Lead Wings

Perched in a high branch of her favorite tree, Icarus watched nervously as her father spent another afternoon gazing restlessly out across the sea. “Going home” was all he talked about these days, but she had only been three years old when they went into exile; this island was the only home she could remember.

When he started to build the wings, she tried everything she could think of to stop him. Pretending frivolity, she ran through his neat piles of feathers, trying to scatter them, waste them, make them useless. He always found more, though. Of course he did, the island was lousy with birds. Stupid.

Wax must surely be in short supply, though, she thought. She stole away as much as she could from his stores, sculpting clever statues and feigning innocence as she presented them to him proudly. He only shook his head and chuckled indulgently, then hiked back out to the trees to scrape off some more.

She considered setting fire to the wings while he slept, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to go so far.

Ultimately, she had only served to delay the inevitable. “You’ll love it there, Icarus,” her father insisted as he cinched down the leather straps that fastened her arms to the contraption. “We’ll finally be free to live our life.”

Our life. Singular. Weren’t wings supposed to be a symbol of freedom? These were made of feathers, wax, and willow branches, but they felt like lead to her.

Her chest tightened as he began to explain the mechanics of flight. “You’ll fly where you’re looking,” he told her, “so keep your eyes on me. There’s no charted path home from here, and you don’t want to go wandering to the north or south.”

No, of course she wouldn’t want that.

She tried logic as a last-ditch effort to change the plan. “Do these things even work, father? We never tested them.” Maybe she could spend just one more night here at home.

“Of course they work!” Daedalus boomed. “What a silly question. Didn’t I ever tell you that your father is the greatest inventor in all of Greece? Only take care not to fly too low over the sea, or the feathers will water-log and you’ll sink. Oh, and don’t fly too high either, or the heat of the sun will melt the wax attaching the feathers and you’ll fall into the sea. And sink.” He took her nervous expression in stride. “Don’t worry, my love! Just keep yourself perfectly level, keep your eyes on me, and follow my path.”

No pressure. She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat. No problem.

They had hiked to a tall cliff to gain enough altitude to take flight. As her father alighted to lead the way, Icarus gazed down at the trees and hills spread out below. One last look at home. Is this freedom? she wondered. No control, not even any input over where I spend my life? But her father was already circling back, calling her on.

“Don’t be nervous!” he prompted, misunderstanding her hesitation.

She sighed, and jumped. Her breath left her lungs in one big WOOSH as she took to the sky. Her heart raced as the wind caught her hair. Daedalus was cheering, but she couldn’t even hear him. She was busy drinking in the sight of the world sliding past beneath her. Anything seemed possible from up here.

But after a moment, her father was circling back once more, making sure she stayed on track. “Don’t forget,” he said, “fly along behind me, following my path. Not too low and not too high. Let’s go!”

As he flew on, she could see her life stretching out ahead of her, just like this—following along neatly behind her father in the life he determined for her. She realized this flight was likely the most autonomy she would ever have again, so she was going to make the most of it.

Icarus didn’t glance north or south, but she dipped down and skimmed the familiar sea with her toes, careful to keep the wings out of the seaspray. Her father glanced back at the sound of her laughter, a wrinkle of concern between his eyes even as he smiled indulgently at her.

The moment he turned back to face his path, she caught a warm air current and began to race upward. Her father’s voice echoed in her ears, warning of the danger of flying too high. Just a little farther she told herself as she climbed. She could hear him calling her from below, but at that moment, she felt her tether to him snap.

Suddenly, she belonged only to herself. Up here, gliding above the world, this feeling of pure delight was worth any cost. She grinned and soared, dipping and rising. As the melting wax began to loose its hold on the feathers of her wings, she laughed and cheered them on in her heart.

They were free now, and so was she.

*I was unable to determine the artist of the image in this post. If you know, please share!