Rectify by Georgene Smith Goodin
When my illness was its worst, I picked at food. My husband layered burrata with heirloom tomatoes, or topped seared tuna with lemon curd, hoping to coax forth my once voracious appetite. I moved these delicacies around the plate to make it look like I had eaten.
He told the doctor I ate like a bird and I didn’t point out the fallacy. I knew birds ate their own weight per day, even if he didn’t. I couldn’t imagine the amount of energy it took to stay airborne.
The first time I ate my dinner, my husband said nothing, as if mentioning this development might make it disappear. But when my appetite grew, and I not only cleared my plate but asked for more, he beamed and said how ravenous I’d become.
I realized “ravenous” was derived from “raven,” that mythological mediator between life and death. What a strange quirk of language, that avian terms described both ends of the hunger spectrum.
As I grew stronger, the snugness of my clothes confirmed my curves were reemerging. My nails no longer peeled or flexed unnaturally. My toenails were especially hale and gave a satisfying crack when clipped.
Overnight, the pale down that had always grown across my body transformed into thick, black strands. I caught the sideways glances my husband thought I couldn’t see. He must have wondered what had become of his lovely wife. Was my recovery worse than the disease?When the quills emerged, I felt no pain. This lack of sensation was even more surprising when I realized I’d shrunk. I raised my arms, broad and nearly weightless, arching them in a pose I’d so often seen on the sill outside my sickbay. I stretched my limbs to their full span and fluttered tentatively.My leap of faith crashed me face-first on the hardwood floor. I flapped my wings, ferrying myself a few feet along, hovering a mere inch above the ground. Expertise grew with each attempt. Unfettered movement was a joy after months confined to bed.I departed through the veranda door my husband left open to air my room, and my wing clipped the casing. I glided to the black oak we planted early in our marriage to nurse my injury.When my beloved returned from the errands that consumed his day, he wandered from room to room. I heard him calling my name as he sought the soul who had shared his life, and failed. I emitted a gurgling croak, more musical than I imagined it would be. I repeated it, raising it in pitch, and growing it until it encompassed the mourning we both must have felt.He came to the veranda door, and rested his hand where I’d collided. He seemed to look right at me, but twilight may have played tricks upon my aging eyes. I raised my wing as if feathers and fingers could intertwine across the distance, and hoped he could sense the freedom lying just beyond his grief.