Black Feathers

We hired Jack to dig the well after lightning ruined the water main and Mom said every time she turned on the faucet, she got a shock. But the pipes weren’t the only thing that held a charge: I’d watch Jack shovel, inky wings fanning across his bare shoulders, sweat painting salt across them. I felt like those shoulders belonged to me. I pictured us tangled in my sheets, except I’d swapped my lilac ones for something rich and satiny and given my parents some excuse to get out of the house. They knew well enough not to leave me alone for long, though.

I didn’t usually like body-builder boys or soldier-types, like Jack. But I did like the dangerous in him, the way he clearly wasn’t but could’ve been; it made me feel safe and stronger than anything. We had so many dry electrical storms that summer, while the cicadas groaned in the oaks and the heat fried our grass yellow. If I squinted, it looked like sand, and I wondered if that’s what he saw, too, sand, and what kind of dreams it gave him. Did he thrash around with his head somewhere else? Would he confide in me the horrors of war? Could I stroke that brow, lull him to sleep on my lap?

I felt like those shoulders belonged to me

Jack came inside during those storms. Mom poured him sweet tea, and we talked about high school, which was embarrassing because it made me feel young—and I was, thinking I could cure fear. When I asked, he told me he’d never been to war. He was dishonorably discharged after receiving his pilot wings.

The phone rang, and as Mom left the kitchen with a sharp nod at me, thunder ripped through the house and my hair stood on end. I asked Jack what he’d done to get kicked out.

I wanted to tell him my hips opened like those gray clouds, but Mom walked back in, and the storm broke

He stared through the window and said he’d refused to land, to go back to his bunk, that he wanted to stay in the sky and roll up in it.

I wanted to tell him my hips opened like those gray clouds, but Mom walked back in, and the storm broke. After the well was plumbed, we heard how Jack started dusting crops, flying higher and higher until the sky turned upside down and became the lake. When rain finally curled against the windows, I searched the sky, looking for black feathers in the lightning forks.

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Annabelle Carvell is an illustrator from the UK that never thinks of herself as an ‘illustrator’. She particularly loves to draw hair and female features, mostly working with fine-line pen and pencil colours. You can find her artwork on the wrists of best friends, or for sale on Society6.

Kathryn McMahon’s flashes have recently appeared in Atticus Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Booth, Passages North, and others. She has received various nominations and her work has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She tweets as @katoscope. Find more at