The Compartment

Josie Sigler

When children lose their wings, the compartment
opens briefly at the crux of disintegration, in the tender
upper back. You’ve seen the space that remains
on sunny days at public beaches or when readying a
child for school or bed. Unless you’re a wing-thief.
For instance, a thin boy of six, while chasing a beach
ball along the shore, loses his wings as he runs into the
water after it, and silvery droplets roll over the angular
nubs where the wings used to connect. O beautiful
gunpowder wings
, witnesses lament as the sprawling
outline flashes its X-ray on the horizon in the moment
the bones are already gone. It’s a hazy day, mostly bright
blue and transparent yellow with shattered white
clouds—shocked hydrosphere as everything shifts to
accommodate the dark matter arising from the dispersal
of the wings, which are often made of leftovers:
the unlucky end of the wishbone, bits of crêpe paper
torn by starlings, odd shards of dried placenta the
midwife missed with her cloth and which remained
unnoticed because there was the navel to attend to,
the circumcision. As loss-of-wings is the least predictable
developmental step, it is rare to witness this haunting
fingerprint, and nearly impossible to catch a glimpse of
the compartment itself. Some believe if they simply
watch all the time, they cannot fail. They plan to
photograph it with their eyes and examine the afterimage
for signs. But if you blink, you miss it. In trying
not to blink, of course, you blink more often. Thus,
many observe only the remnants, the small golden bugs
with black tails that careen wildly through the air
around the child. It is so very rare to see
the compartment, in fact, that an entire camp of people
call it myth. This is partly because those who have seen
it offer conflicting reports: it’s a small post office box
with gleaming metal insides, a jewel case lined
with velvet, a Tupperware slightly stained with red sauce.
Once, even, the wrinkled hide of an elephant,
a handful of pearly tusk. The compartment closes
instantly around anything that enters—so swiftly, in fact,
that what enters may appear to be the compartment.
This swallowing is helpless, a reflex. Doubters don’t like
the idea: buried to the neck, force-fed—
hence the impetus for that form of torture in which a
recipient’s stomach is filled with water until it bursts.
Deciding is critical to their senses of self. Wing-thieves
would tell a story of mirrors lodged in the skin,
of finding their own memories in the body of another.
If we could find a way to see our own compartments,
many would likely suffer less. Some perhaps more.
The doubters aren’t comfortable with the toss-up.
It’s the reason disciples make love. But in any case—
wish or resist—the laws of physics apply: you can’t take
in hand what you beheld then. You can’t see your
compartment. You can’t even reach to scratch when
it itches with the wriggling of what’s locked inside.