about the author

Robert M. Detman is the author of the novel Impossible Lives of Basher Thomas (Figureground Press, 2014). “The Survivor’s Guide,” a collection of short stories, was a semi-finalist for the 2013 Hudson Prize from Black Lawrence Press. His writing has appeared in dozens of literary journals, including the Antioch Review, Word Riot, Spork Press, Elimae, and elsewhere.

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Building the Perfect Wings 

Robert M. Detman

Feathers were scarce now that the birds had all flown away. Dedalus must have believed leaves were useful because they flew down from the sky. Such a leap of logic, to Icarus, wasn’t even worth pondering.

Icarus is shown by his father the rudiments of leaf wings. He had to do something with all those leaves, such as to not park the car in the fresh pile of dead ones. (Icarus’s father hears the roaring car, the shuff of freshly cracking leaves; he goes to the porch to yell, “What are you going to make your wings with?”) But Icarus will see his father’s crude wings—they let him fly, sure, with some tenuous flapping and strenuous slapping they barely get him from the back patio across the roaring chasm of I-80. They are crude: last year’s leaves on a skeleton of twigs and feathers, looking a bit like the abandoned bird nests Icarus pulled from the vents that he had to block with fine steel wool. These are glued with the crudest application of a glue gun since Icarus had seen in architecture school so many years ago. His father, forgive him, never went to architecture school. His father never channels the muse on his shortwave radio, but has instead tuned into commercial free public radio—yawn!—just like everyone else. So Icarus has bigger plans, which he works on downstairs into the darkest night beneath the glow of a solid state tungsten lamp. He draws his plans on fine vellum (architecture school was good for something), which details an Orville and Wilbur Wright flying contraption on steriods. Icarus is not beyond recycling—as his father insists, having watched the depredations of the earth redouble and max out in his lifetime. Dedalus, due to hard times, has been out of work for a while. He can’t afford to get supplies at Home Depot, and isn’t as resourceful as Icarus when it comes to building. Icarus uses found material from Urban Ore, and sailcloth cadged dumpster diving a trash bin outside the Berkeley Yacht Club. He’s set up a tig welder, an industrial fan, carbonite stays, wax sealant, all manner of alloy fastener, stainless steel grommets, brackets and number five picture wire to fashion his wings. He used to worry about his father coming down to the workshop and condemning his work, but his father usually just calls out to him from upstairs windows, or the porch. Maybe, Icarus thinks, I’ve begun to intimidate him whose wings seem uninspired to me; wings that are in constant need of repair, and so are shabby and sad, to say nothing of their late design style. Icarus doesn’t think even the guy Scott who comes around asking for a hand-out would wear those wings. They have had arguments about this, Icarus and his father, and Dedalus has reminded Icarus that the man probably can’t fly. “He doesn’t want to. Or he wouldn’t know how. Or he wouldn’t want to even try, unlike us.” This specialness conferred by deigning to fly has never been sufficient reason to Icarus for being humble in the manufacture of wings. So he keeps his mouth shut, knowing he’s not supposed to talk back to his father. He’s going to show him, anyway, one of these days.

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