe that's why I'm not getting a reply, Ilaria thought, because she's changed her number! Maybe--
Hope, against her will, blossomed in her chest. She grabbed her phone and answered.
"I think that girl had a mental breakdown," Dante said.
Crystal yawned. She shook another stick out of her packet. "I think that girl was in love," she said, firing up. "But yes, same difference."
Sean, acclaimed doctor to the Diwata ("And pretty soon," he always said, "to the stars."), had driven Pauline to St. Luke's and used a different entrance, already hell-bent on keeping things quiet. Surgery took ten hours, and Crystal and Dante slept in one cot in an empty room, the first time they had done so since they were moonlings. Dante had insisted on sleeping on the floor so Crystal could have the bed to herself, but it was a crazy day and Crystal wanted someone beside her.
Significant blood loss, extensive nerve damage, danger of sepsis, under observation--they couldn't quite understand the words, but they all sounded bad.
"Not to worry, though," Sean told them before shooing them away. "The girl's holding on. She's actually doing well, considering her injuries. She'll pull through. This one's a fighter."
"You're going to write a paper on her, aren't you?" Dante said.
"You bet your cute ass I am."
Crystal called long-distance to tell Pauline's mother that her daughter had been in an accident. She wanted to call another number but Dante was insisting that they get some fresh air. He hated hospitals.
They found themselves on the hill overlooking the Athene construction site, their favorite spot. Crystal smoked her cigarette.
"Again with the love angle," Dante said.
"I know what she told me."
"She was delirious!"
"How could she have known Princess Ilaria's name?" Crystal said. "And the fact that the Princess had silver wings and silver flecks in her eyes?"
"That girl's practically a Diwata scholar," Dante said. "You told me she knew the Book of the Moon. She'd know what the royals looked like."
"And the Princess's name? That was never divulged. I only knew the names of the Queen's daughters after Lambana fell, and no one was writing any books then."
Dante fell silent.
"There's a 'Ria' in her phonebook," Crystal said. "I copied the number. We could call her--"
"And gather everyone under the full moon so she can be proclaimed Queen by our united consciousness?"
"Yes!" Crystal said.
"Oh for the love of--"
"The Princess had the blood of the First. She can bring back our magic. Maybe we can even reproduce again."
"Okay, let's say we do find the Princess," Dante said. "What if she refuses? That's happened before. What if you get to talk to her, and the Princess refuses?"
"Well, she'd be the biggest bitch if she did," Crystal said. "But it's worth a shot."
"Why are you being Miss Positivity all of a sudden?"
"And why are you being so negative?" Crystal said. "We need hope, okay? Maybe it's false hope, maybe it's the kind of hope that will destroy us in the end, but we need it. We have no magic, we can never have children, the bloodline stops with us. What the fuck will get us out of bed in the morning? We need a moment, even just one moment, to stop thinking that we are just occupying space and wasting away."
"Oh, Crystal."
"And yeah, I know that if the First bloodline returned we won't be a part of that court anymore. And I know it's my fault because I was stupid enough to have my wings destroyed by train doors, and I was stupid enough to let you go through that operation, you stupid fuck. But maybe the new Queen can give us back our wings! Who knows?"
Dante held her hand. "Crystal," he said.
Crystal started to cry. Dante watched her, mute and helpless.
"Let's call her," Dante said. Crystal didn't react. "The Princess. Let's call her."
It took a moment for Dante's words to sink in. "Oh," Crystal said, and wiped away her tears. "Really?"
"Like you said--it's worth a shot."
Crystal smiled. She took her phone out of her pocket and put the call on loudspeaker.
"It's ringing," Crystal said. She placed her phone on the ground, and they put their heads together and watched the blinking screen closely as if it were a sacred artifact.
"Remember the first time we found this place?" Dante said, nervous and wanting to mask his nervousness with idle chatter. He looked at the mounds of cement, the rusty scaffoldings, the building, unfinished and abandoned. Everything was ugly except the sky, now black, now purple, now lilac, now rose.
Crystal held him close. "I remember," she said. They leaned against each other, buoyed by the memory of flight, and waited for the call to connect.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 8th, 2012


The very first image that came to me was that of a winged girl in a white dress crying inside a train station. I didn't go to her immediately (I think I was working on another story then), but her image sat stubbornly at the back of my head for many months until I finally sat down and wrote the first sentence. I was intrigued. I wanted to know who she was and why she was crying. Originally the story was supposed to end on a tragic note (like most of my stories), but this time, I wanted to end with hope.

- Eliza Victoria

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