‘Silver Wings’, Joyce Chng

Illustrations © 2019 Rachel Linn

 [ Silver Wings, © 2019 Rachel Linn ] My mom gave me silver wings.

She actually gave me a silver suit, after she retired from her Spandex Club. That was like many years later after I turned twenty-five and she kept the suit in an airtight vacuum tube in a secret basement of our house.

You see, my mom was the legendary, all-powerful Silver Wing. Leader of the Spandex Club, a group of crime fighters who looked after our city and put thieves, arsonists, rapists and all sorts of lowlifes in jail. Whenever there was a crime, the Spandex Club was there. I knew them, because they were my mom’s friends, and they often ate at our place, especially during Lunar New Year when mom got out her hotpot, and everyone ate around the big table in our living room. They were my uncles and aunts, not related by blood, but they had watched me grow up. I loved their ang pows. The red envelopes came with money inside. Mom’s house had pictures of them posing cheekily for the camera. Dad has always been the unofficial photographer. He loves cameras.

Mom was now happily growing succulents and tropical vegetables in our little greenhouse. She still had moments of anger when she watched the news or kept tabs on the police scanner in her study. Her knee injury and arthritis kept her out of the crime-fighting, spandex-wearing scene. Before she met dad and had me, she was this hotshot biologist and geneticist, working late nights in her lab at a prestigious university and developing a suit that produced bird wings.

After she got shot in the right knee by the Vile Rose, a villain who placed red roses in all her victims’ mouths, mom basically said no more to the super hero life and spent many years feeling extremely unhappy while the Spandex Club, under the new leadership of Jinx, mom’s best friend and occasional rival, flourished and kicked asses.

Me? I was a freaking disappointment.

I dropped out of university after the second year, dabbled around in odd jobs and finally settled in a career using my tits and ass. That’s right. I was a porn actor, reporting at eight in the morning and finishing at eight at night, with my sweaty naked body in different angles and poses, while my male co-stars pumped away mechanically. It earned me my paycheck, minimal as it was… and mom’s incandescent wrath.

“You should have stayed in university,” mom said after I told her about my first role in a BDSM movie, a parody of some science-fiction show. Her voice could have solidified water. Her eyes certainly paralyzed me to the spot. I was five years old all over again, standing in front of my crayons and a picture of my family. In the picture, I drew mom with huge black wings. I had just learnt what a dragon looked like in kindergarten. “You should have graduated by now.”

“I have a paycheck,” I stated stubbornly. It was true. I had my own apartment, in a less respectable area of our city, but still, my own apartment.

Mom put down the steel colander of half-washed bak choi with a solid thump on the kitchen counter. “Tell me you are still taking your MMA classes.”

“Getting bruises every weekend,” I hated to argue with her, when she was obviously in the right. I hated having to defend myself all the goddamned time.

“Good,” Mom picked up the colander again. It was a nice large one. Dad bought it for her last Christmas. Trust Scandinavian products, he whispered to me when he wrapped the colander in bright green and red paper that made my head swim with its sheer vibrancy. Last week, it was Trust German precision. “There are a lot of xiao ren in this city. Assholes and all.”

I liked the MMA classes. It was all just body conditioning, reflexes and moves that would kill the next bloke who attacked you. I put them to good use. A couple of the directors of the said porn films were creeps. They had their heads stuffed in garbage bins the next morning. I didn’t tell mom, because she would tell me about Steel Strong, who has arms of stainless steel. Her style was to go after men and pound the lights out of them.

It was after a strenuous session in Erotixxx Studios when I saw Tia come in with purple splotches on her face and arms. I was tired. The director was a perfectionist bastard. Many cuts, too many poses, and the vagina could only take that much lube and thrusting. I was glad to be out of the faux-king sized bed with creaky wooden legs and into the communal shower which, thankfully, the studio provided for their hardworking actors. I was drying my hair when Tia stripped off her white tee and jeans. I almost yelled.

“Don’t tell me you fell down the stairs again,” I winced at the bruises on her cheek and along her arms. They were purple shot through with a sickly green-yellow. I couldn’t stop staring at them. That was the excuse she gave when I saw her last week. I knew she had an a-hole ex who liked their sex a bit too rough. She also said she bumped into corners or the edge of the table. But tables don’t do that to a face.

This time, Tia just looked at me, like a cornered, abused animal in a cage.

“Fuck, what did he do?” I shouted. Tia and me go a long way together. We started at the same time in this business and we had our fights and our tears. Tia recently became a bit of an Internet celeb by showing how fast she could orgasm.

“He hit me when I said no,” Tia’s voice was naturally husky. Now she sounded really broken. Beaten up inside and outside. Fuck. “I didn’t want sex last night. He… he didn’t like it.”

“FUCK,” I stood up, realized I was already standing up, and flung my wet towel into the laundry bin. Erotixxx was finicky to the point of draconian when it came to personal hygiene, since many of us were exchanging and dripping bodily fluids everywhere. “He’s going to die.

Tia grabbed my arm. She was shaking pretty hard. “No, please no, Sha, he will bloody kill you.”

