by Hannah Whiteoak
The first feather sprouts from my elbow. I pluck it and lay it on the side of the bath. White and downy, it’s definitely a feather, not a hair. I rub the spot where it came out, but it doesn’t hurt. This must be one of those things that happens when you hit twenty, like my hairline creeping higher or the increasing darkness of my five-o-clock shadow. Or feeling out of place here in my parents’ home.
Five more feathers appear overnight, a cluster around my left shoulder. I pluck them again, groping with the tweezers while Dad bangs on the bathroom door and tells me to hurry up.
They’re back the next morning, both shoulders this time. White as a new sketchpad; soft as unicorn fur. They catch the light from the frosted window as I raise my arms and twirl like a dancer. The movement makes them ripple.
Mum wouldn’t approve. Despite the heatwave, I put on a long-sleeved shirt.
I find her in the kitchen, basting a chicken for Sunday lunch.
‘How’s the job search going?’ she asks.
‘Fine.’ Crushed under my shirt, my feathers itch.
She frowns and hands me a potato peeler. ‘Make yourself useful.’
The potatoes are cheap, full of eyes and cracks. I do what I can with the peeler and then gouge out the cracks with a knife. Mum tuts.
Feathers spread down my arms. Filling the pan for the potatoes soaks the down spilling from my cuffs. Already the white fuzz is greying, like snowflakes trodden to slush.
‘Your brother says there’s an opening at the scrapyard,’ Mum says, making me jump. Reaching past, she turns up the gas.
‘I didn’t drop out,’ I say. ‘Just switched courses. I’m going back in September.’
‘You can’t mope around until then,’ she says.
At lunch, I can’t bring myself to eat the chicken, so I push it around my plate.
‘Is it poisoned?’ Mum barks.
‘No.’ I cut a lump, wanting to swaddle the dead bird in my feathers.
‘You’re not doing that vegan thing again, are you?’ Dad sneers.
I put down my fork. ‘My new tutor loves my portfolio.’
Mum screws up her face. ‘Are you sure it’s a good idea?’
Feathers prickle my shoulder blades, pushing through my shirt. Spreading my wings, I ride Mum’s sigh out of the open window, aiming towards the sun.