The Grim Atheist CC
A Penguin Has Wings But Cannot Fly
She tries very hard to get back to that feeling of not wanting it, but the feeling of wanting it is like an ocean breaking through a seawall and moving over every exposed thing.
Hours pass, days pass, and eventually weeks pass since she touched her son’s fingers, his head, his shoulders. She touched him as much as she could before they took him away.
She packs a suitcase and drives to the beach. She brings his ashes, held in a white porcelain heart, because she is a goddamn good mother.
She gets the cheapest room in a tall hotel that stands with other hotels, watching the ocean. She puts the heart on the bed beside her. She drinks three shots of tequila - one, two, three - and holds the heart up to the window, says, “Baby, that’s the ocean.”
At twenty-two weeks, a baby is the size of a coconut. It has hair. It can hear. It can sumersault in the womb and taste the food its mother eats.
But it cannot survive a body that has failed it, a body such as hers.
She leaves the room, takes the elevator down to the lobby, and walks out to the boardwalk, where there are so many noises and bodies and smells and sounds, the seagulls, the children, and she wants all of them to know of her loss, her great loss and her great grief. She carries the grief with her like a secret, like she has the look of a woman but she is not really a woman.
I might as well be a jellyfish, she thinks. I might as well be a cloud.
She only wants to walk into the ocean and drown. But she won’t do that. Instead, she will walk into the arms of a man and drown.
At a tiki-shack, she orders a margarita and sits at the bar that overlooks the water. The men here are alone, sun-sucked, salted. They would love to fuck a girl like her.
One comes along and asks if the seat next to her is taken.
“Pull up,” she says.
He orders her another margarita, tapping a cigarette from its pack.
They walk out onto a pier. He rubs his knuckles into the small of her back, catching her dress’s fabric. Seagulls dive at the chum along the railing. At the pier’s end, she looks for dolphins or whales, for any indications of life.
Fishermen drop lines over the railing and into the water. One fishing line jerks straight and men run to it, begin pulling something round, flat, and gray out of the water, catching it in a net. It spins and flails on the pier.
“What is that?” she asks.
“Flounder,” the man says.
“Will they throw it back in?”
“Nah, they’ll keep it.”
“Let’s go. Let’s keep drinking.”
Back at the tiki-shack, they sit at the bar and drink.
What does she learn about him?
It doesn’t matter.
She is thinking deeply about this: to be dead, you had to be alive first.
“Everything that is dead had to be alive first,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how long the life lasted. It doesn’t make it any less a life.”
The stars over the ocean begin to blur.
She digs the hotel card from her purse and hands it to him. It has her room number on it.
“Can you take me back?”
On the ride back, they pass a carnival. There is a double ferris wheel. It folds over itself and rises. It falls over itself and gets back up. It looks exhausted. It looks like it just wants to die.
She pours two shots of tequila and hands him one and steps out on the balcony that looks over the black ocean. She presses her back to the wall and sinks to the ground. He sits next to her.
“Why do you think penguins have wings?” she asks.
“Fly I guess.”
“But penguins can’t fly.”
“But wouldn’t that make them fish?”
“Well, for one, fish don’t have feathers. For another, they can’t breath air.”
This chokes her up.
“That’s true,” she says.
They fuck, but it is not what she thought she needed, and now it is over and there is this man asleep next to her in her bed that she will soon ask to leave.
She puts on the white hotel robe and walks out to the balcony.
She would not have been a good mother because she will keep doing things like this, and so when she talks about the baby in the future, she can say, “I would have made a horrible mother,” and people will know exactly what she means and she won’t have to explain it and she will be able to think it, I had a son, and feel like things worked out for the best, that he is in a better place than she could have ever given him.
She jumps into water.
Her wings propel her through the water like it is air. It is close to flying. It is almost like flying.
But the water is wet and heavy, and it is not clear like the air is clear.
From under the water, she looks up and sees birds in the sky. She twists, turns back to the ocean and to its depths, smells the smell of living things, hears their gurgles, their moans, their births and their deaths.
She turns again and breaks the surface back into light, torpedos onto land, and stands. To walk makes her feel like a fool, and she begins to walk.
It is pointless to want.
She looks up at the sky, water beading off her wings, and wants just the same.
Coleen Muir’s writing has appeared in the journals The Southern Humanities Review, Fourth Genre, Chattahoochee Review, Cream City Review, The Los Angeles Review, and Silk Road Review, among others. She lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and two young sons.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.