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Heart of Icarus
By Elizza Mansfield
Amelia wasn’t going to be another Icarus tale. She was a genius, not a fool. After all, only a fool would build wings out of wax. Hers would be bronze and run by gears; they would not melt, they would not fail.
“Amelia, are you really going through with this?” Helen said from the doorway of Amelia’s workshop.
With precision, Amelia turned her screwdriver to lock another gear into place. Her wings were just about perfect. “Of course. I’m going to make history, my dear.”
Helen balled her fists into the folds of her dress and chewed on her lip. Amelia was surprised Helen didn't throw a tantrum. She would do almost anything if it meant keeping Amelia here. Amelia was her life, her most treasured source of happiness. But, Amelia only felt that way about Helen in half. Amelia’s work is what made her thrive, not her best friend’s love.
“How are you going to make history?” Helen asked because she wanted to hear Amelia say one of the strange things that only Amelia would say.
“I’m going to touch the hand of God,” Amelia said as she tested the key that would wind up the gears.
From the spot where Helen always watched her work she said, “That’s a peculiar thing to say.”
“Then, why’d you say it?” Helen inquired.
Amelia shrugged. “Because I’m a peculiar person.”
Amelia laughed at this. She was the kind of person who was eccentric because she knew she was eccentric. The crazy didn’t always just bubble out of her mouth; sometimes it was carefully crafted to give her the appeal of a mad genius. Strange was as strange wanted to be.
As Amelia wiped sweat and dirt away from her brow, Helen watched in wonder. Amelia was nowhere near the Victorian ideal of what a woman should be. She had no interest in cooking or cleaning. The idea of marriage disgusted her, as did the thought of children. And worst of all, to everyone but Helen, was the way she dressed like a man. To Helen, Amelia was her knight in shining armor dressed in a buttoned up white shirt, cobalt vest, and dark slacks. In Helen’s eyes, Amelia was handsomer than any man.
The two of them had lived in the same orphanage together since they were babies. They had grown up together like sisters — along with a few dozen other kids, of course.
Sixteen years of living like any other orphans, poorly dressed in rags and always hungry with only crusts on their plates. Sixteen years of Helen listening to Amelia talking about all of her crazy ideas. Then, Helen did what many other desperate orphans did; she learned to pick pockets. That’s when things changed for the two best friends. Helen started bringing in more than loose change. She started stealing bigger prizes, clothing and jewelry.
The day Helen stole her first vest was a day she remembered vividly because it was the day Amelia started making plans for her wings. Amelia had admired men’s fashion for years, so when Helen had the chance to give Amelia what she wanted, she took it.
They had pawned most of the jewelry Helen stole, so they had a good sum of money they kept hidden under their beds. The headmistress didn’t pay much attention to the children themselves but always checked their rooms for any extra money. That belonged to her husband by law. The children couldn’t own it and neither could she, so it went to her alcoholic husband.
With the money they had, they started buying gears, tools, and sheets of bronze. No one ever questioned them because Amelia made a very convincing boy and a very convincing liar. They always kept the same story; Amelia, who called herself James in these situations, was an apprentice to a local clockmaker and Helen was the man’s daughter. No one looked twice at them.
After they turned eighteen, they moved into one of the many of unsanitary homes along the Thames, pretending to be a married couple named James and Helen Mayfield. Helen had even made some clever papers to prove it. There, Amelia turned into her mad scientist self and worked all day at a cotton mill with Helen and all night on her beautiful wings.
Two years later and the wings were finally complete.
“Where are you going to fly to?” Helen asked.
Amelia studied the contraption where all her dreams, sweat, blood, and hours of sleepless labor lay. “Just around the city for now. I need to test them.”
Helen nodded her head and tried to tie up her emotions. She’d been telling her dear friend the story of Icarus for years, and how his arrogance had gotten him killed. The way Amelia saw it, the fatal flaw in his plan had not been his arrogance but the fact that he had made his wings out of wax. In her mind, if she made her wings out of bronze then she could do anything.
Amelia pulled the wings onto her back and started doing up the leather straps that went across her chest. The wings were not visible to Helen at that moment because they were folded up. “Ready?” Amelia said with a huge smile that felt like a stab to Helen’s chest.
Only five minutes later, the two stood on the roof of their small home. Amelia already had her goggles on and stood on the edge of the building. She was so eager to fly and her wings weren’t even unfolded yet.
Helen turned the key on the back of the wings slowly to make the moment last. She wanted Amelia to stay on the ground where she was, but could never dream of dragging her down. Amelia didn’t reprimand her for taking her time.
The wings popped open and the gears inside started whirling like angry bees. That only worried Helen more, were they supposed to make that noise? Amelia didn’t seem worried at all as the wings began to move along the tracks she had places in the machine so that the wings would move like those of a bird. The design was as genius as Amelia always claimed she was.
“See you soon,” Amelia said, looking back at her friend one more time before she jumped off the roof.
Helen gasped as Amelia plummeted towards the ground. “I love you,” she shouted on impulse, terrified of what might happen.
The wings yanked their owner away from the ground at the last second, sending her zipping into the sky. She hadn’t heard what Helen said. Helen wasn’t sure if she should feel relieved or disappointed.
“You should see it up here,” Amelia called down to her from above the houses of the dark Thames. “It’s even more beautiful than the headmistress’s tea cup collection.”
Helen laughed. “You’ll have to take me sometime.”
Amelia smiled down at her like an angel, an angel with bronze wings and a cobalt vest. “I will.”
The brown haired girl flew away on her wings and Helen felt herself relax. Amelia would be okay. Then, there was a flash of lightning from behind her, followed by the roll of thunder.
Helen’s heart picked up pace until it was thrumming like the wings. “Amelia! Come back! There’s a storm!” Amelia couldn’t hear her. “Amelia! Amelia!”
When Amelia finally turned around, she didn’t see Helen, instead she saw the brilliant storm brewing, the hand of God. Her brown eyes sparkled with a thousand bolts of lightning and her desire roared like the clap of thunder that shook the air around her. Yes, she’d touch the hand of God.
“Amelia! No, please, no! Come back! Come ba-a-ack!” Helen’s pleas reached Amelia’s ears but never her heart, the heart of Icarus. There was something she needed more than Helen.
A bolt struck only a few blocks away. Helen stifled a cry. Amelia pressed onwards.
The wind lashed out violently, tossing Amelia about like a ragdoll in the sky, but she knew she was stronger than the wind, she knew her wings were stronger than the storm. God’s fist might be shaking the skies but she was their master.
Another crack of lightning came down like a wipe, ordering Amelia into her place among mortals, but still she resisted. Helen was crying for her to listen, but she never would.
The last bolt had no interest in telling Amelia where she belonged, it was dead set on showing her. It came like the rest, shooting through the sky in a burning arc before it found something to strike, in this case Amelia’s wings.
Helen saw it happen. Helen heard her scream. Helen knew she was dead.
Her sobs demanded release this time as she watched her bronze angel fall to the ground, her wings blackened from the heat. Her body wasn’t recognizable by the time Helen found her. Her limbs were twisted in strange ways and anything that could’ve burned had burned. She was not the lovely girl Helen remembered.
After all, God would punish even the most beautiful of angels.
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