“To mend the sore bone that kept her from flying, that kept them all from soaring. The quiet community off of Route 9, their refugee camp. Broken Wings Way.”
#1, Broken Wings Way
Celia had always started her days the same way, even after she moved in with Mike. She would wake up at 7:00 and rush to whatever kitchen was in her reach at the time. With eyes that were only half open, Celia would make coffee and sit by an open window, trying to breathe in the dewy air. It was a simple start to the day.
Mike always slept through it, maybe even snored through it. He never saw the way Celia leaned back against the wall, would never know the way her eyes opened, really opened, for the first time every day. If he had seen it, he would have smiled silently, not interrupting her early-morning peace.
When they were both awake, they sat on the patio of their small home. That tradition had only started when they moved into this studio in the lot. Slowly, more houses were built, more people moved in. Many left, but Mike and Celia stayed. They welcomed new families and people. They weren’t the owners, but the leaders, of the little lot. The original fighters.
They thought of it as a refugee camp. They all did. Everyone there came from different wars, different fights, and hid in the little gray huts off of Route 9.
Celia and Mike didn’t work anymore.They cut the grass, went for walks. They brought cookies to the neighboring families, read books. Simple.
They’d both been searching for simple for quite some time.
When they had met each other, their lives were each their own separate chaoses. They told themselves, and soon, each other, that they were happy in the storms of their lives. But soon the gales tore down their houses, and they had to move out.
Move out into this little home, just at the entrance of the quiet Broken Wings Way.
It was Mike’s idea to change the name. “Something more fitting,” he called it. Much better shaped than Flyer’s Road. Celia had been the driving force, though, not stopping at changing the name on the sign, but calling the mayor’s office to get it officially replaced.
And maybe they were kidding themselves, but they could have sworn that this name brought in new patrons, brought in new stories and new tires bumping over the gravel driveway.
‘Broken wings’ was a simpler, easier-to-be-digested term for the marks on their veins that only they saw. Sweet synonyms for the withdrawal and screams they tried to escape by moving into #1, Broken Wings Way.
#2, Broken Wings Way
It always felt like a full-body sigh of relief when he rolled past the street sign and onto the gravel road, a homey crunching filling his ears. As if nothing could reach him past the invisible walls of the little neighborhood.
Cael had not been expecting a community when he first rolled past the then-ominous street sign. He was expecting to be questioned, asked for papers that he could not produce, then reported to the police. It was far, far from his mind to be accepted into their little family.
But he soon realized that he was not the only one missing something. Even something just as trivial as a typed validity of his nation. Some were missing children, families, hope. But those losses came to a collection of small gains; a tire swing hung in front of one of the houses, carpooling to school on misty Monday mornings, a garage sale on a warm Saturday afternoon.
And soon after his easy move (where no papers had been discussed at all), he had found his niche. He had quickly discovered that every person could produce a small part for the community. Cael had always loved to work with his hands. When he was a child, he had built little homes out of wood bricks, feeling a pang of guilt every time he had to take the constructions down to make room for new ideas.
When Mike had posted a flyer about needing a volunteer to repair the window of house #3, Cael didn’t respond for four days. But every time he passed the billboard, he felt a pang of guilt. As if he was letting down the occupants of #3, and the rest of the little alliance that had been so kind to him. He told himself that he needed to stay under the radar, even here. But, finally, he knocked softly on Celia and Mike’s door, and told them that he would fix the window (and install a tire-swing for a coming family with children) happily, as long as no one else had already taken the job.
Celia had invited him in, gave him cups filled with strong coffee, and told him that she had hoped he would take the job, seeing as he had that “lovely” toolbox sitting on his window.
Soon, the flyers didn’t go up on the billboard, and were just slipped under Cael’s door. He picked them up swiftly, a small smile forming after seeing the simple tasks that needed to be completed. They needed him to complete them.
Two years into Cael’s residence in Broken Wings Way, Mike confided that he, of course, knew that Cael was undocumented. He had known since the first time he had met him, how nervous he was every time he was handed another paper. Mike’s breath dripped with the sloppy-warm scent of the peppermint alcohol that was being served at that year’s Christmas party, and Cael knew he wouldn’t have revealed this had it been a normal day.
But Cael was glad they knew, that he didn’t have to keep the secret anymore. Slowly, Cael became a little more talkative, and he smiled at people as he walked on the road, his road.
Things started to feel more relaxed for Cael. He thought, just maybe, Broken Wings Way could be the final building block house, one he did not have to break down or wipe out.
#3, Broken Wings Way
The car had been buckling under the pressure of the bags it was carrying since half way into the drive. It sputtered as it pulled onto the gravel road, almost out of fumes to run on.
Amelia could hear her kids laughing in the back, unaware of what was happening around them. Their toys, though slightly broken and very used, continued playing without pause. Neither child realized that they had finally reached home.
