by Dan Micklethwaite
A fugitive, Daedalus changed his name to Lefteris a long time ago. These days, for the purposes of taxation, he gives his profession as sundial repair. Most of the time he can be found in his workshop. Always, even when he's asleep, he stands in his workshop, he walks up the long, rocky path to his workshop, to the white of the walls, the torn-flesh terracotta of the tiles on the roof.
When Naucrate asked him why he couldn't just work from home, wouldn't that be easier, cheaper, he told her, without anger, that he just needed some space.
There is a secret room, a cut-out and keep section of maze, worked into the foundations. He tried not to build it, but in the end couldn't resist. Old habits…
He lights a candle, and it sputters wicked silhouettes between the rungs as he descends.
Of course it hurt her at first. Of course it did. But she tried to be patient. All of this, she knew, was the result of constant pressure, constant effort, day on day and year on year, to tell himself that this was all he'd ever done, the only place he'd ever been.
It hurt her, but she used to think that, in a strange way, it was self-inflicted. She used to think it was her fault because it had been her suggestion to move up to the mountains, because she had blinked first, confessed she couldn't take it, the fear, the hunting.
After he turned up in their doorway, like a shadow puppet, all alone.
Setting the candle down on a workbench, hunching beneath the shallow ceiling, he shuffles his way over to the corner of the room. He ruffles their feathers with cautious fingertips; lifts them, one in each hand, from the cold of the cellar floor.
She thought perhaps that being so close to the gods already would dissuade him from any further dreams of flying; being so far from the lowlands, the altitude of impact, he might somehow learn to forget. They might, as a unit. Draw together into a phalanx of two, sheets for shields, and wait it out for reinforcements.
Only, none arrived.
Their physician said it was age, but she suspected something other.
In their youth, it was true, Daedalus had come to her with an apprentice's willing; brought to bear all the genius in his wood-carving hands.
But now, he's no longer Daedalus. He no longer designs. He no longer invents.
Holding the candle over first one shoulder then the next, the wax dribbles down and bubbles into place on his scapulae. Like wounds awaiting suture, like birth-marks bestowed by a domineering god.
He hurries to get the wings in position, fumbles them slightly, fears they're askew.
Whenever Lefteris talked about his work, his sundial repair, it didn't hold her attention. Didn't even engage it. More than that, when she really did make an effort, it left her confused.
Not at the content, just in herself.
'All they really need to work, these contraptions,' he said, 'is the sun. You wouldn't believe the amount of people who come to me,' he tells her, 'when it's been cloudy for a day or two, or when a storm refuses to pass. The idiots.'
This across the dinner table, from a man she called husband.
It's a squeeze, getting back up the ladder into the bleached white of the workshop. He scrunches his shoulder blades together, hunkered, thrusting forwards with his head.
He both looks and feels like a hatchling.
She tried to tell him she was sorry once. A few times.
That he didn't need to put himself through this.
For a long while, the longest, she couldn't figure out why he did. Why he didn't just leave her and start again with someone new. Somewhere else.
The finest polymath of his generation, in several generations, reduced to fleecing the ignorant, pretending to fix things that didn't need fixing, in order to earn his bread.
She didn't need telling – she knew that all that was really required for a sundial was a stick in the dirt and an empty sky. There wasn't much scope for error with that.
He takes the back exit, picks a route over rougher terrain than even most shepherds will risk, making sure to keep out of sight of his and Naucrate’s house at all times.
Occasionally, a gust comes, threatening to lift him off the ground before he's ready.
He flaps, he stumbles, presses on.
It was entirely by accident that she finally found out. He rose early one morning; she rolled over, just happened to notice the wax-stain on his side of the bed. The size and colour of a smeared kiss.
She was angry. Of course she was angry.
That he was still flying. After all that had happened.
That he hadn't felt he could tell her. After all that they'd been through.
When he returned from the workshop that night, she was ready to confront him. She stood in the kitchen, holding the same cleaver that she'd used to butcher and prepare a lamb, scrutinising him as he waited – a muffled echo – in the doorway of their home.
Gore dripped from the blade and varnished her shins, filled in the gaps between the bands of her sandals.
But she didn't say anything, and neither did he.
They ate the lamb in silence. It was overcooked and underspiced.
He looks up at the clouds.
The sky seems an extension of the rock on which he stands.
The world turned over.
