By Eva Moon
Corinne perched on the edge of her chair and peered toward the door of the dim, candle-lit restaurant, heart fluttering. This was a mistake. Agreeing to meet an almost total stranger had made her feel strong, confident. Now it just seemed stupid.
She jumped at the touch of warm fingers on her bare shoulder.
“You must be Corinne.”
When had he snuck in? “Tom?”
He smiled and slipped his lean body into the chair opposite her. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
Gray streaked his dark hair. He was older than his profile picture, but the kind of older that looked experienced and self-assured rather than paunchy and tired.
She leaned back a little, trying to mirror his easy posture. The bars on the back of the chair dug into her spine and she straightened up again.
“Drink?” He waved to the waitress and ordered a Negroni then raised an eyebrow in her direction. She almost shook her head no but then asked for a Negroni too. Courage in a glass. What would he do when she told him? If she told him. She could still call it off. No. She was almost thirty-two. If she wasn’t going to die alone, she had to get past this with someone.
He seemed content to wait for her to speak first. That was rare enough.
She filled the silence with nervous chatter she knew was idiotic even as the words were coming out of her mouth. It was a relief when the drinks arrived.
He raised his glass. “To beginnings and adventures.”
She took a gulp and the bittersweet, citrusy heat started to melt the sharp edges of ice in her stomach. The beginnings were shaky but underway. And now for the adventures… maybe.
There was something magnetic about him. His eyes were an unusual color—somewhere between gold and green—and they focused on her with this intense stillness that could have been creepy, yet somehow wasn’t. When she looked in his eyes, she could believe he’d be cool with it. Like he already knew.
Two Negronis later, she pecked at her pasta, while he dug into a game hen with unabashed relish. The sight of his teeth pulling the meat from the bones made her feel a little queasy but also excited, the way some horror movies can be arousing. By the time dessert arrived, she’d given up on talking and just sat, letting the heat of his attention make her skin tighten and prickle. She caught her breath when he took her hand and lightly stroked her knuckles, like he was gentling a wild animal. Which was closer to the truth than he knew. The ice in her stomach had melted and was well on the way to boiling clean away. It had to be now.
She pulled her hand out of his.
“Tom. Before we go any further, there’s something you need to know.”
Her throat went dry, and she sipped water. He said nothing. He just looked at her with those gold-green eyes, as if he would have no problem waiting all night.
She gathered her courage with a deep breath. “I have this little… thing… about sex… I can’t help it… It just—I turn into a bird for thirty-seven minutes when I come, every time, literally, feathers, the whole deal. An actual… bird.”
In the long silence that followed, he carefully put down his fork and wiped his hands with his napkin. Her heart battered the bars of her rib cage and her face burned. She was wrong about him. This whole thing was a terrible mistake. He’d make some polite excuse and leave.
Instead, he leaned toward her, interest darkening his eyes. “What kind of bird?”
She froze, mouth open, unable to answer. She grabbed her purse and flew out the door.
Back in her safe little apartment, alone, she flopped into the chair in front of her vanity and groaned. Why had she run? He hadn’t laughed or scoffed. Ruining it was all on her. She picked a black feather out of her makeup caddy and twirled it absently.
What kind of bird? That was the last question she’d expected.
She dropped the feather and scrubbed her eyes. Why couldn’t she have been a beautiful bird? Like say, a swan or a hummingbird. Or a talented one, like a nightingale. Or even a parrot, for God’s sake. But no. She was the least sexy bird in the universe. Fuck.
The first time had scared the hell out of her. She was barely into her teens when her fingers found the magical seed between her legs that made her want to explode. When she finally did explode, it was not at all what she expected. BAM! Feathers sprouted everywhere and she hit the ceiling. Not figuratively. When she finally managed to flap to her vanity, a bird peered back at her from the mirror, beady-eyed, ruffle-feathered, ungainly. She careened around the room in a panic. Would she be stuck this way forever? But eventually, feathers scattering, she landed on the floor, taking the bedside lamp down with her. Bruised, but human again. Thank God her mom was out.
But what the hell had just happened? Nothing in sex ed mentioned the bird part. Or any other animal, for that matter. Did it happen to everyone, but they all agreed to keep it a deep dark secret? She didn’t believe it. She couldn’t find a single mention of it on the internet and people talked about everything there. It must be just her own, personal curse.
Her phone buzzed. Tom.
Sorry if I scared you off, he messaged. I want to see you.
She tapped a letter and then deleted it, not at all sure it would be fine. But what the hell. Nothing was fine already.
She tapped four letters and hit send before she could change her mind.
In high school, her friend Melissa had told her she practiced orgasm faces in the mirror. She was convinced she looked stupid when she came, and it would be a turnoff. Such problems. At least she didn’t molt. When Corinne confided her secret, Melissa snort-laughed for two days and then told Lorraine who blabbed it all over school. Corinne stayed home for a week pretending she had the flu.
After that, she’d kept her beak shut and pretended to ignore the caws and sniggers that tailed her at school.
Her phone buzzed again. Let me come over. It’ll be fine. I promise.
The thought of him in her apartment, in her bed, made her skin flush with heat. Did she dare?
Robert, her high school biology lab partner, had been her first non-solo flight. He was new, so he hadn’t heard the gossip. Poor guy. She was too embarrassed to give him a heads-up before, and it was too late after. He completely freaked and sprained his wrist in his panic to get away. He transferred out of biology the next day and never looked in her direction again. After Robert, she knew she couldn’t just bird out on a guy she wanted to see twice. But she’d told Tom and he hadn’t run. Yet.
Before she could overthink it, she texted him her address.
His reply was quick. Fifteen minutes.
