My sister used to be Irene before dad decided she was Icarus. Icarus reborn. “Why else would she be afraid of the Sun?” he had said.
I leaned more towards mum who thought he was being ludicrous. “Genesis 3:19 — for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” she argued. I didn’t go that far in my aversion towards ‘Icarus’ for God wasn’t my thing. Rebirths could be possible, I thought, but why would Icarus choose to be born again after well-nigh three millennia? It made little sense. Besides, I rather liked the sound of Irene.
But Irene, I mean Icarus, was only six when she heard the stories. She grew up a believer. She grew up as Icarus, living in fear of the Sun, a fear born of meeting death for flying too close to the star in another life. She lived in the shadows of the house and walked the earth barefoot after sundown. She blew on dandelion seeds in the moonlight and called upon Zeus to keep her enemy Helios at bay, promising a dance in the rain in return.
Doctors came and went, thanks to mum. They couldn’t do much except come up with a word from their medicine books — heliophobia. And suddenly, even to a skeptic such as myself, ‘Icarus reborn’ seemed more cerebral than ‘an irrational fear of the Sun’. Fear cannot be irrational, decided my logical self, and I abandoned mum saying, “If you can believe in God, you might as well believe in rebirth.” She remained cross with me until the next big thing, her cancer, when she, we forgot all about myth and logic to become a family again, united in pain and loss.
The last time I saw Icarus before leaving for college, she was wrapped in herself, her head bobbing to Nirvana on the stereo and her shaded bedroom smelling of kung pao chicken from our takeout the night before.
“Take me to the beach with you,” Icarus demanded years later.
A week’s worth of swimsuits and sunscreens in hand, I looked at my fourteen-year-old sister. Was she hoping to conquer her fears? Or did she already drive daggers through Helios’ heart while I was gone? I should have been a proud big sister, but I was frightened by the pale beige of her skin, alien to the Sun, staring me in the eye. “Perhaps, someday,” I said, to which she frowned and stomped off.
Years passed. When we buried dad, Icarus could stand in the Sun. Anxiety peered through her dilated pupils but she masked it with a tranquil frame and rehearsed poise. “Icarus is a little redundant now,” I said, gazing at her twenty-five-year-old face in the moonlight, while we shared a pack of cigarettes on the cold stone bench by the lake that night.
She smiled. “Do you know why Icarus fell to his death?”
“Of course, dad made sure none of us ever forgot! Poor fellow flew too close to the Sun,” I replied.
“In a nutshell. His wings were crafted of wax and feathers. The wax melted in the heat of the Sun because he flew too high,” said Icarus. “See, wax. That was the mistake. Fucking wax!”
I laughed. We laughed. And just when the moon prepared to set, our cigarettes ran out.
Many moons later, Icarus was at my door on a Saturday night, a Chardonnay in hand. “I have something to show you,” she said, a little grey in her hair, mirroring the grey in mine. “But you need to come with me to the house.”
We drove across the country, taking turns, resting at motels. She could have sent me a text or called but I was glad she didn’t. My husband was used to taking care of the kids. And I missed my busy little Icarus, the mechanical engineer forever nose-deep in research. In the end, we stood in our old garage she’d rearranged into a workshop.
“When you said you needed to show me something, I did not imagine this,” I exclaimed, my mouth hanging open in horror and wonder.
Icarus chuckled. “It is just a prototype at the moment. I cannot wait to start running tests.” There was pride and fire in her tone.
I stared at the metal feathers on the retractable wings attached to what looked like a jetpack. My sister was a genius, I thought, but she was also certifiably crazy. I glanced at Icarus, the protective older sibling in me wanting to slap the shit out of her.
She raised her brows and gazed at me, a hint of a smile lingering on her lips. “You’re not happy.”
I wasn’t. I was seething. “You realize this is dangerous, right?”
“Everything is dangerous.” I glared at her. She bit her lips and added, “More or less.”
When the moon was high, the two of us sat across from each other, glued together by a cold pepperoni pizza from the Italian place we’d stopped by earlier that evening. The weary dinner table that stood witness to our family battles over the years creaked and begged us not to plunge it into the midst of another one; we obliged.
Composed, I finally asked, “Why?”
“Because I am Icarus,” said my sister after a long pause, her eyes devoid of the anxious flutter I was used to. “And Icarus needs her wings.”
First published by Tarot Literary (England), a print-only magazine, in April 2022.
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