art by Junior McLean
Wings for Icarus
by P. Djeli Clark
I remember the day my father died. I imagined I could see him smiling down at me, as he soared high above. For a brief moment he had flown, just as he'd said he would--like Daedalus on wings of silver. Then suddenly it had all ended and he'd gone falling to earth, plummeting and spinning like a broken bird. I'd watched it all because as my mother screamed, she'd forgotten to shield my eyes.
Daddy was a tinkerer, that's what mother used to call him. He was a welder by trade, and I remembered him coming home in the afternoons, dungaree overalls and jacket smelling of sweat and soot. But in his spare time he did love to tinker, to talk about machines and the way things worked. I was amazed at how he could take things apart and then rebuild them--knowing where every cog, washer, and screw went back with ease. He could talk about Jules Vernes and da Vinci for hours. And he made sure I knew about Elijah McCoy, the black inventor whose picture he kept in his garage. That was where Daddy made his inventions, odd contraptions he'd fashioned out of old appliances and parts he'd scoured from junk heaps. Most of them didn't work. A few sputtered and died or even blew up right in front of us. But that never stopped him. He kept going through his few successes and many failures.
Mom was always distant about Daddy and his tinkering. She never tried to stop him, but she didn't encourage him either. She would come out to watch his inventions, clapping politely when they worked or shaking her head when they didn't. But after he'd fallen from the sky, she'd emptied the garage of his creations, banishing them back to the scrap heap. She seemed to hate the sight of them, and worked hard to make sure people remembered Daddy as a hardworking husband and father, not the daydreaming tinkerer who'd fallen from the sky.
So imagine my surprise at finding the wings. They were in a shed in the backyard, where Daddy kept most of his odds and ends. I came across them only by accident, buried under a thick burlap blanket. They looked like I'd last seen them, silver feathers gleaming and held together by black straps--as if cut off from some angelic machine. Some were dented and folded in where they'd crumpled at hitting the earth. All that was missing from them was Daddy, and his blood.
I dragged the wings out of the shed, and managed to find some of my father's tools that hadn't been thrown away. Out in a field far from home, I set out to fixing them, using a hammer to bang them into shape.
I remembered when Daddy first started them. He'd snuck away some special metal from his job--he never used the word stolen. It was experimental, as hard as the thickest steel, but paper thin and almost as light. His company had a contract with the government, to use it on some secret military plane. But Daddy had other ideas. And he'd secreted away bits at a time, along with the special cutting tools he attached to his welding machine. Most times when he welded he wouldn't let me come close. So I'd sneak peeks at him, dressed in thick jacket and pants, visor over his face while fiery sparks danced about in the darkness. He reminded me of an ebon Vulcan, sitting in his Underworld, fashioning the armor of the gods.
I couldn't figure out why Mom had kept the silver wings. Maybe she had hidden them so he wouldn't get in trouble with his company. Or maybe when you hated something so much, it was hard to let go. Or perhaps it was because deep down she knew she couldn't erase Daddy's memory as a tinkerer completely. To forget that would be to forget the real him.
It took me months of secret work, done usually when I came from school. But I managed to make the wings look like they had before, sleek and shiny, polished and glistening in the sun. The odd metal they were made of went right back into place, without a wrinkle or blemish. When they were done I stared at them, reading the words Daddy had etched into one of the long silver feathers--Daedalus. And in that moment, I knew what I had to do.