If These Wings Could Fly - Kyrie McCauley

Chapter One

IT’S IN THE STRETCHES OF SILENCE that I wonder if she’s dead.

My window is open, its wooden shutters thrown wide to welcome a breeze that doesn’t exist. I suck in air thick with humidity and look at the night sky. Heavy clouds, no rain.

Mother Nature, you’re such a tease.

Our town waits on rain to ease the drought. Rain to wash away the sweat that clings to our bodies each day as soon as we step outside. Rain to pummel the hard, dry dirt beneath withering crops in the fields. Rain is life. Rain is forgiveness.

Rain washes away sins faster than a priest can.

I hear it again: a deep, rumbling noise. Don’t be fooled; it isn’t thunder. His voice is as loud as God’s and as mean as the Devil’s. I try to ignore it, but then I hear the soft padding of feet on the hallway carpet. A moment later, my bedroom door opens, and the girls come in. The three of us sit under my window, one sister huddled beneath each of my arms.

As if I can protect them.

My arms curl around their shoulders. “It’s okay,” I whisper, to them and myself.

A scream fills the house. It isn’t Mom. It’s the opening shriek of a classic rock song. When the bass drum hits, the door to my room quakes.

It’s a full-volume night.

There’s a slight rush of air from the open window above us; the thin lines of muscles in my sisters’ arms tighten in fear. The dark silhouette of a bird appears on the far wall of my room.

“It’s just Joe,” I say, and untangle myself from their grasps. I turn to face a fierce, shiny black eye. His beak looks wickedly sharp this close. He doesn’t usually come to the window. He likes to sit on the mailbox. Or on the fence near our bus stop at the corner. Or on the lowest branch of the tree in our front yard. Joe is singular among other black birds, distinguished by the gray feathers on his abdomen and back. Distinguished as well by his dedication to being near us, always.

Joe caws. He shakes his wings in a show of bravado and turns.

“Bye, Joe,” Juniper says as he flies away.

Something crashes downstairs.

“Mom,” Campbell says. I imagine Mom hurt. Crying. I look into Cam’s eyes, and my own terror is reflected back at me.

“I’ll go check on her.” There’s no such thing as whispering over the music, so I almost shout it. I squeeze their bony little hands, a single drumbeat of reassurance, and rise.

When I get to the stairs, he’s playing Guns N’ Roses’s Greatest Hits so loud my teeth ache, and yet I can still hear him. I steal a glance over the banister, and I find him in the kitchen. If I weren’t used to the sight, I’d wonder if the dark red tone of his skin was the sign of a medical emergency. But it’s rage. The powder keg tonight was an upcoming mortgage payment. The spark that lit him up: an energy bill twice the normal amount. It was a dry, hot August, and the AC worked too hard.

I can barely see the rounded gray metal on top of the fridge. He keeps his gun where it’s easy to reach. He says it won’t be much help if he has to go find it during a home invasion, but it’s the thing I think about every time he gets like this. It’s always the same question in my mind: Is tonight the night he reaches for it?

Mom comes into view. Her long red hair is loose, disheveled. She heads for the stereo.

He runs after her, each footfall a tiny earthquake in the old house. He’s a solid wrecking ball, and he tears across the room after Mom when her hand touches the volume dial.

He shoves her into the door of the entertainment center, and it flies back into the wall. A chunk of plaster breaks off where it hits. Mom rubs her shoulder, says nothing.

My fear is trapped in the cage of my chest. It flaps its futile, frightened wings as I sneak upstairs.

“She’s okay,” I tell the girls. “But I need to call the police.”

“The phones are out,” Campbell reminds me. When it starts, he rips the phone cord out of the wall. He hoards it on the kitchen table—in plain sight but rendered useless.

“I’m going for help.” I eye the window, and Cam notices.

“It’s not too high?” she asks. If she’s scared, she masks