by RJ Edwards
“Hello,” Jaime said. She cleared her throat. “Hi guys.”
She ran her hand through her hair, tousled it. She shifted in her chair and sat up straight.
Jaime closed her eyes and tried to visualize the faces of her audience: the teenage girls, the gay boys, the sweet parents who watched with their babies, all manners of tender-hearted people from all corners of the country. The one boy who had tweeted from Glasgow. The girl from Thailand who had called her an inspiration. Jaime took a deep breath and spoke again.
“Hi guys,” she gushed to the camera. “It’s me, Jaime. Thank you so much for all the comments on my last video. You’re all super sweet and I’m like, the luckiest vlogger.”
She paused, thinking she might edit that last part out. And the pause, of course. Keep it a tight two-to-four minutes.
“You guys asked some great questions on the last video and I wanted to take a minute to respond to them,” she looked on her phone where she had the comments thread open. She coughed, waggled her tongue nervously, then went on: “Jaime, I love your cover songs so much, do you plan on posting any original songs? That’s from pennylane396. Thank you so much, pennylane! I have written some lyrics, but I haven’t actually sat down and put them to music in like – years. But if you all really want to hear them, I’ll definitely think about it!”
There was another pause, longer this time, to scroll through the comment thread looking for the next question. Past dozens of messages bragging to be first!, making the claim that this is my FAVORITE SONG, telling her you’re so cute! and ur voice is soooooo good!!.
Of course, there were always mean-spirited and downright cruel messages.
This girl is gross ugly as sin and FAT! stop eating
Most of these were voted down or flagged as spam by the time Jaime got into the thread, but a few sneaked past. And there were always plenty of mean comments masquerading as friendly comments: You could be famous if you lost some weight and wrote your own stuff, or, I really like ur videos but I’d share them more if you tried to lose weight? I think it sends a bad message.
Commenters constantly got into big arguments about Jaime’s weight. Invariably, someone would invoke the names of Aretha and Adele, the alpha and the omega. Jaime didn’t have a power-house soul voice, though. She had the honey-sweet voice and just enough guitar know-how for the quieter indie and folk songs, delicate songs that were sung by skinny-limbed women like Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos. No one ever mentioned Cass Elliot when defending Jaime, though she was a slightly closer musical equivalent. Jaime wasn’t sure if this was because no one her age or younger had really heard of her, or if her name still summoned too many fat jokes to the mind. She died choking on a ham sandwich, and all that. She hadn’t, of course – Mama Cass had been fasting four days a week when she died of cardiac arrest.
Jaime had tried to lose weight. She had tried very, very hard for seven straight years, between the ages of eleven and eighteen. At age twenty-six, her parents still called weekly and asked if she was trying to lose weight, even though they had watched the efforts that had ebbed away the energy of her teenage years and robbed her of peace. Jaime gave herself permission to lie to them.
Her parents also asked her if she had a boyfriend, and they asked about how her day job was, and they told her funny stories about her brother’s children. She only knew the kids – two and four years old – through photos, videos, and phone calls. She had moved to Chicago from South Carolina shortly after the eldest was born. She sent them birthday presents and they sent her Christmas photo-cards. Jaime wanted to know them, but more than that, she wanted to put at least five years between herself and South Carolina. She didn’t know how to talk to kids, anyway. She just talked to them like they were adults and everyone laughed at her like she was being nutty on purpose.
“The next question is from zombiefever – cool name!” She cleared her throat. “Zombiefever asked: what is your favorite song? That’s really hard. It changes a lot. …Uh, I think my favorite song, uh. I think my favorite song changes a lot, but my favorite song right now? If you’ve been watching for a long time you know I’m a big fan of Regina Spektor, and right now I’m really into this song of hers, ‘That Time’. If you haven’t heard it, you should check it out. Oh, and I’ll put a link to the music video in the description down-below.”
She smiled and kept scrolling. It always felt good to be able to link to something else. Maybe she could look up the music for that song and do a cover, maybe classify it as a response – it might be recommended for fans of the music video and pick up a few extra hits. She grabbed a pen from her desk and removed the cap with her teeth. She jotted down the title on an ever-expanding list. She settled back into the frame of the shot, checked the camera, and went back to comment-scanning.
