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"Lila’s Left Wing" by Jordyn Elizabeth Pimental

My dreamiest day of the week is Tuesday. I’ve tracked nearly every dream I’ve had since I was twelve years old and for the past six or so years, the only time I ever missed a dream on a Tuesday was when I pulled an all-nighter to finish my favorite book.


Last Tuesday I had a dream of going into the city alone. I woke up disappointed because it didn’t match the recurring daydream I have of going. In it I’m all dolled up, I like to picture myself in a short black dress with wine-red tights. In it, I walk with the self-assuredness of a late twenty-something-year-old, or at least the self-assuredness I imagine they have. I’ve never met somebody that age before. I’m working on leaving the house more but that’s hard for two reasons. 


The first reason is my dad. He reminds me of this fish I had when I was younger. I’m not sure of the species but it was big and blueish brown. We have a giant tank in our second living room full of many different kinds but this one fish, named Wilfred, commandeered the hollowed-out log in the center of the twenty-nine-gallon aquarium, chasing any and all smaller fish that dared to swim even close to the entrance immediately out. 


I guess an easy way to describe my dad is reclusive. I’d never tell him he reminds me of my childhood, hermitlike fish but he does. It’s usually only the two of us here, occasionally three whenever my mom makes an appearance, and he likes it that way.


I remember when Wilfred died, the log was full of all the guppy and tetra schools reclaiming the place before his scaly body had even floated to the top of the water. I woke up that morning and knew he was gone before seeing the body.


My dad loves the tetras the most. I’m named Tetra. Another reason I want to leave the house more is because I’ve always wondered if anyone shares my unique name out there. I’d never read about a girl named Tetra before or even seen one in a movie.


The second thing keeping me bound here is more embarrassing. It’s myself. A byproduct of all this isolation is fear. My own brain can be a world of horror, I have so many worries it feels like they’re eating me. I bet if I mustered up the courage one afternoon and told my dad I was leaving and I’d be back by eight, or maybe nine o’clock at the latest, he would apprehensively shrug and I could be on my way. But I think I do this thing where I keep myself on an invisible leash. 


Another thing I think is that homeschooling made me pretty smart. Sometimes I wonder if I’m too smart, there is definitely a such thing as knowing too much. Maybe if I knew less I’d be less consumed with intrusive worry.


It was mid-February anyway so the city was cold. I kept telling myself by the time all those skyscrapers warmed I could gather up the courage needed to explore. 


The next fish I want is a comet goldfish. Surprisingly, our tank has never housed a goldfish of any kind and that bothers me a little bit. I’ve wondered if that has to do with my mom. I don’t know very much about her but I do know she is very particular. She spends her days in a self-induced banishment to her bedroom on the third floor of our house. She makes my dad look like a socialite compared to her.  I believe it’s been over two years since she’s last eaten a meal with us. I attribute every weird quirk about our home to my mom and the odd mind that I’ve been able to infer she possesses. 


It’s unusual, the layout of our house. Most houses I had seen before moving here looked so flat but this one looked like it has about a million dimensions to it. I learned it’s an architectural style called Second Empire in a Civil Engineering course I took last year. My dad sleeps on the first floor of the place, usually in his office but sometimes he makes it onto a couch or in the guest bedroom he claimed as his own. I have the second floor completely to myself and my mother has her third floor. Each member of the family on a different story. My father drops off my mother her meals every single day. I wondered if she ever said thank you.


I made a mental note about the comet goldfish idea a few days ago, but on this one particular Thursday evening, the Thursday that followed my Tuesday night’s city dream, it bubbled back up to the forefront of my thoughts and I made an actual note in my dark green leather personal journal. 


comet goldfish


Lazily scribbled into the lines, it was my personal journal after all, not for any academics so no punctuation was bothered. 


After writing two words I collapsed into my made bed, taken over with a kind of laziness where I wished my quilt would swallow me. I let my head hang off of it so the sunset’s light shined into my eyes, my dark brown hair draping onto the wood floor. I caught myself missing the summertime deep in my chest. During the hot months, I’d spend all day in the backyard, in the apple orchard, either reading, writing, or crocheting. My pale skin would be so tan by August. 


My thoughts were interrupted when I got that feeling that you get when you notice something moving where things are supposed to be still. An insect. Vision semi-blurry, staring into space but also at my bookshelf I rose carefully hoping that it wasn’t another one of those black fuzzy spiders we’ve been steadily getting. I don’t mind bugs but even I was sick of those.


As I got closer to the shelf, I was stunned by what I was seeing. A brilliant emerald color, nearly shining as it slowly made its way up the spines of my novels. A gorgeous green june beetle, about an inch long. I hadn’t seen one since I was a child around the time we first moved into this old house.