She wanted to catch him in the act, to confront him with the evidence, to get him to talk about it. To get him to explain why he'd been lying. To her, to the townsfolk, to everyone, about everything.
Until she realised that he hadn't.
That he wasn't a con-man but a charity-case.
They came to him during bad weather because somehow they sensed that it was what he needed, that bad weather was the reason he'd opened the shop. It was a mutual pretence they were engaged in, unspoken: that it wasn't the dials but the sun itself that could break.
For the first few moments, the falling is all. The sickening shift in his centre of gravity.
But, below, there are no shadows, neither his nor his boy's.
This is the same act, but these are not the same circumstances, this is not the same time.
This is not the same place.
She started to ask more questions about his days, to enquire, without pressure, how he felt work was going. Was he fulfilled? Did he still think about–
He begged her to be quiet, to leave it at that. She already knew the answer. Nights when he woke her up, calling the name in his sleep, and mornings after, over breakfast, when she had to act as though she hadn't heard.
Still, she wished to be included in this secret world, the half-life of his grief. She confessed this to herself. She told herself that it was because she wanted to help him out of it, by offering her understanding – but really she was afraid that she never would understand, and wanted to be proven wrong.
When the rains came, a long storm, she followed him, keeping far enough back and safely within the blind spot created by his wings. She hid behind a rock as he launched himself over the edge of the world, and stifled a scream, and waited and waited for him to resurface.
And he did.
He had such lucidity and grace about his movements, and such youth, and he wasn't a father up there, and he hadn't lost a son.
He'd built the wings to escape, he'd said, as he stood in their doorway. That was all. To get them to freedom.
This high, the thermals present themselves as pathways, ginnels, labyrinthine strands so intricate and shifting that even he could not design their like and keep his sanity intact. They howl and low at him, around him, beyond him, worse so much worse than the bulls of his dreams.
Yet, he gives himself up to them without fear, without hesitation. He rides them and barrels and loop-de-loops and lets himself, on occasion, slip into whirlpooling Charybdis spins.
Before – and only just before – the point of no return, no resurrection, he rises with the full force of his arms towards the lower reaches of the clouds.
He hovers there, holds firm at that altitude, in spite, in active defiance of any turbulence, looking first left and then right as the ice begins to whiten and weigh upon the feathers, as the wax begins to crackle and buckle behind.
He holds there for as long as he can, and it is too cold to think, and far too cold to remember, and his breath comes out in a ragged pantomime of the god of winds, Aeolus – and suddenly it is not too cold to think or to remember that he no longer believes in the gods, or the fates, or the virtues, but only in survival. In doing what is needed, for as long as it is needed.
He looks down.
She still doesn't know. She cannot, because the laws of space and time will not allow it. No matter how much detail he could provide, it would not be enough. She simply wasn't there.
She understands at least this.
When he returns from his flight, Naucrate is seated at the table, her back to the door. Slowly, still readjusting to being on solid ground, he crosses the kitchen and comes to plant a gentle kiss atop her head.
Planting – as though it might take root and grow and blossom into a shrub, a tree, an orchard; with what as fruit?
He looks a moment longer at the already autumnal tangle of her hair, which he spotted only half an hour ago, shielded behind a boulder as he came in to land. He feels her tense a little as he lays his hands on her shoulders – out of real fear perhaps, or just because the contact is unexpected – but he doesn't mention what he saw, what he knows that she saw. He struggled, half-deliberately, to remove the wings, giving her a fair chance to beat him back here. Back home.
'Would you like some wine?' he asks her, already moving away to the small pantry in which there's an open amphora, keeping cool. Without waiting for an answer, he sets two full goblets upon the table and takes a seat opposite.
'How was work, dear?' she asks him, finally, managing a smile.
'Oh, you know,' he gestures at the grey skies beyond the window, 'it was busy. Very busy.'
'That's good,' she says, and raises her goblet. 'That's really good to hear.'
'It is?' he says, with something of the old inquisitiveness let slip again, uncensored.
She nods. 'Yes,' she says.
It isn't a lie.
She's the long-suffering wife of a sundial repairman – ask anyone around here – and the names Icarus and Daedalus, well, what are they to her now except figures from myth?
Dan Micklethwaite is a freelance writer and novelist based in West Yorkshire, UK. His most recent short fiction has featured in Structo, Page & Spine, and Metaphorosis. His debut novel, The Less than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote, is now available from Bluemoose Books. Follow him on twitter @Dan_M_writer.
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