“This is from sufjanfan7, sufjanfan7 asked can you tell us about your guitar and where you got it! Great question. If you’re a musician yourself or… ok. Wait.”
She realized she should have her guitar, Betsy, in the shot with her. She got up. Her camera recorded the empty space until she sat back down with the guitar on her lap. She made a mental note to hit pause the next time she had to get up; it would make editing smoother. She flexed her face and stuck out her tongue again, wanting to get through this spiel in one take.
“Where was I,” Jaime said. “Yes. Starting over. Ok. Ok… Great question! If you’re a musician, or if you know a lot about guitars, you’ve probably noticed that my guitar, Betsy, isn’t your standard acoustic guitar.”
She ran her hands over the parts as she talked about them “Her body has a slightly different shape, more of an hourglass I guess? Her fret board is wider, and her strings are nylon. It’s a classical guitar, and it’s a little easier to play, but the biggest difference is the sound. Nylon strings are softer than typical guitar strings, which are metal, so she gives kind of, a mellower sound? She doesn’t get as twangy as an acoustic guitar can get.”
Jaime gave herself a break to breathe and collect her thoughts. “Betsy was my first guitar, I got her from my grandmother – it used to be hers, so Betsy is older than me, and probably older than you. And that’s where the name comes from. Uh. My grandma, yeah. Hm, uh… Betsy was my first guitar. It was a hand-me-down – used to be my grandmother’s, so I named it after her. I’ve tried guitars with metal strings, but I learned one…. No, ok. Shit. Uh. Ok…. I’ve tried other guitars, but I learned how to play on this one, and if anything ever happened to Betsy, I’d probably get another classical guitar. I really like them. Ok.”
She paused the camera and got up to put Betsy away. It would be a pain to edit that ramble into a short normal-sounding statement. She sat back down, read the next question and started answering before realizing she wasn’t recording yet. She cursed to herself and started over, camera rolling.
“The last question for today is from kirstenthenerdgirl. She asked two questions – do you ever play shows and what do you do for a day job? Well, Kirsten, the only shows I’ve played so far are here on the internet. Since that hasn’t been very lucrative, I also work in retail management.” She gave a big, goofy grin with a thumbs up, then an exaggerated cutesy frown with a thumbs down. She changed position in her seat again and tousled her hair once more for the last shot.
“Ok, that’s it for q-and-a today! Remember to subscribe to my channel, mejaime, because I’ll be back later this week with a new song video. You guys are so great – thanks for watching!”
She turned the camera off and sat back in her seat. It would still take an hour or two to edit and post, but she always felt when she finished filming as if she had already released that bit of herself onto the internet. She waited for the nervous feeling in her stomach to subside, then went to the kitchenette to make dinner for herself.
The video was finished in about an hour – not bad, comparatively. Maybe she was getting better at the editing end of this. When she logged in to upload the finished product, a bright red bubble alerted her to one new private message. It was from a user named fifthartifact. She opened it and quickly recognized it as a hastily-written hate screed.
shut your ugly mouth you fat ugly bitch you are disgusting i can’t believe you have so many videos. are you looking for some pervert willing to fuck you because its NOT going to happen. log off the internet and DIE.
The insults hurt, but they weren’t new. Jaime thought the most notable part was that he (it was usually a he) had included the pseudo-friendly sign-off. She clicked over to his channel and found he hadn’t uploaded anything, just favorited a lot of viral videos and classic rock songs. She rolled her eyes, deleted the message, and completed the upload. Four first! comments appeared almost immediately.
The next morning, Jaime woke up with a pain in her upper back. It was a strange ache – not a pulled muscle, more like something poking against her. It itched a little, too.
She got out of bed, slid into her slippers and shuffled to the bathroom. While brushing her teeth, she tried to reach the spot on her back. She felt a bump there and tensed up. She rinsed and spit and took off her shirt, terrified that she was going to see a tick there, or maybe even a bedbug. She loathed parasites. During childhood she had sometimes lain awake with the terrifying image of bedbugs crawling around under her covers.
She located the spot again with her fingers and twisted around until she could see it clearly. No bugs, just a flesh-colored lump. It wasn’t soft like a zit or a mosquito bite. It was hard, like a cyst, or… Jaime had googled hard lump on shoulder before, and she knew the results were not good. The last time it was just a swollen lymph node, the byproduct of a vaccination. There was no recent vaccination this time, and it was near her shoulder blade instead of her collarbone. Were there lymph nodes there, too? What else might make them swell?