The gravel turned to dirt under the worn tires, and they soon passed the first house of the road. “Broken Wings Way” was painted on a little board next to it. Amelia pulled the car to a stop a little ways down, allowing her head to finally lean against the seat, sighing with relief. Giggles erupted from the back.
She was almost glad the car was breaking down, sputtering as she slowly pulled the keys out of the ignition. Amelia knew she wouldn’t find the money to fix it for months, but perhaps it was for the best that she wouldn’t be able to drive far away from here.
Looking into the mirror of the sun visor, applying more concealer just below her eye where the tender bruise still lay, she reviewed the information that the caretakers of these homes had told her on the phone just last week.
Amelia had to call from a payphone across the street from her children’s school. She didn’t dare call from the phone in her house, and she was afraid he might look at her recent call list on her cell phone.
She spoke to Mike first, his soft-spoken words soothing her ears. He described the community with such care and spoke so excitedly when Amelia talked about her kids, that she decided immediately to move in.
Next, Mike handed the phone over to his wife, who shamelessly asked what it was that Amelia was escaping, explaining that everyone was escaping something in Broken Wings. Hesitantly, Amelia whispered that her kids weren’t safe around her husband. She was embarrassed by the shake in her voice and tears on her bruised cheeks when the woman asked if Amelia was safe herself. After she hung up the phone, she sat next to the payphone and wiped the stream of tears from her eyes.
Soon enough, her older son noticed the car had stopped, and pointed to the tire swing hanging from the tree on the third house down. They threw questions into the front, squirming in their car seats.
Amelia took a deep breath, pushed away the stained mirror, and hopped out of the car, ready to get settled into house #3, Broken Wings Way.
#4, Broken Wings Way
The fourth house was empty. But it had been occupied so fully and so recently that Mike could not bring himself to spread word about a vacancy.
There hadn’t even been time to sweep up the broken glass on the kitchen floor.
Perhaps, it had nothing to do with time at all. Celia told Mike that the energy of the house was too strong, that he was still in there. Mike told his neighbors that he needed to allow the house to rest before they let anyone else fill it up. The neighbors told each other that they didn’t want it active either.
Everyone had known Tim. Everyone knew Tim’s flannels, his soft voice, his stories. The way he quietly turned down drinks at parties. The way he set up those parties so eagerly, always trying to bring the community together.
Mike softly wondered who would organize those parties now.
Everyone knew how Tim had come to need the little corner off the busy road. How he had battled with alcohol for all his life, and could only find escape in this quiet isolation, only leaving Broken Wings for his job as a substitute teacher.
Money had never been the cause of his patronage, and although all the neighbors knew he didn’t have the funds, Tim quickly volunteered to pay for food, for a generator during a particularly harsh storm one winter, for anything he could think of to help the others.
Celia didn’t voice her worries about who would make the community feel so whole if Tim wasn’t there to keep it from cracking down the middle.
No one had seen Tim all day, and they assumed he was at his job, or maybe even visiting a friend, finally branching out instead of closing in.
He’d gotten a call just that morning, from his father, sitting in a hospital waiting room, but his neighbors didn’t know that. His father hadn’t bothered to call before the heart monitor attached to his mother’s slowly heaving chest came to a beeping halt. Tim wondered if he had purposefully been called after her death, because his dad was too ashamed of his own son to let her see him before she died. He concluded that he didn’t care what his father’s intentions were, or even that his mom was gone.
When he twisted the key in the ignition of his car, he told himself he just needed to drive around and cool off, that’s all. When he parked, he told himself that he had enough control to feel the atmosphere of the buzzing bar without feeling the sting of whiskey sliding down his throat.
But by the time he’d downed his third glass, he had nothing left to say to himself at all. He could taste the shame of his parents, of himself, and the chaser to the vodka.
The bar wasn’t far from Broken Wings. He told himself he could drive. He stopped along the way to pick up another few bottles at a dimly lit liquor store. He opened one of them sloppily as he swerved through the night air, not waiting until he got home to start to forget.
Tim couldn’t bring himself to look at the street sign that greeted him as he turned onto the gravel road. He wished he didn’t have to imagine the shame of Celia and Mike if they saw him the next day.
But somewhere, deep in the back of his fogged mind, Tim was aware that there was no tomorrow. At least, for him, anyway.
He pushed open the door, stumbling through the frame. After more poison entered his veins, he couldn’t remember if it was a bottle or a window that lay broken on the floor. He didn’t want to remember anymore. He didn’t want to think at all.
#5, Broken Wings Way
It was Celia’s turn to drive Layla to school. Layla opened the front door slowly to find Celia holding out a cup, steam rising slowly from the top. Celia admitted that coffee would be bad for a growing girl like Layla, but it might help her for those tests she had today, and she’d just brewed a new type.