I hugged her, naked body and all. “You deserve better, so much better.”

The bastard was predictable. I watched him return from the shit job he did at the mall: security guard. Typical dude with a uniform—power got into his head. Plus, he was just a massive asshole with abusive tendencies.

I whooped his ass when he got out of the lift, blocked his attempts at blocking me, and yes sir, I had my hair cut short (director had a hissy fit the next day). He couldn’t grab my hair. Went for his privates, and when he keeled over, holding his much-abused balls, I slammed my heel into his neck. He dropped like a stone.

I dropped him at the doorstep of our precinct with a shiny red ribbon pinned on top of his head.

Tia was much happier and hugged me. She got her life back and threw all his things out. I soon started receiving private requests from the other girls and boys in the studio.

It was fun at first, beating up the lowlifes. Such an adrenaline rush! I could fight evil on my own.

But my body was mortal and prone to breakage. One of the idiots hit me hard in the ribs, and I was out for a couple of weeks. I managed to stagger home, collapsing soon after. Mom was livid and concerned all at the same time. She made me delicious herbal tonics. She also lectured me about vigilantism, safety and protecting myself and all the things that came with crime-fighting. “You can’t keep doing this on your own,” she argued hotly.

Of course, I fought back. I always did. I said to her, in her face, that I could deal with all these lowlifes, all this evil, on my own. I didn’t need her superhero powers. I had my fists, feet and my rage. “Aren’t superheroes vigilantes, too? You were a vigilante, mom!”

Mom didn’t talk to me for two weeks. It was one of so many cold wars. Dad sent me reconciliatory messages and pictures of new pots and pans from his phone.

Then one day, out of the blue, she said, sounding tired via phone: “It’s about time.”

 [ Wingsuit, © 2019 Rachel Linn ] I gingerly limped my way—another broken rib—through Mom’s things—her gardening tools, her boxes of stuff, and the stacks of biology 101 books—and cursed with feeling when my ribs rubbed against each other in an unpleasant way. Mom blithely weaved a path down our attic, out of place in her light blue sun dress and swirling dust motes. Boxes of Lunar New Year decorations dad didn’t have the time (and didn’t bother) to throw away, Christmas wrapping paper all in brittle and yellowing rolls, photo albums with a furry layer of dust. Some of them looked older than me. I spied a bicycle tucked all the way in one corner. Its sky blue paint was muted with age. The attic was filled with memories, some best forgotten.

I almost tripped over golden dragon streamers from last year’s Lunar New Year. My right side immediately protested with throbbing.

Mom tapped a complex code on some touchpad panel (when did she install that?) and the wall started to move. It slid open, a bit like some Starship Enterprise special effects—and I could smell something else: antiseptic. It reminded me of our toilets at home, where Mom would disinfect everything. I followed her in. It was as if I had stepped into her sanctum, her special place—a place I didn’t know existed. It was all panels and computer screens right smack in the middle of the room… lab? There was a huge glass cylindrical tank, a bit like the fish tank we saw at SeaWorld. In the middle of the tank, suspended in mid air, was a silver one-piece swimsuit. Conservative, a bit like mom. Tasteful, again, like mom.

Mom tapped more complex codes on the panel next to the tank. The glass door hissed open. With an almost reverential manner, she reached out and picked the silver swim suit just like that. It was hanging by some force-field. Force-field? What the hell.

“We are of the same size,” mom’s voice was soft. “The nanozoids make the suit flexible and stretchable.” She held it out to me, expecting me to hold it.

“Mom, I can fight evil on my own,” I said, staring at the suit. Why was I so hesitant? It was just a suit, for crying out loud.

“You can’t keep going after all these men,” Mom said. “Not with my help. I am not forcing you to choose. I just wanted to give you another option.”

My inner voice screamed I can do it my own! but my body had other ideas. I touched the suit, after inhaling a lungful of air. Breathe, Sha, breathe. It felt like nylon, with a silky texture. I expected it to be plastic-y, but it was warm on my skin.

When mom wore it, it had large white wings that shone like the angel on our Christmas tree. “On silver wings I rise!” was her battle-cry. The Spandex Club talked about it all the time, over their mahjong sessions and hotpot steam rising from boiling vegetable broth. I often listened in, in the usual way of trying hard not to look as if I were listening in, to their gossip. Auntie Jinx hated the battle-cry and wanted mom to change it. Besides, would villains care about posturing and stupid speeches? I also knew Crow Man had a thing for mom and still did, in his own awkward way. He often bought her flowers for her birthday.

Mom’s wings were fluffy, like a swan’s outspread wings. I hated swans. They bite. She beat down criminals with those wings. She didn’t have superpowers, like Steel Strong, Crow Man or even Emerald Light—she only had her wits, her reflexes and her suit.

She did it like me. She did it on her own. I suddenly remembered something. Me learning how to ride the bicycle when I was four and pouting “I do it my own!” while pushing Mom’s hands away. Mom just stood there, looking sad and happy at the same time. She was so much younger then.