She put her shirt back on and continued getting ready for work. She was too nervous to pick up the phone and make a doctor’s appointment just yet, but promised herself to keep an eye on this new lump.
She got home that night, tired and frazzled from an argument with a customer. It was the sort of shopper who was very demanding but very resistant to help at the same time. Her central question was itself a trap: Why don’t you carry any of the high-quality soaps anymore? If Jaime had said they were discontinued, she would be agreeing that their soaps were low-quality. If she had said their current soaps were of the highest quality, Jaime would be seen as disagreeable, or worse, a liar. Instead, she asked the woman if she had any particular product in mind, but she didn’t. She asked if she was looking for a particular feature – exfoliating, moisturizing, warming, aromatherapy? The woman gave a dismissive no before asking, Why did you change the soaps? Who decided to stop carrying my old soaps? She offered to take her through the new products to find one that was right for her, and the woman had rolled her eyes and in an exasperated voice asked, Please, don’t do that. There was nothing Jaime could do that wouldn’t be seen as proof of her incompetence.
Jaime threw her purse by the door, slid the chain lock and the dead bolt into place and headed straight to her bed. She laid there for a while, pulled between the desire to take a nap and the obligation to finish a new video. If she didn’t post at least three a week, subscriptions slowed to a halt fast. If she napped, she also ran the risk of sleeping too long or not long enough and waking up in a funk that might not subside until three in the morning. She let out a disgruntled cry and rolled onto her back. The pain was still there, and spreading. Jaime sat up and went to the bathroom mirror.
She pulled her sweater off and looked at her right shoulder. The bump was still there, and a little more prominent now. She turned to look at her left shoulder, and there was another in the very same spot. She was concerned, but a little relieved. She thought that cancer probably didn’t spread this symmetrically. Lymph nodes were probably symmetrical, though. Maybe it was some kind of infection – she vaguely recalled some biology class trivia about lymph nodes and infection. She put her sweater back on and went to set up her camera.
She looked over her list of song possibilities and picked a Dolly Parton cover, “Jolene”. She already knew most of the words and the chords, so it was an easy choice for a hard day. She practiced once or twice without recording, then cooked up some macaroni and cheese for dinner. She got a text message inviting her to hit a bar with Kayla. She politely declined, citing tiredness. Kayla knew that Jaime was an “aspiring musician” with some online fans, but Jaime was always too embarrassed to let her know exactly how much time she devoted to this aspiration. None of her friends had the link to mejaime’s videos. The only person in Chicago she had even told about it was Amir. Amir was into comic books and old monster movies; he was a nerd in the worst, most earnest and unguarded way. After the bar one night, everybody crashed at his place and found out he was sculpting a clay sea monster to star in a Godzilla tribute film of his own. Kayla and their other friends teased him relentlessly for months. Jaime tried to ask him more about it, but Amir wouldn’t trust that she wasn’t just making fun of him until Jaime told him about her secret internet life.
Jaime hit record and played the song through twice – once at Dolly Parton’s speed, and once slowed down a little. She stopped the tape and watched them back. They were both good, but the slowed-down version was more distinct, and would be easier to add flourishes to. She turned on her makeshift lighting – a desk lamp with an adjustable head – and started playing again. After a brief misstep, she got all the way through the song and uploaded it. She put on her big white headphones and listened to the playback while recording some harmonies and flourishes. She smiled straight into the camera, which she would use for her last shot – her eyes were usually closed when she was singing. Then she filmed a brief intro, admitting to the audience that she had a rough day and this cover, while not very original, was the perfect fit.
She got into editing, but by midnight she still wasn’t happy with it. She thought about turning the camera back on and re-doing some the harmonies, maybe with the tambourine her brother had sent her for her birthday last year, but she was too tired. She hit save and headed to bed.
The tambourine was tragically under-utilized in her videos, considering it was probably the nicest present her brother or anyone in her immediate family had ever got for her. She changed and got into bed, wrapping herself in an old multicolored quilt. It was from her family, too, though she couldn’t be sure who had made it – her grandmother, or her great-grandmother, or maybe an aunt. It had been in her mother’s house until it was gifted to Jaime when she went away to college. When they were little, Jaime and her brother would sit on opposite ends of the couch and fight over it. It wasn’t enough to be covering her feet or his, they both wanted to be the only one whose feet touched it.
