Broken-Winged Love

By Naru Dames Sundar

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I didn't love my baby when it was but the dream of an iron-heart's seed. I heard the iron-heart in my time of heat, mind-addled, my lungs heaving gouts of sulfur. Afterward, our tails curved amidst shattered rock and molten magma, I regretted my choice. The time was too early, the act irreversible. I groused so to the iron-heart, and he simply laughed, his charcoal scales quivering. I snapped at his throat, tasting the sour tang of blood and copper. He did not stay long.

I didn't love my baby when it was an egg, opalescent shell binding unthinking yolk, buried and growing inside of me. I felt it weigh down my skin as I flew, no longer a graceful dancer, but a behemoth, lumbering. Three interminable weeks. I wondered if it will be whole. I dreamed of leaving the egg, perched on a mountain ledge, unattended. I dreamed of watching it fall, the sunburned yolk drizzling down the crags, pieces of shell scattering into the wind.

I didn't love my baby when it crawled out, half-formed. Still wreathed in its waxy caul, it shivered, one wing a stub—raw and forever broken. Shame burned red my gold and ochre skin. A poor bloodline, they called me. They, the other hens, with their perfect well-formed lizards. I held the pink and raw snippet of flesh against my chest, letting it feel the heat of my furnace, hot as the heart of suns. I closed one wing around it, so it would not hear their laughter.

I didn't love my baby when I sheltered it with my wings, feeling the crackling fire of other runts burnishing my scales. They soared a few feet off the ground, long bounding arcs like all runts should. But not mine. Not my broken offspring, held down to rock and earth and sea by nothing more than chance. I should not have listened to the iron-heart, but I did. I should not have trusted my blood, but I did.

I didn't love my baby when it cried as the other younglings flew into the air. It watched them, trapped forever to the unforgiving earth. I let him scamper up my back, tiny little claws clasped around the bony ridges of my spine. I showed him flight, but it engendered nothing but pain. He would never know the sky, without me. Alone, he would know only the laughter of his herd brothers.

I didn't love my baby when I held him with my claws, sweeping west to empty aeries, leaving the taunts of other hens far behind. I found one, a pearl amidst the ocean, a strip of beach and raised rock like some dead lizard of old. Here my child danced, free from comparisons. Here lay I, sundered from the sky, ever watchful of my growing gold-eyed boy.

I didn't love my baby when I leapt with him in tiny hops on a deserted shore, as a choir of gulls watched us. It was not flight, and no trick of the mind made it so, but I heard his laughter, the keening roaring sound, the licks of flame that spurted with delight. We rose three feet into the air, and then we landed, time and time again. It was our own dance, a private performance, a hidden joy. In secret dreams, I longed for lost days flying carefree into the endless blue, adrift among clouds. When I woke, I felt him, sinew and bone, curled against my chest.

I didn't love my baby when he burned my left wing, angry and raging, trapped in his broken body. I had been impatient, hoping that with his one wing he could leap higher, taste a larger piece of his birthright. I paid the price for such hopes. I tended to myself while my son raged along the strip of beach, flame scorching sand into puddles of glass. Had I not already paid enough? I mourned pinion, bone and skin, never to heal. I spent my days on the ground, with my lost dreams, with my son, a lizard of the sea.

I didn't love my baby when he returned to me, mewling, apologetic, and I let him burrow into the crumbling scales of my neck. I watched them shed as his tears landed on uncovered flesh. Scales, already shedding? Time was my enemy now. How would this gold-eyed, green-glass beauty fare alone? Answers eluded me.

I didn't love my baby when he hunted brinish things in the shallows, feeding me when I could not. I tasted the fish he gently placed in my gullet. It tasted unnatural, but it was a kind of pallid sustenance. My furnace was only embers now. One leg refused to move, but I did not care. I had given up the sky—the little perch of rock around us, it mattered little. My child reared majestically against the crashing surf, green as emerald. He wore his one wing across his shoulder like a cape. Atrophied, it was but a leathery ornament. I heard his roar, the furnace belching flame into the sky forever denied to him.

I didn't love my baby when I held his green-glass face and smiled at him through rheumy half-blind eyes. I still saw the wing, the tiny shriveled thing, no longer a part of him in truth. He had left his birthright behind a long time ago, become something else, a native to this foreign shore. He bathed me in salt-water, lapped the dirt from my cracking talons. I would never see the sky now, but I have seen other horizons. He would bury me in the sand, raise me a pyre built from driftwood, lit by his flame.

I didn't love my baby. Or maybe I did. Or maybe it was something else, some hidden place between words, incommunicable and unknowable.


Naru Sundar (@naru_sundar) writes speculative fiction of all kinds. He has previously been a DJ, a composer, and a potter. When he isn’t devouring books or writing, he enjoys music and art and deep moments in the redwoods of northern California.

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