Layla smiled, and took the coffee from Celia’s hands. The two of them walked down the steps together, their feet moving in perfect unison.
Layla secretly loved when Celia was the one to drive her. Celia always shared stories from her past, never showing shame for the mistakes she had made.
It had been Celia’s idea, and that, of course made Layla feel more at home with her, as well. When Layla’s parents had driven away into the night, leaving their only daughter behind, Celia asked the neighbors not to call anyone, not yet.
Celia had been through the foster care process, and winced at the word “orphan.” She did not want sweet Layla — who left flowers on her neighbors’ doorsteps and sold lemonade by herself — to go through the same thing.
Mike had, of course, tried to convince Celia to at least call someone anonymously. But she had her ways, and no calls were made. By anyone.
Soon, all the neighbors were in on it; making Layla warm dinners, asking her to stay at their houses. Amelia even hired Layla to babysit her kids, although she had nowhere to go or money to pay, her broken-down car still rotting in the driveway.
They hadn’t wanted Layla to sleep in the house alone, but she argued that she was ten and her parents had left her by her lonesome before. So Celia and Mike waived the rent for her little studio, and organized a chart to share the duty of making her meals.
She hadn’t spoken about her parents before or since. Mike had tried to bring them up, but the blanket of sadness-cloaked-in-numbness that passed over her face told him that she wasn’t ready.
Layla never asked friends to come to her house, but she hadn’t before. She didn’t want to deal with her mother’s drunkenness and the needles spread across the coffee table like magazines. Instead she told her friends that she would rather meet up somewhere or maybe go to their houses. Now, she covered up the fact that nothing was there, no food in the refrigerator, no parents in the bedroom, no empty bottles rolling out from under couches. Nothing there to embarrass her, nothing there at all.
Cael wasn’t sure if he agreed with Celia’s approach. He was often tempted to call Protective Services, the police, someone. But his neighbors had agreed so swiftly and Layla had helped him paint once, so he stayed quiet, volunteering to drive her more than the others did.
They all had quiet reactions, just loud enough for others to hear when they noticed that the car had been gone for far longer than ever before. All of their own experiences and views combined to a mass of new shelterers. But no one could see what Layla was thinking, because although they all checked in on her, asked her how her day was going, she didn’t let anyone close enough to see.
Layla refused to miss them. How illogical it would be — and Layla was always one for logic — to miss the ones that she had wished away after years of hiding when they stumbled in after parties. But she did not want them gone. She did not want to be the one to cause community meetings or to need rides to school.
Layla hadn’t even cried. Not when she found the bedroom empty and the car gone one morning when she woke up. Not when Celia told her that she could remain in the home at the far corner of the lot. Not even when she got a postcard from Miami, an ironic message of “Wish You Were Here” sprawled across a flowing, photoshopped sunset. With no words on the back.
And on that day, Layla did not want her neighbors to discover the x across her calendar. She was 12, as of just a few hours ago. Layla was quiet on the ride to school, not wanting to bring it up or let the date slip from her lips. And she thought to herself that she had kept the secret well.
Layla floated through the day as she normally did. Her mind was swinging on the tire that hung from house #3. Her fingers traced the crooked hem of the thrift store skirt she had worn, dressing nice for the special day, even if no one knew why.
As she stood outside, waiting for Celia and Mike to pick her up, she wondered if her parents regretted what “today” was, what she was. She told herself they wouldn’t even remember her birthday, much less be conscious enough to feel remorse — stifling the smoky ember of hope before it grew into a fire and her parents could drown it in their watery absence themselves.
Layla was quiet on the ride home, sitting in the back with her bag stuffed between her knees. She noticed a glimmer in Mike’s eye as he looked at her through the rearview mirror. The embers lit in her stomach, but this time it warmed her chilly bones, even as she told herself that Mike always had something to smirk about.
She did her homework as quickly as she could, not admitting that she wanted to make time for the dinner Cael had invited her to.
When she walked in, she found herself feigning surprise at the cheaply cut poster hanging from the window and the homemade cake on the table. She laughed as Amelia’s son asked if he could eat the whole cake.
She had fought back the emotions all night. Layla had been so numb for so long that she didn’t even know what to name the feeling spreading through her bloodstream, like how the alcohol probably spread in her mother’s. She had not expected cakes, or posters or the single card that Celia handed Layla before she left.
We’re so happy that it took this village to raise you, Layla read to herself as she closed the door behind her.
The tears on her cheeks, slipping through her eyes covered by hands, warmed her to spite the nip in the night air.
It took her village, her family to bring the tears that had fogged her vision for almost a year now. To mend the sore bone that kept her from flying, that kept them all from soaring. The quiet community off of Route 9, their refugee camp. Broken Wings Way.