Once, when Jaime was about seven and her brother about ten, he made up a game with the quilt. He told Jaime that they could find out what it felt like to faint by taking turns laying under the blanket until they ran out of air. One person would keep watch to pull the blanket off just as the other went unconscious, so they wouldn’t die. Jaime thought this was a great idea. Her big brother went first, narrating the experience: I feel a little light-headed. I can barely breathe. Ok, I think I’m almost fainting. Jaime, in nervous glee, yanked the blanket off of him. He sat up and told her she pulled it too fast, that she should have waited until he stopped talking. She said she was sorry and laid down on the couch for her own turn. She kept her eyes open under the blanket, looking at the tiny balls of rainbow fuzz in extreme close-up. Ok, I feel a little sleepy. I feel like I might pass out. I can’t breathe. I think I’m going to pass out. I’m almost fainted.
What are you doing? Her mother’s voice startled her. Jaime threw the blanket off and shot up.
We were just – She looked around. Her brother had left the room.
The next morning, Jaime rolled over and was filled with dread. The little lumps felt like more than little lumps now. She was afraid to look at them in the mirror, but she ran her hand over her right shoulder and felt it – definitely bigger than a cyst or a swollen lymph node. Maybe it was a parasite after all, something under her skin. Urban legends about spider eggs surfaced in her mind. She went straight to the computer to look up her doctor’s number.
It had been more than a year since her last appointment. She clicked though her bookmarks, hoping she had been smart enough to save the office’s info on her computer instead of a long-lost scrap of paper, but before she could travel away from her homepage, a new message popped into mejaime’s inbox.
You think being a fatty is healthy you dumb bitch? FYI if your dumbass commentators are voting me down I will just repost or direct message you or email you – maybe I will look up your phone number or your address so you can hear how much you digust me for real you fucking pig. Of course if I saw you in real life I might just vomit. Jaime in Chicago look out for the guy on the train vomiting, that’s me.
Have a nice day :),
“What the fuck,” Jaime said out loud. She hit delete and tried to push it out of her mind, but she was too shaken to call her doctor right away. Instead of re-recording the harmonies, she edited the video hastily and posted it. As upsetting as the hate mail was, particularly threats to find her, she had figured out a while ago that these people aren’t actually interested in talking to her or seeing her lose weight or whatever. They just wanted to see her give up. Disappear. She didn’t acknowledge them, as a rule. The only thing that she found that eased the anxiety caused by being mocked and threatened was producing new content, re-affirming her right to exist and make and publish. After the Jolene video was up, Jaime had a glass of water and called to make the appointment.
It was two days later that she actually saw her GP, Dr. Pelican. She had picked him when she moved to the city based entirely on the association with a harmless animal. He wasn’t the best doctor she ever had, but he wasn’t the worst. As long as he kept sending her annual appointment reminders, Jaime wasn’t bothered enough to look for someone new. She was on the high table in her undergarments and paper gown when he walked in.
“So,” he said, looking at a chart which may or may not have been related to her complaint. “The nurse tells me you’ve got a lump you’re worried about?”
The bumps had only gotten worse with the passing days. Jaime could feel them changing shape – becoming longer, more pronounced. They were about the size and shape of two small, identical avocados, half-submerged in her body. Whatever they were, they were not just swelling, they were growing. Jaime nodded at Dr. Pelican.
“Breast lumps?” he asked, looking up from the chart.
She shook her head and referenced vaguely with one hand as she said: “On my back. One on each shoulder.”
Dr. Pelican shut his mouth and raised his eyebrows. He put down the chart and motioned for Jaime to get down. She hopped onto the floor and turned around. He very delicately – Jaime thought too delicately to really feel them – touched her back with both hands. He drew them away and sat down. Jaime faced him again and leaned against the high table.
“Well, it could certainly be lipoma, or cysts.”
“Lipoma?” Jaime asked. That sounded like cancer.
“Fatty tumor,” Dr. Pelican said, then rushed to assure her. “Benign, completely benign.”
His eyes flitted back and forth between Jaime’s shoulders, as if he was looking through her, at the lumps.
“Do you know if anyone in your family has had anything like this?”