There was something off about the thing I quickly realized upon my examination. The bright green gloss that was meant to cover it only existed on about seventy-five percent of its body. Where one wing was meant to be there was just black. The poor bug only had a single wing on the right side of its body.


“What kind of accident had you gotten into?” I muttered quietly to it. 


I gently put my fingers in its way, letting it crawl onto my skin so I could further inspect it. Handling insects always felt just a bit weird but I could manage.


“You are beautiful,” I whispered in awe as I brought it closer to my eyes.


After a minute or maybe closer to five minutes, I released it back onto the bookshelf and it just continued up on its way as if I had never interrupted. It didn’t try to fly, just kept on walking. 


It wasn’t until the second day I saw the one-winged green june beetle, that I decided it needed a name. The bug was on my window on Friday afternoon, this time walking downwards. I felt strangely satisfied it had not only survived the night but had found its way back into my bedroom.


“Lila,” I announced proudly. Her name was now Lila. I heard it in a movie once and had been saving it for when the right fish came along that suited it, but for whatever reason it fit her perfectly.


Lila


I jotted down in my notebook and drew a small sketch of her next to it.


That night for dinner my dad and I ate homemade chicken noodle soup. We talked about my upcoming assignments and I fought the urge to bring up my little finding. But my dad hates bugs and I didn’t want to freak him out.


When I returned to my bedroom, tired from the day, I spotted Lila on my bedside table. She was investigating my white orchid. I was sprawled beside her and let myself think. Sometimes, right before I go to sleep, my head becomes full of near-nonsensical thoughts and ideas. I feel most creative on the brink of sleep.


I thought about Lila’s flightlessness. She knew her limits, in the two days in which I’d known her she didn’t attempt flight. Beneath her one wing was essentially a safe pocket. 


I forced my heavy eyelids open. I had a very weird plan.


Snagging my personal journal off of my desk, I flipped through the three or four latest pages, until I reached what I was searching for:


comet goldfish


I grabbed the pair of pink craft scissors off my desk organizer and cut the words out into a tiny oval shape, then folded it in half. Then I retrieved Lila. I let her crawl back onto my left hand, then used my right to so delicately slide the thin paper under her wing. After, I let her go free along with the possibility that somebody out there might find my message.


I fell asleep without putting my long hair up, so when I woke up on Saturday it was a knotted mess. I combed it until I thought it looked nice again and I wondered where my beetle was. But I didn’t see Lila on Saturday and by Sunday I had almost forgotten about her.


Sunday night brought news though. I found her on my door, close to the knob, as if she just let herself in. I hadn’t smiled that big in a few days, and I quickly went to hold her.


“I’m sorry Lila, I hope my message wasn’t uncomfortable,” I told her while sliding my finger under her wing, “I don’t even know what I was thinking.”


But then I stood frozen. I felt something under her wing that felt different. I pulled out a folded piece of paper, only it was thicker. I knew instantly that it wasn’t mine.


Still in shock, I unfolded it. This one was square-shaped, and the paper wasn’t lined.


Your favorite fish?


Was scribbled on it written in perfect cursive. I instinctively brought my hand to cover my mouth, Lila still perched on it.


The first rational thought I had was that my dad found Lila and was making some fun game out of communicating with me via her. It felt like the most realistic option, only there was no way that man would get close enough to a beetle to exchange paper under its wing. Besides, I knew he didn’t write in cursive anyway. And if Lila had gone outside, the likelihood of me ever seeing her again must have been slim. The world is so large ultimately. And so cold right now. What were the odds that it was someone out there replying to my message?  Probably none.


It had to be my mom. It had to be her.


There was no other sane explanation. Lila went up to the third floor and my mom found her and wrote back to me. 


I returned Lila to my door, quickly cleared my desk, and bent over to start writing, not even bothering to sit down. It wasn’t until my pen was hovering over my notebook that I realized not only was my heart pounding but I also didn’t know what to say.


Was a comet goldfish my favorite fish? No definitely not. I took a very deep breath and attempted some composure.


Koi.


I wrote out. This time bothering with proper punctuation. I was writing to a someone after all. I cut out the word in a circle and hid it in Lila, sending her on her way. 


On Monday I found Lila in the kitchen while my dad cooked dinner and I did homework at the table. Luckily, I scooped her up before he spotted her. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and untucked my message there.


Favorite bird?


That Monday’s message marked a new era in my life where the only eventful thing that occurred was a series of questions. I spent the next week spilling my guts to a beetle. 


On Monday my response:


Mourning dove.


On Tuesday my question:


Favorite subject in school?