She glanced at the time. She had fifteen minutes of dedicated overthinking time. She looked around at the evidence of an unobserved life. Clothes lay in piles where she’d dropped them. Coke cans, coffee cups, and Jenga towers of takeout boxes crowded every horizontal surface. Her crutches were still on the back of the sofa, though she hadn’t needed them in a month.
She spent several minutes trying to tidy up but let it go. If he wasn’t put off by her turning into a crow, why should she worry about the state of her nest?
She went to the window and pounded the sticky casing with the heel of her hand to open it. It was a chilly, clear night, but it wasn’t the cold that made her shiver.
It was always exactly thirty-seven minutes, which is way too long for someone to stick around for an explanation. But not even close to long enough for the flying she wanted to do. Once she was sure of the timing, she would leave a window open and just soar. She’d only been caught outside once. Well, twice, but she pushed the memory away, leaned out, and looked up at the moon.
She had a sudden image of her and Tom, both birds, wheeling through the sky together. Wouldn’t that be something? But she’d never met or even heard of anyone else like her.
College had been a shamefest of one-night stands. Not even that. Just fuck and fly. The need to feel hands on her skin that weren’t her own tugged and itched at her until she was sure she’d start leaving a trail of feathers across campus. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she’d find some dive and get ripped enough to bear the humiliation of screwing in an alley. The minute she uncaged the crow, she was off like a shot, praying the guy was too drunk or high to remember.
Then she met Ken.
She thought she’d found the answer with Ken. He was a junior accountant at the firm where she worked after graduation. He was so normal and sweet, with that big, goofy grin, and he liked her. She was sure he was her golden ticket out of the fucked-up, lonely mess she’d made of her life.
But he absolutely was not the kind of guy who could handle the crow. So, she decided to fake her orgasms with him. She thought it was worth it. You make sacrifices for love, right? The problem was, it wasn’t herself that she sacrificed. It was him. He thought he knew her, and he couldn’t have been more deluded.
She broke up with him without ever telling him the truth. How do you come clean after lying for a year? How could she tell him that everything he thought they had was a sham? That he never knew her at all?
She quit her job, moved across the country, and swore off men forever. Well, seven years. It certainly felt like forever.
She buried herself in work, kept people at arm’s length, and searched the internet for answers she never found. She made herself so invisible, she might as well have been a ghost.
When her mother died, she flew home to Los Angeles for the funeral. In an airplane. Afterwards, she spent the night alone in her mother’s apartment. In the bedroom, she opened the jewelry box on the dresser. Inside, tucked under a lift out tray of pearls, lay a single feather, gray, striped with cream. Her lungs filled with heavy sand, and she sat down on the bed. It could be just a feather, but she didn’t believe it. Was it her mother’s? Her father’s? He’d died when she was nine. Jumped out a window and didn’t even leave a note. She buried her face in her hands. She had never thought to confide in her mother—the one person who might have shed some light on who she was. Who might have still loved her anyway. And now it was too late.
That night, she’d lain curled in her old bed, in her old bedroom, tears soaking into her old pillow, moonlight streaming in the open window. The ache of loneliness and loss and unanswered questions grew sharper and sharper until it snapped, like a bone pressed too hard. Her father hadn’t jumped out of that window. He’d flown. She thrust a hand between her legs and then she was flying too.
Up and up and up into the sky.
She had never flown this high before. Los Angeles was a sea of vibrant light—a living body with millions of cells connected by the snaking veins and arteries of car lights on roads. And she was far outside of it, like a virus looking for a way in. Alone. She faltered, dipping and fluttering in the cold wind as the realization of her stupidity struck her. No one had forced this isolation on her. She had done it to herself. Millions of people were down there right now—people even more messed up than she was—dealing with their shit, finding each other, sharing their lives. Why shouldn’t she? She might or might not find someone who would accept her—love her—the way she was. But she certainly never would by hiding. Or dying.
Was it too late? She dived toward the earth.
She was still too high when she started shedding feathers.
She woke up in the hospital. She’d been found naked and broken, but alive. Everyone assumed she’d jumped. She couldn’t deny it.
Since then, it had been a slow crawl to heal her body. Baby steps to accept her nature. Fledgling flights to claim her space in the world. The date with Tom was a test of her new resolve. So what if she was a crow when she came? It’s not like she was a murderer when she came. Crows might not be pretty, but they’re supposed to be smart.
She checked the time again and felt a bloom of heat in the pit of her stomach. Lust? Pride? Fear? All three?
She went to her dresser, dug to the back of the underwear drawer, and pulled out a short, black slip edged with lace, letting a few feathers flutter to the floor. She stripped and slipped it over her head, smoothing it over her hips. It didn’t cover scars that were still angry red. She considered changing but rejected the idea. Let him see it all. In front of the mirror, she feathered her black hair forward, turning her head right and left, trying to see the crow in the line of her nose.
Tom wasn’t like Ken or Robert. With that sly “I could eat you up” smile, she could tell he was sure enough of himself to handle it.
She jumped at the buzz of the intercom. He was here! She pressed the button and leaned in close, heart thumping. “Tom?”
A low growl of static obscured his reply.
She buzzed him in. Then froze, almost overcome by the habit of fear and an instinctual urge to fly out the window before he could climb the stairs. How could she have invited a near stranger into her own space? He could be a psycho or a predator.
Dammit. She was not some timid sparrow, flying off at a whiff of danger. She was a crow. And crows are fearless.
She could handle Tom.
When he knocked on the door, she was ready to let him in.
About the Author:
Eva Moon is an author, songwriter, playwright, screenwriter, performer, and former Huffington Post blogger. Her plays and musicals have been staged across the US and UK, and her solo musical, “The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes” is streaming on Amazon. Her novel, “Pinocchio at the End of the World” will be published in March, 2023. Videos, stories, music and more at https://evamoon.net