Good art changes you. And that was the point, right? That’s what the social media ad that caught my attention wanted me to believe: Our Shoes: You couldn’t understand our struggle . . . Until now. I had read the line over and over again during a rare downtime in the on-call room and was still mesmerized by it when Danny messaged our Allies 4 Life group. I got three tix to that new BLM exhibit in Brooklyn. Who’s rolling?
Talia sat at the edge of Eliza’s bed, her hands clasped. She was new—so was I, but she was newer. I went to her, and stroked her head, careful to avoid the honeycomb on her brow. “Daughters.” Mother Anam’s face was twisted when she came back from searching the rest of our rooms, her shoes clicking on the hard, pocked floor. It always seemed to us that she was disappointed that we hadn’t broken a rule, that she couldn’t punish us.
“They didn’t believe me,” I said. “They didn’t believe that I wasn’t supposed to be here—that I woke up wrong.” I lost track of time again. My attention shifted toward the floor, drawn to a crack in the tile. It was causing quite a ruckus in my mind. The cup of tea I was holding had long gone cold, the light in the room growing dim. Sometime, a long time ago, someone dropped something heavy on the tile, and it was never the same.
It began with Shoko finding feathers in her bed. It was her third year of high school. She’d just turned seventeen. She was falling in love, and her wings were coming in. At first, there were not so many feathers, but soon there were more and more. She’d assumed they’d be white; in drawings, most people with wings had feathers like swans or doves. Hers were like a sparrow’s.
First, die. The girl had fulfilled that initial requirement, though not willingly. And yet she found herself on the side of a block of rowhouses surrounded by five or six faces, both familiar and unfamiliar. A graffitied kingdom of the slain. The girl had achieved a royalty she never aspired to in life. And it was boring. Boring to preside over a North Philadelphia courtyard.
You look at the coffin as it is lowered into the rectangular opening in the cathedral floor, that was made specifically to contain it. Inside is your husband, the man to whom you have been married for more than twenty years, you’ve forgotten exactly how many. The man with whom you have three children. The oldest, Gerhard, will inherit the throne. He will be called Gerhard IV after his grandfather, who was Gerhard III or, to his enemies, Gerhard the Drunkard.
Everyone hears Hunger die on the radio, and no one can do anything about it. His mayday is admirably calm for someone who is burning. He’s breathing heavily, but he doesn’t betray any fear. It’s a textbook radio transmission, the kind the other firefighters hope they could make if they were trapped and blind in […]
. . . and then the second tone enters, high and fierce, the waves rising, a sudden spasm of hail scattering across the deck like a shower of pearls . . . a tone like a moan that vibrates through the ship, down through the cabins lined in red like satin jewelry boxes, those elegant little coffins, and down again through the vessel’s bowels and down through the vast imponderable weight of water its icy knifelike blackness just on the edge of freezing . . .
When they ordered me down off my pedestal, I had nowhere else to go. Life as a statue is easy. They make you ascend the pedestal, turn you to stone, remove your ability to move, and leave you to watch the turn of the seasons in a world you cannot touch or care about, anymore. You can only stand in the public garden where all the convicted are placed, and you watch with dull and distant interest at the visitors who stroll past.
Besides the vedma who lived behind the stove in steam room three, the banya in Grand Lake Plaza was the same as any other budget day spa on Chicago’s West Side. It had deep-tissue massages and signature facials, plus day passes for the communal baths and steam rooms. There was a cucumber water dispenser in the lobby, and a little sign on the front desk that invited guests to “nama-stay a while.” The robes and slippers were cheap, scratchy polyester.