“I don’t know,” Jaime said.
“Well, ask around,” Dr. Pelican said with surprising finality. He stood to leave.
“They’ve grown a lot,” Jaime said quickly, “I didn’t have them last week, and now they’re huge. They’ve changed shape. I’ve never had anything like this before.”
Dr. Pelican gave an unconvincing fake-sympathy face. “It’s definitely something to keep an eye on. If they start to hurt, come back to me.”
“They hurt sometimes,” Jaime said. “I mean, in the morning.”
“That might just be from sleeping on them wrong,” he said with a smile and a tilt his head. Then he got more serious. “You know, it could be cysts. They can develop for a lot of reasons, one of which being clothes that are too tight. You haven’t lost any weight since the last time I saw you, hmm?”
Jaime said nothing. Dr. Pelican shrugged and smiled again.
“Just something to think about. You should lose some weight in any case.”
He left the room. Jaime changed into her own clothes and spent the whole ride home rehearsing lyrics so she wouldn’t cry.
When she arrived home, she went to the bathroom, removed her shirt and looked at the lumps in the mirror again. They didn’t look quite as big anymore, and she felt stupid for wasting her time with the appointment. She should have known the advice would boil down to lose weight. She could have gone in with bloody stumps for fingers and Dr. Pelican would end the appointment by telling her to lose weight.
She had edited and uploaded a new video that morning – a cover of Florence and the Machine – and went to the computer to check on the response. There was a new message from fifthartifact.
Great video great song Jaime too bad it came out of your ugly whore mouth. Your voice is nice in my ears but you make my eyes bleed. Stop making videos until you are bearable to look at you disgusting piece of shit. Stop eating so muh or maybe you haven’t found the right motivation? I will kill you
Jaime went to fifthartifact’s profile and reported his account, then took a screenshot of the message and emailed it to a site admin. She also copied it into a new folder on her desktop, police, just in case. She sat in the middle of her bed, staring at the walls. She tried to focus on stories she had read about people who lived in fear of their online stalkers, only to find out it was a twelve year old who thought it was funny. He hadn’t indicated that he knew anything about her, except her first name and the city she lived in. She was slightly comforted by the thought that there were probably ten thousand people named Jaime in Chicago.
She held her knees and looked down at her hands. She resisted the urge to rock back and forth, or to ball and relax her fists over and over. She tried instead to be perfectly still.
She fidgeted a lot as a kid. Her parents told her once that if she kept rocking in her chair, eventually she wouldn’t be able to stop and would have to be taken out of school. Her brother would grab her hands or her legs or her shoulders to try to keep them still. Jaime started shutting herself in her bedroom closet until it subsided. She would rock and make fists and make tiny squeaky noises. She would look at her hands, balling and stretching her fingers until they seemed like something separate from her. She would whisper over and over, I’m Jaime. I’m Jaime. I’m me. These hands aren’t me. I’m me. I’m Jaime. These hands aren’t me. I’m Jaime. I’m me.
She didn’t record anything, or call her parents to ask them if they had a history of lipoma, or make dinner for herself. When she felt still enough inside, she stretched her stiff limbs, went to the bathroom to brush her teeth, then went to bed early.
When she woke up, Jaime felt something was off. There was a sensation she couldn’t quite understand – uncomfortable, but not a pain or an itch. It was on her back, around the lumps. She went to the mirror. The lumps had changed more than ever – staying the same size, but growing out, away from her back. They were the very shape of wings.
Jaime paced the apartment. These were not fatty tumors or a cyst, or cancer. These were sideshow-freak-style brand new bizarro body parts. Maybe not, she thought – maybe they were going to fall off soon and this was them detaching themselves, like a cell splitting. She went back to the mirror. She lifted her left arm and the fleshy left wing spread. It was firmly attached – it had bones, circulation. It was not thin like a bat wing. It was a stumpy, naked, disgusting bird wing. Jaime thought she was going to vomit. She called into work and told them she wasn’t feeling well.
The wings were still there the next day, and the first hint of feathers had sprouted. Tiny black needles poking through the flesh. Jaime tried to touch them, thinking maybe she could pull them out, but she was so disgusted by the act that she started crying. She didn’t want to go back to her doctor, or any doctor. What if they cut them off, cut her open to find out how this had happened? She thought of all the questions they would ask that she had no way to answer. She tried searching the internet for this kind of phenomenon with no luck. Some people had tails, but they were born with those. She was a true mutant, a science fiction. She couldn’t afford to call out of work again, so she wore heavy layers and spent the whole day willing it to end.