Mom wanted me to wear the suit in front of her. I think she was almost bursting with pride. Suddenly I was shy. Me, who would easily peel off her own clothes and fuck a dude for the camera—shy. For crying out loud. I asked her to wait outside so that I could try the suit on. Mom rolled her eyes and laughed, her eyes twinkling. I realized her hair was all silver now, edged with hints of black.

The suit was surprisingly easy to wear. It was in some ways like a one piece swimsuit. I hadn’t worn one since I was nine. Mom was right: the whatever nanozoids made it very flexible. The suit fit. Perfectly. No boob spillage. No bit of fat showing. It was perfect. For a moment, I stood in the middle of mom’s secret hangout, wearing her suit. My head felt light. My heart pounded.

My wings. Mom didn’t tell me what to do about the wings part. Do I just imagine them to be? And what kind of wings should I have? I was not a swan.

Hawk. Falcon. I liked birds of prey. Raptors. I had pictures of eagles and hawks pasted all over the wall. I was the weird kid who loved birds in middle and high school. The image of a peregrine falcon flashed through my mind. The suit tightened slightly, and I could feel my shoulder-blades taking a life of their own. It was just the suit’s little critters responding to my thought. There was no turning back now.

A rustle, a stab of pain through my shoulder-blades, and wings sprouted from my back. There was a rush of wind and me going “FUCK” when I felt myself being lifted upwards. I fought to remain on earth. Another “FUCK” and I landed clumsily on my feet. I saw my reflection in the panel opposite the glass tank: I had wings. Falcon wings. They were brown, with highlights of gold. As I watched, spellbound, the wings twitched and took on a silver sheen.

Mom came in at that exact moment, and then we were laughing, crying and holding each other all at once. She stood back after and smiled. “Oh wow,” she said. I wiped off the tears from my own eyes. I was not a disappointment to her. I didn’t draw those dragon wings on her. I didn’t push her away.

That evening, she had the Spandex Club over for an impromptu celebratory dinner. Hotpot as usual, with the platters of succulent shellfish, fish slices, bak choi, fish balls and shabu-shabu meat from the nearby Asian grocery shop. She introduced me as the new Silver Wing. The Spandex Club nodded sagely and each of them hugged me. They were my uncles and aunts. Auntie Jinx wiped away a tear and gave me a box of durian praline chocolates all the way from Singapore. Dad took pictures. We had wefies. Then we ate our dinner.

Later that evening, I stood at the roof top of one of the buildings, accompanied by Steel Strong’s daughter, Dagger. My wings hung behind me. I felt their weight. I felt Mom’s legacy.

“Let’s kick some ass,” Dagger smiled. She had silver arms like her mom’s and a deliciously wicked laugh. I wanted to kiss her hard on the lips. She was gorgeous. She wore a different costume from her mom’s: all yellow, not like a sunflower, but the sun itself. I should ask her out.

Earlier, I asked her why she became Dagger and she shrugged, grinning. “Ain’t superhuman all the time. I am only mortal. Can’t do it on my own forever.”

“I said the same thing too,” I said.

“There you go,” Dagger smiled.

I listened to the city sounds, the noises that formed the heartbeat of the city. I thought about Tia and thousands of women like her. My ribs were still sore, but they would heal. I still had to turn up for the Hot Girls Making Out shoot tomorrow. A bitch still had to eat and pay her rent. I can do this on my own. For now, these would have to wait. Somewhere, there was the sound of glass shattering. Closer, I heard a couple arguing over steaks being overdone. She blamed their old grill. He yelled at her about the sauce gone bitter. A sound followed, a slap on skin. The woman sobbing.

Red-hot anger spiked. My wings flared. I focused on the on-going argument, on the sound of sobbing.

“Yes,” I nodded. “Let’s kick some.”

Dagger took the first leap out, vaulting over the roof-tops like a parkour champion. Her yellow form flickered like a living flame as she darted from roof to roof, jumping across the gaps as if she were born to do this. I just had to take my first step. What was stopping me? Fear? Tia’s face swam before me. The sound of the woman sobbing reverberated in my mind. Me pouting and pushing Mom away. My fists clenched. My wings stiffened before spreading fully. The feathers were mercury silver edged with the diffuse gold of the city lights.

The wings will listen to you, Mom said during the hotpot dinner, her chopsticks poised above her bowl of food. You are the wings. Will yourself to fly. Will yourself to soar. You are the Silver Wing, Li Shan. She hadn’t used my name for a while now. The steam from the boiling vegetable broth looked like joss smoke drifting skywards.

Dagger—real name: Nala—was already at the end of the street. She pumped her fist, once, twice. It was now or never.

How did you fight, Mom? With fists and feet? With brains and wits?

Like me.

How did you fight?

Like me.

How do you fight?

Like me.

How do I fight?

Nala pumped her fist impatiently.

I am the Silver Wing now. I will fight with brains and wits, fists and feet. I can do this on my own. I can do this. With silver wings, I rose.

I cried the cry of a hunting falcon.

The night was mine. The city embraced me with its sounds and colors.

© 2019 Joyce Chng

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