On Tuesday my response:


History (English & Biology both tied for second place).


On Wednesday my question:


Favorite book?


On Wednesday my response:


Beloved by Toni Morrison.


On Thursday I couldn’t find Lila. I felt a pit in my stomach throughout the day but tried to shake it off. I was terrified of what could happen to her.


Stepped on and smushed by boots? Buried in the snow? Caught in a doorway? The possibilities were both endless and all equally horrifying. 


On Friday I breathed a sigh of relief at finding my question:


Favorite food?


On Friday my response:


Apple pie.


On Saturday my question:


Favorite stone?


On Sunday, when I finally found Lila, my response:


Ruby. My birthstone.


For the rest of Sunday and that Monday there was no sign of Lila. On Tuesday afternoon, I began turning the house upside down looking for her. I tried to be discreet but my dad noticed me stirring. I told him that I lost the book I was reading and he helped me search, which made me feel guilty in my whole body. I went to bed miserable on Tuesday and for the first time in a long time, I woke up on a Wednesday morning with no recollection of any dreams.


On Wednesday, I skipped my daily assignments and paced the second-floor main hallway. My dad was locked in his office doing his work, so knowing I was all alone I allowed myself to freak out.


“Lila, where are you?” I cried as softly as possible.


Against my better judgment, I roamed up onto the third floor and let myself stare at the one-locked door that exits there. I felt greedy. Finally, one interesting thing happened to me in my boring life and the second it was over,  I was falling apart. I always thought I was stronger than that. Or at least somewhatmore composed. 


I drew in a shaky breath and returned to my room, forcing myself to finish all of my schoolwork before I was allowed to think again.


Statistics and Chemistry and English could anchor my brain to my desk. Nothing else until bed.


On Thursday I was in better spirits. It was snowing hard outside that day and my dad made me a piping hot mug of green tea with some honey. I was so close to saying something to him about my recent predicament. I wanted to tell someone how nice it felt to have a mom. But I didn’t.


That evening, bundled deeply into two layers, a furry brown spring jacket and a thick black winter coat over it, I watched the snowfall from the balcony on the second floor. The balcony is across from my bedroom. I felt like I didn’t take advantage of that hidden lookout enough. My head felt at ease whenever I stared across our vast front yard, at our long driveway that seemed to leak into the woods. You couldn’t even see the road from where I was. 


As the forest surrounding the house filled up with white, I secretly hoped it was the last snowstorm of winter and we’d be welcoming spring soon. 


When I went back inside, my head bowed down, still shielding myself from the cold and I noticed something moving on the ground right beside my boots.


“Lila?”


It was her! I removed my mittens and picked her up, excited like a little girl. It had been four days since I last saw my beautiful beetle. I missed her. And I missed my mom so much.


Before I was able to feel under her wing, I was startled by a noise coming from above me. A light thud hit the stairs to the third-story. Then a second one and a sound as if something trickled down the steps followed.


“Mom?” I wondered out loud, following the noise before I even meant to, leaving Lila where she was.


At the top, I was greeted with the sight of two white overflowing garbage bags, one of which spilled its contents, throwing up trash partially down the flight of stairs. Two garbage bags and an already locked door.


“Hey, mom?” I called.


It was casual, right? We’d been chatting for days and now I happened to find myself on her floor. Why not continue our conversation right here?


The silence behind the door seemed to scream at me. I scoffed at it, nearly turning on my heels to return to where I belonged. However, even in the dim snowy day’s light, something caught my eye. Something sitting on top of the unspilled garbage bag, shimmering at me. A shade of green I could pick out of a lineup. A part of Lila.


Something swelled from my toes into my stomach, an emotion nearly unidentifiable took over as I inched towards the bag. I scooped up what I thought it was in terror. What I knew it was. Lila’s left wing plucked and thrown away.


Suddenly, the sequence was playing behind my eyes like a movie on an unwrinkled white sheet. My mother, this sad, bored, woman who couldn’t even leave her room to properly discard her garbage, peeling a wing off my sweet Lila simply as something to do. 


I stormed down the stairs and scooped up Lila. I took the paper that was currently under her and threw it on the ground without reading it. Then, on that snow-covered Thursday, I left the house for the city with her safely by my side in a closed mason jar.


________


Jordyn Elizabeth Pimental is a collector of feathers and a big fan of dreaming of early Summer heat during cold Februarys. As a paddle-boarder, when she is not bathing in the Atlantic, she is either taking photos or writing stories. While her visual art has been published in Front Porch Review and will be seen in Choeofpleirn Press in the Spring, she is ecstatic to debut her writing with Bizarre Publishing House.


Jordyn Elizabeth Pimental is on Instagram @jordynpimental

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