She had nightmares of being awake on an operating table. Men she couldn’t see were cutting into her, pulling something out of her. In the morning, she found a new message in her inbox from f. His old account was suspended, but the new one was easy to spot – sixthartifact.
Hi bitch, wow you are stupid. I know you reported me. Did that make your feefees feel better? You are a dumb one and you are not getting the message. You can’t silence me. I have a lot of free time and I know what I’m doing I know how to get around whatever you put up or try, I’ve already got you. You’ll figure it out soon haha kill yrself
The wild thought occurred to Jaime that f might be behind this, the wings. I’ve already got you, you’ll figure it out soon. She wondered if this could be a curse. She knew curses weren’t real, but growing tiny wings wasn’t real, either. Maybe that was it. The wings weren’t real, but f knew how to make people crazy. Maybe he had found her and drugged her and she was having an extended hallucination.
The feathers were gaining some softness, making the wings less horrific than they had been the day before. They were the same size, and Jaime wondered if they would ever get any bigger – if someday she would fly, or if she would be stuck with these ugly, useless stubs. She got dressed, carefully selecting something thick enough to obscure the wings. She briefly considered vlogging about it, asking if any of her followers were doctors or – she didn’t know who to talk to this about – an occultist? But she was sure that even her most supportive viewers would think it was a joke or a hoax. She thought about calling Amir, but he was probably at work. What help would he be? He’d probably just tell her to see a doctor.
Maybe not. Maybe he would joke that she was a superhero now. Maybe he’d show her his wings, too. Maybe this was a rare but normal thing that no one ever told her about. At the very least, showing Amir would be a confirmation that the wings were real. What if he totally freaked out? Called the police and alerted the media? No, that wasn’t Amir. He didn’t trust cops, and it took a lot to surprise him. This was a lot, though. Jaime sent him a text message – call me when you can, ok friend?
She didn’t have to go into work that day, so she sat with Betsy and finger-picked her nervous thoughts into a more comforting kind of noise.
Amir still hadn’t answered the text by half past eight that night, so Jaime gave up on the notion of talking to him about it until tomorrow. She went to the kitchen and didn’t find anything meal-worthy. She had barely eaten all day – or the day before, when she thought about it. She hadn’t noticed how low on essentials she was. After another half-hour of procrastination, she reluctantly got ready to go out.
The wings were well-concealed under her heavy winter jacket, but she still found herself constantly adjusting her posture, catching her reflection in dark windows to make sure nothing looked strange. Amir finally called, just as she walked through the doors of the grocery store.
“Hello?” she said. The cashier gave her an odd look, and she retreated back out onto the street.
“Hey,” Amir said. “I just got out of work. Is everything ok?”
“Yeah,” Jaime said reflexively. “I mean, nobody’s hurt or dead anything.”
“Ok,” Amir said. “Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, I just – I have this problem,” Jaime said. She felt a knot inside her, a ghost in her peripheral vision. Amir was going to freak. “I don’t really know if I can tell you about it over the phone. I’m fine, and I’m safe, it’s just, something I sort of need to show you.”
There was a pause on the line. “What is it?”
“It’s… a thing,” Jaime fumbled.
“A thing.” Amir repeated with a smile in his voice.
“It’s a thing that,” Jaime let the sentence hang there while she thought. “That I think is too weird to tell anyone else about. And I want you to come over and tell me how weird it is.”
Amir laughed. “Like on a scale of one to ten?”
“Yeah, something like that.” She shivered. “Look, I’m headed into the grocery store, would you be able to come over tomorrow?”
“Yeah, sure,” Amir said.
“And you’re not going to… tell anyone that I’m a big freak? Nobody?”
“Well, I don’t know how weird your thing is yet,” Amir teased.
“Amir,” Jaime said. “Please?”
“Hey,” Amir said, softening. “I wouldn’t do that, Jaime.”
