“Feathers” by Fi Michell
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. This week Ben meets a strange girl and has to decide which one of them is crazy.
We present our Feature Story: “Feathers” by Fi Michell
Ben slumped down at the rearmost cafe table. Sweat beaded his forehead, his swollen shoulder blades spasmed, and a deep ache consumed the rest of his back. His reward for rearranging old Evelyn’s cramped flat, or maybe he’d caught some tropical disease when he cleaned out the cage of her macaw. He’d ten minutes to unwind with a coffee before what would probably be his last day on campus. Yet he could only tilt his seat and scrape his back against the wall, to relieve the intense itch beyond his reach.
A pale latte slammed down, spilling onto its saucer, the waitress already looking elsewhere. Ben spat the first mouthful straight back out. The milk was off.
He’d stuffed up his degree, his part time job, everything. It wasn’t Evelyn’s fault, it was his–he couldn’t bear to watch her suffer and do nothing. But perhaps he should give up–it was costing all he had. Still, she had no one else. Ben sighed. A soft heart was a curse.
He rotated his shoulders again. The waitress was flirting with a man at the front table, so Ben took his latte back to the serving counter rather than wait. Something shimmered at the edge of his vision. Feathers? Madness. He turned, and his fingers lost their grip.
He could have sworn he saw a full-on angel, wings folding down and all. Blood hummed in his ears and his heart pounded.
But it must have been a car driving by the shop front, reflecting morning glare, or maybe a mobile billboard, dazzling. For a slender young woman stood beside him, with a glowing halo of red hair and pale, faintly freckled skin. She grinned as if she knew him. Then her gaze shifted to his feet, where glass and china lay shattered on grimy black and white tiles, bright islands in a dull brown sea.
“Let me help.” She bent and began collecting sharp chunks with bare hands.
“No, no.” Ben crouched. “You’ll cut yourself. It was my fault, just leave it. The waitress will clean it up.”
Her mouth twitched. “I’m not sure she’s taking any notice.”
When they stood, the top of her head reached his chin.
He’d never met her, he was sure, but she seemed so familiar.
Almost… almost like he’d dreamed about her.
He had. Certainty made his spine tingle. It must be brain fever. He was losing his mind, as well as everything else. And a girl like her couldn’t be interested in him. And why did he even think of that? Contemplating that, even for a second, was a sure sign of delusion.
“May I join you?” she asked. “Might as well order two fresh cups at the same time.”
His shoulders still throbbed. What would he talk about?
His horrible weekend. How he was using up his last remaining coins, and he’d nothing left to pay his rent. How he was failing college and about to drop out because he’d been completely distracted, all for the sake of an invalid woman who could never pay him back.
“Not today,” Ben said. “Sorry.”
“I’ll order. What were you having? A latte?”
Was she deaf? “I told you, I’d rather be alone.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said. “But you do seem miserable, and I can help. We’ll love each other–I know we will.”
“You don’t know me.”
She must be crazy. That would be right, that would make sense. Approached by a beautiful woman who happened to be on day release. That would just top his morning off.
She tugged his arm. “You don’t understand. We’re meant to be together.”
She really was unhinged. He took a deep breath. “I’ve had a horrible year, especially this last weekend, OK? These few minutes are a farewell to my life as I know it, and even the coffee is crap. And I can’t believe a girl like you would just traipse in and go for a no-hoper like me. Are you trying to sell me something? I’ve got no money. See!” He pulled his wallet out, opened it and shoved it into her face.
Everyone stared. He’d been shouting. She backed away, face stricken. “I must have made a mistake.”
She headed for the door, thin shoulders drooping. A faint rasping noise. Feathers, dragging along the dirty floor behind her, ends damp, ragged and torn from their journey through the smashed glass and coffee. His fault. She’d only tried to be kind.
Her hand paused on the jamb.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That was cruel and selfish of me.
Please come back.”
“If you’re sure…”
Light returned to her features.
She sat with him and signalled the waitress. She ordered two lattes with double shots, just the way he liked them.
“I’m Emma,” she said.
She did have remarkable green eyes. His body canted towards them of its own accord. And the light from the window beyond made her hair a golden glory.
“Have faith,” she said. “We’re made for each other. I’m just a little further down the road than you, that’s all.”
Although she was crazy, she was still the best sight he’d seen all year. “I don’t really understand how you can say that,” he said, as their drinks arrived.
“Well, you never need have another bad coffee.” She pushed his glass towards him.
He took a cautious sip and grimaced.
“Just nudge it, change it for the good.”
“It’s what we do.”
He stared at the glass to humour her. Willed the milk to go sweet. In fact, he might as well make it the best latte he’d ever tasted. He rolled a drop onto his tongue.
“It’s bewildering at first, a little uncomfortable. It happens when you let your heart rule.” She reached behind him, slid her hand up beneath his t-shirt. Her fingers reached his right shoulder blade. There was a sharp sting.
When she opened her palm, it held a single, white feather. “After they’ve finished growing, you’ll feel much better.”
The room seemed to shift. He must be as insane as she.
“Am I dead?”
“No. You’ve given your life to another, and your true self is emerging.” She twined her fingers through his. “You’re not meant do it all alone.”
Warmth spread through his body like a sigh, from his heart to his fingertips and toes. Gazing into her eyes, he felt amazing. He could do this for eternity.
Eternity. He flexed his shoulders. “Tell me–do they get less itchy?”
Fi Michell lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two young children. She writes fantasy and science fiction in whatever time she can free. She has had careers in Architecture and Information Technology, and tries not to drink too much coffee. You can learn more about her at her blog.
Tags: fi michell, metro fiction, short stories