She grabbed some basic stuff – bread, cheese, peanut butter, rice, garlic – then headed to the frozen food aisle. It would be nearly ten when she got home, and she was emotionally exhausted. No cooking tonight. She was contemplating the pros and cons of frozen vegetables when two young men rounded the corner and ran smack into her. She stuttered out an apology. Neither of the men offered one in return.
Instead, the taller of the two said: “Ew, that’s so nasty. I just touched that chick’s fat.”
Jaime pretended not to have heard. She was struck, however, by the fact that he didn’t even bother waiting until he was out of earshot. He didn’t care if she heard.
She could feel the heat in her face. She stepped away from them and found that her legs were shaky. Jaime felt like she was on tiptoe, like she couldn’t find solid ground under her feet. She wanted to pay for her shit and run out of the store. Run into her room and eat the shit she just bought and play her guitar in front of her camera until she was all voice, no body, all voice and guitar, no hands, no stomach, no legs, no wings, just Jaime. But she didn’t want to look like a freak, so she continued looking intently at the frozen foods. The men were still in the aisle; she could sense their eyes on her.
Jaime felt the tiny wings twitching. At first she thought, maybe I will fly away. Maybe I will turn into a bird and my body will be small and light and my voice will stay sweet and I can fly away from these fucking assholes. She didn’t fly, though, or turn into anything. They just flapped and flapped. She knew that she would never be a bird, and that these would never carry her anywhere. Jaime was just a fat woman with tiny, dark, useless wings.
“She looks crazy,” the other guy said. He was lowering his voice, but not enough. “She’s like, staring at the food.”
The wings flapped like mad. Jaime thought she must be crazy if no one could see or hear what was happening. Or maybe she was just imagining them bigger than they actually were.
She moved further from the men and closed her eyes. She concentrated, trying to make the flapping stop. She breathed deeply and tapped out a rhythm on her leg with her fingers. The flapping ceased at once, and Jaime found she could tap out the rhythm with her wings, too. For the first time, she could move them. She could feel them like her own hands.
She felt the wings rub against her shirt. She felt the feathers brush against her back – she felt it on her back and on the wing. She could move the wings by thinking. Jaime stretched her wings and felt the muscles connected, the skin, how it all connected. It felt ok.
The guys snickered. Jaime whipped around. Her legs stopped trembling and anger roared up in her. How fucking dare this fucking guy act like touching her was his big misfortune?
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she snapped.
The guys gave her a skeptical look and laughed again.
Jaime raised her eyebrows, then shook her head and grabbed a box of chicken fingers out of the freezer. She mumbled to herself: “Fucking children.”
“Hey, fuck you lady!” One of the guys shot back. “Fuck you, fatass.”
“Dude, dude,” the shorter one was trying to calm his friend down.
“I know I’m fat,” Jaime said, slamming the freezer door. “Does pointing it out make you feel good about yourself or something?”
“Whatever, dyke,” he said.
“Dude. Let it go.”
Jaime walked out of the aisle, to the cashier. She didn’t feel great about the interaction. That guy was probably not going to learn anything, just feel like some fat girl was unjustly persecuting him. But she didn’t feel bad about it, either.
When she got home and locked the door, Jaime grunted. She let out a little cry, a little noise somewhere between desire and relief. She spent the evening making the first noises that came to her tongue. Singing and speaking and squeaking out loud all through dinner and the dishes and TV watching. She let her hands clench and relax. She didn’t record anything. The next video would be late, but that was ok. She only went to her computer to delete the last message from f and report him again.
The next morning, in the shower, Jaime touched her wings for the first time since the feathers started coming in. It was still a little creepy, but the feathers were fuller now. The wings were still the same size, and Jaime knew they would stay this way, stay useless.
She washed the left wing, then the right. She turned off the warm water, stepped onto the fuzzy bathmat, and carefully stretched the tender new muscles.
Jaime dried off, got dressed, and set up the camera to record a new video. She started up her computer to find her lyrics and saw that she had a new message from a new username, seventhartifact. She deleted it without reading it. She found the lyrics, got Betsy out of her case, and hit record.
“Hey all,” Jaime said. She glanced at the door. She wasn’t sure what time Amir was coming over, but it might be fun to have him on camera. A special guest. Jaime cleared her throat. “I’m working on a new song, and I want to play it for you.”
“mejaime” (© RJ Edwards) was published in Issue 3 of Capricious. If you enjoyed this story, please consider subscribing to Capricious.